The Darkest Time of Year


It’s been a while since I’ve written anything.  I feel words starting to bubble up, but haven’t wanted to act on letting them go. 

Late last summer something started to shift inside me. I stopped grieving.  I still missed Rick, but it was no longer in the forefront of my consciousness.  I was here, now, in July of 2015 and starting to wake up and feel good.  It had been a long journey, but I was at the end of it and ready for what comes next.

And then… I heard from my brother.  What was thought to be arthritis, then nerve damage, turned out to be cancer: metastasized, stage 4, terminal.  That news came on the 3rd anniversary of the day on which Rick went into the hospital. I spent what would have been my 10th wedding anniversary with him and my sister in law for what I knew would be my final visit.  He died in late December. He and Rick were close; one of my favorite pictures is the two of them leaning towards each other and both making the same silly face.  When Rick died, my brother wrote a heart-felt eulogy; I’ve now returned the favor by writing one for him.

The moving forward I experienced in July disappeared. Emotionally, I went back to where I had been 3 years earlier, almost overwhelmed with sadness and feeling cut off from life.  There wasn’t anything to write last fall that I hadn’t already written  2 or 3 years ago.

By now, I should have it figured out, but I’m still floundering.  I should be at the next stage of my life, whether that means moving on to a new relationship or being happy and content on my own.  I’m neither.  I thought I’d grown into a wise woman capable of doing anything.  Instead, I’m spending my evenings watching binge-watching old TV shows.  I wait for the next bad news. 

I’ve sat on this post for a few days.  Waiting for the coda that shows my realization this is just one spot in a long journey, or the epiphany that turns this very personal revelation into something with universal meaning.  Neither has come to me.  I think, for now, I’m just feeling low.  I’m still stuck working a job I no longer like.  It’s winter, and the sky is dark when I leave in the morning and when I come home at night.  There will be more sun in my life, both literally and figuratively, but right now is the darkest time of year.


Cat Chronicles

I had some spare time in between naps the other day and reread my kitten posts from last year. How young and silly I was; my tail was twitching with amusement as I read them.


Last year I was obsessed with establishing dominance over my human.  So many things confused me.  I couldn’t figure out why she would spray me with water or physically remove me from the best places in the house.  I worried a lot over our relationship and what my future would be.  Now that I am fully grown, I have come to realize how foolish those kittenish mewsings were.

First is the ridiculous notion I had regarding who was actually in charge.  It was me, of course, all along.  Sure, she is physically bigger, but that means nothing.  Do I feed her?  Am I required to do anything I do not wish to?   Do I even need to clean up after myself?  No, no and no.  She attends to my every need, from ensuring I have a multitude of toys and attention to keeping my bowl filled with food.  No one does that for her; I know this is true, because in all the time I’ve lived with her I have never seen anyone come in and provide her with food, or clean up her messes, or even bring her toys.  Yet I get these every single day. 


She is my servant, pure and simple. Though not always the best servant, at least she tries.  This leads to the second lesson I have learned, which is that she is not that smart.  Last year I was so proud of a trick I taught her that I wrote a post about it.  I was excited and felt this would be the first of many such games I could teach her.  I was wrong; while she is capable of learning, the pace is much slower than what I had hoped for.  I believe this lack of intelligence is endemic to the entire species.   Other humans that visit her also appear to lack the most fundamental logic and reasoning skills.  For just one example if another cat showed up I would chase it around, fight a little, wrestle, determine who was dominant; in short, have fun.  When she has other humans in the house they sit and talk, none of them realizing what they are missing. 

20150919_191728_002I think a big reason for this species-wide stupidity is their inability to communicate in meaningful ways.  The gentle nips and scratches that are clearly meant to push her, or a visiting human, in the right direction never work, and instead of going “Oh!  You need more food.” I get shot with a spray of water. Believe me that gets old fast! She has extremely poor communication skills, and this seems to be the case for all humans.  They don’t get the most basic requests.  A simple “get out of my chair” is ignored.  Obvious requests to stop petting me, or to start petting me, are consistently misinterpreted.  They have no sense of smell, and limited hearing and sight.  The complex range of mews, yowls and chirping noises I make are never interpreted.


