Living to See 100

Today is The Sandwich Lady’s hundredth blog post!  I feel like it should be something profound but am at a loss for words.  So here is a picture that depicts the awe and delight that I feel in reaching this milestone.   Image

Not to use such a crass symbol, but I include it because it’s something you don’t see every day. Frankly I wasn’t sure I’d see this day either.  As you may have noticed (or maybe you didn’t; and that’s OK), I was absent for almost two months when life got busy, and was stuck at 98 posts during that time.  During this absence regular emails arrived announcing new posts from other bloggers that I follow, and I felt guilty and ashamed.  But I was able to climb out of the rut and here we are!

Over the past 21 months I’ve written about many things that have been close to my heart – my husband and children, my extended family, the changing relationships of midlife, my car, my pets, popular culture.  I’ve been Freshly Pressed once, for my blog about Words With Friends, and received more than a few Versatile Blogger honors.  While the attention can be dizzying and fun, what has been most satisfying is getting to know the other talented bloggers out there.  They are among the most nurturing people I’ve ever met and have inspired and encouraged me so much.

Here are a dozen of my favorites.  There are many more and I apologize for anyone I’ve left out.

Mostly Bright Ideas – my fellow Catholic, Charles, could have been the guy in the other confessional during grade school.

On the Home Front and Beyond – Louanne writes prolifically and from the heart, and has the most enviably long list of devoted followers and commenters, which she truly deserves.  She is a champion of finding bliss in little everyday things and enjoying life.

Grown and Flown – Lisa and Mary Dell write about the challenges of raising adult children with great candor and courage.  Their blog post about the myths of raising older children (it really doesn’t “get easier”) will reassure any parents who worry about whether they did a “good job.”

Curmudgeon at Large – This guy is one of the funniest bloggers I know; just reading his “about” page makes me laugh.  And not sure if he looks like Statler or Waldorf from the Muppets.

Life in the Boomer Lane – always witty and funny; Rene is a real soul mate.  Her recent post about customized funerals — and her classic, deservedly-Freshly-Pressed post about Goldie Hawn being caught without makeup — were terrific!

Raising my Rainbow – “CJ’s Mom” writes with humor and grace about raising a son who really wants to be a girl, and helping him deal with the outside world.

Slice of Midlife – Allison writes beautifully about midlife and motherhood, and through her blog I often find my way to interesting articles that have appeared on those subject.

A Clown on Fire – LeClown is a brilliant subversive; his perspectives are sure to scorch through your preconceived ideas and help you think a new way. “If you never want to leave your comfort zone, I suggest Martha Stewart,”  LeClown writes. His tagline proclaims “because every day is fucking magical.”

A California Galivant – my neighbor and friend Kelly writes about moving from Massachusetts to California; the cross-country drive there and the adjustments they have made.  Kelly is a gifted artist who also happens to be a brilliant writer. Her post about having a palm for a Christmas tree is a classic!

Bunkycooks – Gwen writes about her culinary travels, and her posts are accompanied by lush photography and great recipes.  I want her life!

Erica DeMane – Reading her posts about southern Italian cooking is like being back in my aunt’s kitchen.

Evolequals – A gay dad writes about raising his children.  His recent Father’s Day piece will bring a lump to your throat.

Well, now that my hundredth blog is done, looking forward to at least 100 more. Thanks to all my family members, friends and fellow bloggers who got me to this milestone. Thanks to all the people who pushed “like,” even if they never visited again, and thanks to the people who visited often and who commented.  Looking forward to sharing more with you and to learning from you!

Don’t Get Too Comfortable

hibernationI think that there’s a reason that most animals hibernate during the dead of winter. After the holiday merriment and the whirlwind of celebrations and obligations, January stretches out before us like a vast polar plain, and it doesn’t look that bad. It’s a time to unplug all that brightly blinking gaiety; lay on the couch; slip directly from your TV coma into bed; and just enjoy being a load.

Yet while the idea of a long period with little to do sounds great when you are busy and stressed out, living it can actually be scary. Maybe it’s just January, but I’ve been brooding. I’m wondering if anyone else goes through the same thing in winter, especially those who don’t work full time.  Does January’s emptiness always bring a creative funk?

Until 18 months ago I always had work, school and/or small children to order my day. At times it was brutally stressful, especially when I was a single mother in a demanding corporate job and had to give up time with my kids and ask other people for favors I could never return. During my last career, as an editor of two weekly newspapers, I had a wonderful boss and more control over my time, but I still felt stressed. Poor pay, new demands (more record-keeping, less writing and more parsing of canned information between print and the web) and other factors all made the job frustrating and not worth it.