I realize now vastly superior I am.  Those few issues I noted last summer mean nothing. My nemesis the spray bottle is still used but I now understand she has to use this because she has no other way to communicate.  It is annoying, but I feel sorry for her more than for me; how limiting it must be when her only options are to spray water or physically pick me up!  Her size, which intimidated me last year, means little without brain power behind it.  She is like any large beast of burden, capable of heavy lifting but certainly not up to the philosophical reasoning on which I spend my days.

The key to our relationship is to let her think she’s in charge.  This is quite easy to do as she misinterprets size for smarts.  She is remarkably easy to manipulate, and within her limitations I am becoming somewhat fond of her.  Wait… I hear her at the door.  Time to close out this post, turn off the computer and pretend I’m napping.

Life, Re-invented

Today starts year 4 of my reinvented life.  Today, August 31, marks the 3rd anniversary of Rick’s death.  I’ve thought a lot about our life together and where I had expected to be.  A week earlier was what would have been our 10th wedding anniversary. I spent that day with a severely ill family member, on what may well be my last visit.  Had Rick lived, he would have been with me.  We would have extended that sad trip into a vacation, adding some joy to the sorrow. 

We traveled well, his calmness in the face of anything combining with my planning and organizational skills.   I miss those vacations; the GPS voice helps me to stay on track, but she’s not nearly as much fun. 

“I’ll have to reinvent myself” said my friend, as we talked about the impact of that serious illness.  “I’ve done it before, and I’ll just have to do it again” she said.  Reinventing myself; that’s what I’ve been doing the last 3 years.

Three years out, things are different.  It’s a quiet, personal remembrance. It feels muted.  The minutes tick by at work and I remember: this is the time when I got the final news, this is when I went in to say goodbye, it was at this very moment that he died.  So much has faded, as I knew it would.  Tonight I will go back and read what I wrote as it was all happening, and I’ll feel the immediacy in a way I can’t anymore.  It’s a memory, now.  It’s in the past. 

I have reinvented myself, mostly.  But I still remember, and I still care, and I still grieve. 

Reflections as I end my third year of being a widow

July 30 is the anniversary of the day when I woke up and knew something was very, very wrong.  Three years ago I drove to the hospital, following the ambulance carrying Rick.  I didn’t know it at the time, but he was never coming home.

After three years I no longer actively grieve, but I do mourn.  I miss him, each and every day.   Car rides and walks are my time to talk with him, and I do so regularly.   He was funny and brilliant and kind.  We complemented each other well. I miss his advice and support.  No matter what, he was always there for me. 

Still, I don’t live in the past; I live in the now, in a present that no longer includes Rick or us as a couple.  Much of my time is occupied with interests and friends that he never knew.

I spent the first year after his death grieving, an active and painful year filled with the physical work of going through his house and personal effects, and the emotional work of coming to some sense of acceptance over what had happened.  I had a plan of concrete things to do, and checked off each item as I completed it.   When year two started, I made a new plan, one that focused on me.  I registered for online dating, took classes, and made every effort to create a new me with a new life.  Year three post-Rick, this year just entering its final month, has been different.  I’ve slowed down.  I gave up on actively pursuing dating; if it happens, fine, but I’ve come to terms with the realization that I just might be on my own for the rest of my life.   This year, I have focused on accepting my life as it is, and trying to find some semblance of peace and enjoyment in what I have.

August remains a transition month for me.  Three years ago, I made the transition from wife to widow.  Each year since, I’ve slowed down during this month to spend time thinking about where I’ve been and what I’ve learned.  August has come to be the time when I try to derive some meaning from my past. I think I’m getting better.  I think I’ve truly left grief, that active, burning bright experience, behind me.  I feel at home in my life in a way I haven’t for several years.

I am not sure what I want from this next year, the fourth in my new life.   I know I’ll be making some major changes, though it’s too early to talk about those yet.  I hope to continue growing.  I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next, and I’m finally comfortable.  Maybe that is enough.

W. E. B. Du Bois was right

“The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line”, said W. E. B. Du Bois in 1903. He was sadly correct, and I sincerely hope that his prophecy for the 20th century is not repeated in the 21st.  

There’s an assumption of guilt-by-nature applied to any crime involving an African American suspect that doesn’t exist for whites.  White college students rampaging after a football game are criticized for drinking too much and partying too hard, but they are not called thugs or animals.  When white teens are accused of crimes, there is a call to look for the reasons why; were there mental health issues, or family problems?  When black teens are accused of crimes, they are viewed as hardened criminals beyond any hope of redemption.

Despite the vast predominance of mass shooters being young, white males, there is no presumption of a common thread of race linking each new event.  Conservative radio hosts do not take to the airwaves discussing their ideas on the failure of white families to instill decent values in their sons, nor do Fox News hosts bring in white guests who are expected to apologize for the actions of their fellow whites.  Instead, each case is reviewed and debated on its merits.  Mental health issues are raised, as are concerns over the bad influences that can come from outside influences such as movies, music or video games. 

Contrast that to incidents of criminal acts where the alleged perpetrators are people of color.  Reviewing the comments section of local online news sources bears this out.  Crime reports showing pictures of African American suspects will garner far more comments than the exact same story would have had the picture been of a white suspect.  Comments will focus on the “obvious” connection between the suspect’s race and their crime.  Many will contain base racial stereotypes and slurs.

Different standards of review are not just reserved for people accused of committing crimes.  I’ve spent close to 30 years working in professional office environments that have included small and large companies, privately held, corporate and government.  In every situation I’ve encountered people who were, frankly, incompetent. It’s a fact of life; not everyone succeeds at every job.  When a person of color or a woman fails, the prevailing wisdom is that they were hired for token reasons, and that of course they weren’t as good as anyone else.  I’ve never yet heard anyone suggest that maybe the white guy who failed was hired because he looked just like everyone doing the hiring, not because he had the needed experience, and so of course that’s why he failed.

It’s sad and depressing and I don’t know how we can move forward.  I don’t have any ideas for solutions or any hope that it will get better.  I hope I’m wrong, but I fear that in 2103 Du Bois’s words will have been as prophetic for the 21st century as they were for the 20th .

A generic ‘Open Letter’ for use by all those open letter bloggers

It’s 2am and I am wide awake. You, I am sure, are fast asleep. I know this to be a fact because your behavior towards me during our 2 minute interaction was so callous as to prove, definitively, that you are a deranged sociopath.

I have cried for hours, replaying the incident between us.  You, of course, walked off without any concern or awareness of how your cruelty would affect me.   I am a sensitive, caring individual – unlike you – which is why I am writing this blog post to inform the entire world of the grievous wrong you did.  I know that the entire world will be interested in what I have to say because I am an extremely important person, far more so than you.

Earlier this evening, we were both at a location where groups of people go to interact with each other in public.  Clearly my group of people had the right to do whatever we wanted regardless of its impact on anyone else.  I mean, it is a public place, right?  Therefore no rules of conduct exist.

Apparently you were not happy with the behavior of individuals within my group.  Instead of recognizing our superiority to you, and therefore our innate right to disrupt everyone else, you decided to ask me to do something about it.  I was so shocked that someone might think their rights are equal to mine that I was unable respond.  All my life I have been treated as the most special person in every situation, and your action towards me was incomprehensible.  You actually thought it was acceptable to ask for the behavior to stop.  You did this unaware of the year’s long history and issues of every single person in my group, and how that causal relationship made us blameless for the results of behaviors we knew would occur.  If you had even an ounce of compassion or humanity, you would have realized that we counted for more than you.  I have no idea why you felt the need to speak up; and I do not care.  The personal histories of people in your group are of no concern to me.

In closing, I am hoping you see this open letter, and realize how very wrong you were to expect rights equal to mine.  I hope that the entire online world takes my side in understanding that some of us, mostly young and privileged, always White, and generally with higher incomes, count more than everyone else.