So I left full time work in July of 2011 for the uncertain life of a freelancer. I was fortunate that my husband’s business was doing well so I could do this. And as someone who always worked from young adulthood through my 50s, even when my children were small, I felt I had earned it. My unfettered life stretched out before me, as ripe with possibility as a three-week jaunt to Italy. I had lots of plans to create just the life I wanted – I would finally write wonderful features, become a better piano player, learn Spanish, help Bob with his business, have more time for hobbies and friends, visit my children and siblings more often, blog.

But putting those dreams into action has been hard. It takes even more discipline than waking up at 5:30 to get the kids and house in order before going off to work. It takes being a self-starter, being organized and strategic, and being able to sell yourself…better not suck at any of these. The idea of unlimited free time – of being able to chart your own course — is as tantalizing as the idea of a tropical vacation, but unless you are very focused and deliberate it is as scary as being in the wilderness.

I see many people in jobs that sap their spirit, even people who could probably afford to retire or at least go part-time, who stay in there because they are not sure what they would do otherwise. I know of a few people – my mom included – who’ve retired comfortably and miss work every single day.

How do you carve your own path when up until now something else always carved it for you? You woke up, showered, had breakfast and knew where you had to be at 9 a.m. You did your best and pleased who you had to please. Sometimes you grumbled; sometimes you resented it; but you at least had your work cut out for you.

I still go through stressed-out days when I am grateful that my freelance status ensures I can take a breather later. I enjoy occasional periods of indolence that consist of little more than making coffee, cleaning up after breakfast, reading the New York Times, phoning my mom or a friend, taking a walk, planning dinner. But after a few days of this I feel restless and bored and start to brood. Then I panic as I worry about losing my creative mojo.

So now I look forward to digging into a freelance work project with the same thrill of anticipation I felt when a vacation neared. I’m happiest when I have a problem to solve: editing a 12,000-word interview into a succinct 1500-word article, helping my husband find business insurance or figuring out the programming for our Roku box. Being on your own means constantly looking for opportunities to test and prove your competence; to keep your skills burnished; to stay useful and relevant; to matter. Striking the right balance between comforting routine and discomfiting challenge is very hard, but you feel such a sense of well-being when you achieve it. Every day the pendulum can swing between being bored and being overwhelmed. At my happiest it swings gently back and forth in a small arc, with carefully-calibrated measures of stimulation, challenge and relaxation.

One of my favorite bloggers “On the Homefront and Beyond” tackles the subject of whether predictable routines are comforting or constraining. “Like many of you, I am ready to get back to work, ready to take on the day, ready to return to routine. But not the routine of the rote or boring, but the routine that keeps chaos at bay,” she writes. She says the best days “allow for a little magic and miracles.”

January, a time to keep warm and get comfortable, is when I’m the least comfy. Do you ever feel the same?

An Unfaithful Blogger Crawls Back

Please accept this digital bouquet and my apology for being less than faithful over the past month.

In the spirit of David Petraeus, I am reaching out to my faithful followers with a digital bouquet and an apology.

I’m sorry if I’ve been unfaithful to all of you who put your faith in me by being very absent over the past few weeks. I can tell by looking at my stats that you are disappointed in me, and rightfully so. If my stats graph were a GPS system I’d be way on the outskirts of the city right now, the peaks far behind me, heading past dull single-story storefronts towards nowhere, until one day when I log on and see that nobody has read me. I would be lost in the wilderness without you.

I’ve gone back and read my earlier blogs, when everything was so fresh and new and I felt so witty, with the regret of a recently separated woman looking at her wedding album. How did this happen? How did I let you, my loyal reader, down so much by letting so much time elapse since my last post? I can come up with a million explanations, all of them true: the dog ate up all my time; I’ve had company nonstop; some paying work that I just had to do; I’ve been eating too many carbs now that cold weather has arrived, which dulls my brain; and – most painful of all – I had no ideas.

My blog represents the first time in decades that I’ve written just for pleasure and for the thrill of connecting with people, rather than for a grade or a paycheck. Writing for fun and for this connection has been a joy. My blogging friends inspire me every day. But after 14 months and some 80 posts I feel tired and in a slump. I feel as if all the great ideas that were waiting in my head to burst out and be blogged about are all gone. Each day I don’t blog makes it harder to blog again.

Meanwhile I get email after email announcing new posts from bloggers I follow and adore…reminding me of how badly I’ve fallen behind.