Thank you.

The Age of Anger

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “From the Collection of the Artist.”

A hundred years from now, a major museum is running an exhibition on life and culture as it was during our current historical period. You’re asked to write an introduction for the show’s brochure. What will it say?

Introduction to the Age of Anger exhibit
Welcome to the Museum of the People. This special exhibit focuses on late 20th century and early 21st century American culture. Historians call these “The Angry Years”. This introduction will attempt to provide some context to what you are about to view.

Section 1 focuses on home life. The first thing you’ll notice is the noise; sound mufflers are available if needed, but we really urge you to try and last as long as possible before using them. That ongoing, never ending persistent background noise is from a television, or TV (a sales and entertainment machine displaying 2-dimensional moving content that was ubiquitous starting in the mid-20th century). During The Angry Years, most American homes contained multiple televisions, distributed between common areas and sleeping chambers.

The kitchen area looks stark; can you tell what is missing? If you guessed the lack of a garden and composting area, you are correct. Also missing is solar panels; in fact you will notice a lot less light in all areas of the house than what we are used to.

The idea of generating power through movement, and the positive affect of exercising on attitude, was only just beginning to be understood during this time period. People spent most of their time at home being immobile. What little movement they did was physically isolated from the other parts of their lives. In most cases, Americans sat on couches and watched TV.
There is lots more to see in this section of the exhibit. Be sure and visit the gender defined sleeping chambers for children, which give a good example of the constricting roles assigned at birth based on presumed gender. Take a look at the large garage, and the number of vehicles stored inside. To answer the question that almost everyone asks, yes, it was considered normal for each adult to have their own pollution causing large automated vehicle (or “car” as they were called then).

Section 2 contains a display of a variety of work environments. The Angry Years were the final period of what historians call The Machine Ages. This time period started with the industrial revolution in the mid-1700s and ended around the middle of the 21st century. This was the one and only time in recorded human history when the it was generally believed that people should create a separate environment for focused activities. In addition, the type of activities each person did had a direct connection to their level of power and prestige in society, and even to their ability to procure basic necessities such as food and shelter.

During The Angry Years, in fact during the entire Machine Age time period, most people earned income from “work”, as these activities were called, and that income was required to pay for every facet of their life. Most settings in this section of the exhibit look familiar to us. What you need to envision is that people were required to spend a pre-defined amount of time in these settings with the expectation of being focused solely on work activities.

What does not look normal to our eyes is the “office” work area exhibit. The small square rooms (or “cubicles” to use the parlance of the time) were areas in which people were expected to spend 40 or more hours per week, focusing only on tasks assigned to them. We urge all visitors to sit one of the interactive cubicles to experience a few minutes of what this was like. Now, imagine being in this environment 5 days a week, for 8 straight hours, and doing this year after year. Historians universally agree this environment was a cause of much of the anger and hostility that affected this time period.

Section 3 covers entertainment and activities, with lots of interactive areas. Everything shown here is labeled with the date it was created. It all seems very primitive by our standards, but keep in mind that these items were considered state of the art at the time.

About the Age of Anger exhibit

The big question historians ask about this time period is why there was so much anger. As shown in this display, the average American had a good life. Food and potable water were in abundance, and the environmental crises we experience on a constant basis were infrequent and viewed as unusual weather events. Despite what appears to us as an oasis of plenty and good fortune, the average American during this time period was in a constant state of anger. People formed into self-defined groups based on race, ethnicity, religion or even political affiliations, and focused intense hatred at other self-defined groups. Every activity had the potential to degenerate into an angry confrontation. The number of violent interactions between people seems staggering to us today. Murder was an everyday occurrence. Mass shootings happened weekly. Smaller examples of rage can be found in section 3 by viewing examples of actual comments that people posted on the internet (please note that due to the graphic content, only adults can view this part of the exhibit).