But I just wanted to let you know that I am back and promise to be more faithful in the future. And I am asking you for help. Have you ever been in a slump? How did you get your blogging mojo back? Do you make a vow to just post something every day even if it’s half-baked, at the risk of lowering your standards and becoming a so-so blogger? Do you look to newspapers, magazines and other blogs for inspiration? Help me out here!

And please accept my apology and my promise to do better.

I’d send all of you some of this if I could.

Feeling Lonely Side by Side

One of my favorite bits about loneliness is in the Monty Python comedy musical, “Spamalot.”  King Arthur and his loyal — and very non-royal — sidekick Patsy are lost in a dark forest.  All of his other knights have fled and Arthur feels very bereft.  He launches into one of the show’s funniest tunes, “I’m All Alone,” in which he laments his solitary state, totally oblivious to his loyal friend’s presence.

“You know it seems quite clear to me, because I’m working class,” sings Patsy, “I’m just the horse’s ass.”  The song ends with a large chorus singing, “He’s all alone..except for us.”

I was happy that WordPress’s daily writing prompt was to write about loneliness.  It is something that I feel more often than I would like, even though on the surface I have no excuse to be lonely.  I have a devoted husband and children, a mom and siblings who love me, great friends, interests. Through blogging I’ve made wonderful connections with people who inspire me every day.

Yet sometimes I feel like the guy with the white sport coat and the pink carnation, all alone at the dance.

At times in my life I have felt legitimately lonely…post-breakups in my teen and young adult years when loneliness is felt more keenly; weekends after my first marriage ended when the kids were not with me; the time I babysat on New Year’s Eve for a colicky infant.  Also the time when I decided to postpone my entry into college and all my friends had gone…I soon felt like I had been left behind at a bus stop.

But more often, loneliness comes when I make myself too busy and preoccupied to engage with the world.  This is incredibly easy to do, even if you are surrounded by those you love.  Just think about your bills, your commitments, your next work project, the dust balls under your bed, the last petty slight someone doled out to you, your kid’s struggles at school or on the ball field, the sad state of American politics.  Dwell on them for a while.  Let them stew around in your brain. Immerse yourself in your computer screen and smart phone as an escape. Pretty soon you just zone out and your mind is too distracted and numb to think about people.  Until the numbness narcotic wears off and you’re left with yourself, feeling painfully solitary.

I feel the loneliest when I haven’t been a good friend to people who are legitimately lonely.  Plenty of them are out there.  They are housebound stroke victims, newly-divorced people, folks who lack social skills and probably have undiagnosed Asperger’s.  They are shy people who make you row the boat for the whole conversation.  Sometimes you need to reach out to them even when you are busy and need to be alone.

The truth is that being engaged, and keeping loneliness away, takes work.  It means being able to read people, to tune into what they might be feeling, to read between the lines of what they say, to remember their birthdays and troubles and things that are important to them. It means picking up the phone when you see the caller ID of a friend who has been going through a hard time, even when you have no mental energy to deal with her problems.  It means putting aside the petty distractions of everyday living and the temptations of the Web and making a commitment to focus on human beings.

Yes, we all feel abjectly lonely from time to time.  But many times we don’t have to be. As King Arthur also sang:  “We can be lonely side by side; it’s the perfect way to hide.”

How You Can Tell When Your Blog’s Bombed Like Hell

Poet laureates for regretful bloggers: Henry Wadsworth Longwinded, Ogden Nashmyteeth and (below right) William Butler Yikes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s happened to me; it’s happened to you.

The blog post that makes you think “What did I do?”
How could I have written something so numb
That even the crickets are politely dumb?

It seemed so terrific as you worked at the screen,
You toiled over wording and set up the scene.
You chose the right keywords and said it’s a bet
That this blog would be your most popular yet.

William Butler Yikes!

But a few hours later, you check on your stats
And notice the bar is stuck in the flats.
WordPress says that your views total two,
You suspect that includes just your mother and you.

So where are your loyal followers lurking?
Maybe they’re busy, or maybe they’re working.
The weather’s been fair, so maybe they’re hiking
Or just maybe this post isn’t to their liking

You hit “refresh,” but it does no good
The bar doesn’t rise like you hoped it would.
But lo! In your inbox, a comment-reply!
Your heart soars with hope – “I’m redeemed!,” you cry.

You click on the link and joyfully wait
For the accolades that will say you’re top rate
But alas, your buoyancy soon gets the boot
With a one-word assessment that says “cute.”

While once you felt brave, you’re no longer smiling;
It’s the blogging equivalent of drinking and dialing.
This blog post has made you uncomfortably stressed
‘Cause it’s freshly excreted, not Freshly Pressed.