There are no easy answers to why people were so angry. Years of study by academicians in multiple disciplines have resulted in two main theories, which can be very broadly summarized as:

Too much stimulation – this theory presumes that the constant, ever-present level of noise and marketing experienced during this time period was just too much for many people;

The work and life dichotomy – we know, now, that human beings did not evolve to be mono-focused on a single activity for hours at a time. Adherents of this view point to the rise in violence that occurred during the entire Machine Age as proof.

The goal of this exhibit is to provide people with a chance to learn about and experience, just a bit, what life was like 100 years ago. We hope you enjoy this look into the past.

Strong as Hell: The Radical Empathy and Irony of ‘ Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’

If you haven’t seen this show I highly recommend it. This post, from one of my favorite blogs, does a great job of describing the subversive genius of the show.

Life Measured in Coffee Spoons

“Unbreakable! They alive, dammit! It’s a miracle! Unbreakable! They alive, dammit! Females are strong as hell!”

As the opening credits, an Auto-Tuned parody interview with a neighbor who witnesses the rescue of the Indiana mole women, faded into a few harmonized “ooohhs” and its prescient concluding words “That’s gonna be, uh… you know, a fascinating transition,” I already knew two things. First of all, this song would probably be in my head until the day I die: an ear-worm that would re-surface at 4 am in library cubicles to be loudly shouted at unsuspecting study buddies, a soaring anthem that I would softly chant to propel myself through the final mile of my run. No doubt, the theme song of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was going to claim it’s rightful place alongside its notable motivational predecessors, “Live every week like it’s Shark Week!” and “Hollaback Girl (This Shit is Bananas).”

Secondly, as footage of little girls posing in tutus and swinging from monkey bars juxtaposed…

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A new career as a winter consultant for films – or my desperate attempt to escape to warm weather

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Ah, winter.  No time of year looks so different from its actual reality.  For those of us living in Northern climes, the end to this season cannot come soon enough.  In honor of it being March, I daringly unsnapped the hood from my parka this morning, using only earmuffs and a scarf.  Walking proud, I was.

Recently I started watching a Syfy channel show called “Helix”.  It is about an outbreak of a mutant killer virus at a research station, and the CDC team sent to fix the problem. Of course, turns out there are far more nefarious things going on, and the plot twists come so fast and furious. The show isn’t great but it is great fun. 

The locale for this research station is supposed to be in the Arctic, and there are frequent references to the -40 degree temperatures that exist outside.  Despite that, the scenes shot outside the station are among the most laughably lame attempts to show cold I’ve ever seen. 

A typical outside scene in Helix features a wind machine going full tilt, spraying soap flakes in all directions with a great howling wind sound.  The people, however, appear like they are experiencing a balmy late fall day.   No one is shown with a scarf wound around their hood to muffle their neck and provide a way to warm air before breathing it.  Nope, these folks spend their time outside with an uncovered face having long conversations.  Their noses never run and their eyelashes don’t freeze.  When they finally go back inside, we never see anyone dripping snow onto the floor or see them trying to warm cold fingers.

Watching this has made me realize there’s money to be made as a winter weather consultant for the film industry, and I’m ready to be that person.  My shingle is out.  For a reasonable sum and a plane ticket to warm SoCal (or even just for the plane ticket) I will work with the set designers, costumers and directors to ensure that portrayals of cold weather are done correctly.

Among the services I will provide:

Snot wrangler

The all-pervasive, but seldom discussed byproduct of cold weather is over-productive mucus glands.  Nothing ruins the perceived realism of a winter scene than seeing characters without this telltale sign of a truly cold day.

As snot wrangler, I’ll work with makeup artists to ensure that actors are given the right amount of snot at the right time.  Anytime a character goes inside after being outdoors they should be shown with weepy eyes and red cheeks. Directors will receive a snot check-list to follow that includes direction on which character types would carry tissues, and which would use whatever item of clothing was handy.  I’ll do extensive work with costumers to make sure that scarves, mittens and coat sleeves all bear the telltale marks of dried snot wipes.  Finally, I’ll work with the Foley engineers until the absolute right noise is found for snot-snuffling.

Snow-melt surveillance

Newsflash for people raised in SoCal: snow is made of water, and easily reverts to a liquid state.

In this role, I will make sure that, despite the use of Styrofoam and soap flakes, an adequate and appropriate use of puddles and drips is used in winter scenes.  Never again will you see an actor go from outside to inside and remain perfectly dry.  Set designs will be tweaked to add realistic looking puddles and wet spots to all entry ways.   Actors shown in falling snow will be lightly sprayed to portray what happens when cold snow meets warm skin. 

Schmutz coordinator

Winter’s dirty little secret is that it is the dirtiest season of the year.  Cars are covered with a salt rime and coats are spotted with a mix of mud and salt.  Scarves and gloves are stiff with snot.  Go inside and it gets worse; carpeting is gritty with salt and stained from tracked in frozen dirt.  Floors come in two types; wet dirty puddles or dried with crusted salt and dirt. 

I will make sure that the grimy side of winter is shown in set design and costumes.

Social interaction evaluator

When the temperature is -20 (f), people walk with their hands in their pockets and hunched over to minimize exposure.  Standing is never still; people hop from foot to foot or sway back and forth to generate some heat.  No one wants to stand outside and have a conversation.

I’ll review the script and make sure there are no obvious misses, such as long conversations held in subzero weather. Any conversations that are left in will be edited to match the environment. 

For example, the script may contain this:

Sarah: Sam, we need to talk.  I’ve been thinking about you, and what we fought about.  I realize how wrong I was to let you go.  I love you, and I want you back in my life just as you are, not as I think you should be.  If you still want to start that restaurant, I’ll support you 100%”

Sam: I knew you’d be back.  Welcome to “Sarah’s Diner” (said while pulling down tarp hiding sign on building).

Sarah: Oh Sam, we can finally rekindle our relationship (cut to distance scene showing couple embracing).

Here’s how I would fix this scene:

Sarah: Sam? Is that you?  Great Russian winter hat, it looks really warm.  It’s so fucking cold I can’t stand it.  My eyelashes are freezing shut and I can’t feel my feet, so I’ll make this quick.  My apartment is freezing and I remember how warm you were.  Want to hook up again?  I need a good night’s sleep.

Sam: Sarah!   Yes, it’s me.  I hardly recognized you with the scarf wound around your face.   Sounds good to me, there’s a pile of snow in front of my place I don’t want to shovel.  

So, in conclusion, if you are a Hollywood movie producer reading this blog post, I would love to come out to LA to work on your movie.  Or even for an interview.  In the meantime, I’ll start packing my summer clothes.

What I mean when I say that grief never ends

It’s been two and a half years since I became a widow.  I still grieve.  I always will.

That’s not to say that my life has stopped.  I have friends, I keep busy; I’ve even dated a little.  My life has moved on, and I look forward more than I look back.  Still, Rick remains a presence.  I miss the little things, like being handed a cup of coffee every morning.  Mostly what I miss is knowing there was that one person who really, truly cared about me.  I miss him.

That entire first year, my grief was immersive and all-encompassing, infusing every facet of my life.  As simple an act as buying groceries became a harsh reminder of what had happened.  Every day was a series of events with the same theme: look, you’re alone now, what you had is irretrievably gone.

Time heals.  I became used to buying only the groceries I wanted.  I created new rituals for mornings and evenings, and the silence at home no longer bothered me.    The 2nd bedroom has almost completed its transition from his studio and office to my work room.   I’m now comfortable removing items of his that have no use or value for me. 

Yet, he stays with me, each and every day.  I talk with him as I walk to work.  I daydream about a world where everything turned out differently, and we are planning a celebration of our 10th wedding anniversary.  I still question how much he knew, what he choose to keep from me, and why. 

This is what grief is after two and a half years. It recedes into the background, but it does not disappear.   I am a widow. That term is a description of what I have been through and what I carry forward.  Grief doesn’t end; it doesn’t fade away, or wash off.   It has become a part of me on a molecular level, the same as the tattoo I had done in his memory.  The person I am now and will forever be is that person because of what I have gone through. That is what I mean when I say that grief never ends.