Why the GOP is Going Nuts

The two major parties change focus every 40 years or so, but this election year it seems the Republicans may end up self-destructing.  This may appear to be coming out of nowhere, but the current campaign season and the rise of Donald Trump can be tracked back to calculated decisions made decades ago.  To get a better picture of what’s going on now in 2016,  I’ll start back all the way back in the 1880s when Reconstruction ended. From that period through to about 1968, the US could be considered as having had a 3-party system with the Republicans, southern Democrats and northern Democrats existing as distinctly different entities.

The Republican Party started in the late 1850s as an abolitionist party with a strong Northern base among Yankee-born believers in the mid-19th century’s triumvirate of progressive issues: abolishing slavery, establishing prohibition, and providing the vote for women.  These causes don’t seem intrinsically linked to us, but they were to people in the 19th century.  Inherent in their viewpoint was the idea that small towns and farms were the most valid part of the America, and that the common man (interpreted as middle class people with a solid WASP lineage) were the best Americans. The less palatable side of these beliefs were a desire to preserve that America from the vast number of immigrants coming from countries and cultures that were believed to be incapable of assimilation (mostly Irish and Italian during the 1880s).   During Reconstruction southern blacks were granted the right to vote, and they voted solidly Republican.

Democrats were lukewarm on the Civil War, and the Democratic Party stood in opposition of attempts to provide freed slaves with equal rights during Reconstruction.  When federal troops were removed from the South in 1877, the GOP went with them.  The South would be Democratic from that point forward through to the 1950s.  The Southern Democratic Party was the party of segregation and State’s rights.  Southern Democratic legislators prevented the passage of federal anti-lynching laws and did everything in their power to ensure that blacks remained in as abject a position as possible. 

That was in the South.  In the North, the Democratic Party had a very different face.  Immigrants streamed into the US and mostly settled in Northern cities.  Republicans were, by and large, appalled at what they considered a mass influx of inferior races, religions and cultures.  The Democratic Party rolled out the welcome mat and created the concept of machine politics.  Every northern city had a well-established system of neighborhood leaders and bosses who handed out jobs, helped people with problems, and ensured that all the voters made it to the polls.   

The Progressive movement started in the 1890s with a reboot of many of the same issues that started the Republican party.  Progressives wanted votes for women, often supported prohibition, and were vehemently opposed to the machine politics that had taken over most Northern cities.  Entwined in these goals were some nativist concerns.  One of the arguments in favor of women’s suffrage was that native-born American  women’s votes (in reality, they meant white Protestant) could counteract the votes of non-native immigrant men.  A part of the desire to make municipal governments corruption free was to break the hold of the mostly Democratic urban machines that ran cities. 

Progressives had strong roots in the Republican Party, even though they would participate in third party movements  (TR with the Bull Moose Party, Bob La Follette with the Socialists).  This continued through the 1920s up until Teddy’s cousin FDR was elected President in 1932. For the first time, it was a Democrat who was looking to enact major progressive reforms, and his Republican opponents that were in opposition.  In addition, FDR made some attempts to challenge the racist base of the party in the South.  Still, the voting blocs remained mostly the same.  Northern white ethnics and Southern whites voted Democratic; WASPs voted Republican.  Former progressives were mostly voting Republican, but would vote for FDR in the presidential election. 

The first cracks appeared in 1948 when the Democratic Party formally supported integration and Truman integrated the armed forces.  This was viewed as apostate by the Southern Democrats, and many of them formally split off to form a new, entirely race-based party called the Dixiecrats. While not long-lived, the result was that some elected members of the US House and Senate switched their party affiliation from Democrat to Republican.  The age where the Democratic Party was the only group for Southern whites was starting to end.  Over the next 20 years Southern white support for the Democratic Party steadily eroded.  It was Lyndon Johnson, a white Southerner and a Democrat, who worked hard to get the voting rights act of 1965 passed.  For the first time since 1877 Southern blacks were able to vote in large numbers, and they voted as Democrats.

Party alliances in the North underwent an equally major transition.  The flood of European immigration stopped after WWI, and the supposedly unassimilable hordes assimilated.  The Democrats stayed with them, becoming the party that supported unions and represented the working man and woman. Then, during the 1960s, civil rights protests in Northern cities targeted jobs and housing at the same time the urban manufacturing age was ending.  Blue collar workers – the children and grandchildren of immigrants – were in labor unions that were staunchly Democratic, and often just as staunchly against admitting blacks.  Factories started shutting down and the solidly working class blue-collar Democrats began feeling left out of their party’s concerns.     

In a calculated bid to appeal to Northern white blue collar voters and Southern whites, the GOP began to play up racial issues. The movement was small and mostly covert in the 1960s, but slowly become more openly race-based.  Nixon appealed to the “Silent Majority”; those white working class folks, often union members, who felt their world was crumbling.  Ronald Reagan talked about “welfare queens” driving Cadillac cars and George HW Bush made a point of mentioning a criminal with the decidedly black sounding name of “Willy Horton”.  By the 1990s, there was no doubt that the GOP, once the party of abolition, was solidly and assuredly the party where racists could feel most at home.    

Along with the racists, the GOP opened their doors to other groups.  Starting in the 1990s, evangelicals were welcomed with open arms.  Anti-federalists advocates were invited in.  By the early 2000s the GOP has become a case study for cognitive dissonance, with about the only unifying theme being a deep and pervasive anger at anyone perceived as being different. Party leaders have spent the last few years in an increasingly more difficult dance to keep control over the crazies they invited in.  This year, they finally lost control.  But make no mistake about it; they laid the framework and created the situation they now find themselves in. 

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 year in review – the honest way

I really meant to create an end of year post for 2014.  It would have gone over the highs and lows of the year, capturing what I’d learned and giving an overall sense of the year.  And, of course, it would been so well written as to seem universal, with anyone reading it smiling and nodding in appreciation.

Instead, as the temperatures plummeted and the amount of sunlight shrank, I spent my time drinking Tom & Jerry’s and binge watching TV.  January, on the other hand, is the perfect month for deep introspection.  January exists as  the hangover to December, the Jiminy Cricket of months when you face up to everything wrong that needs to be fixed. 

Therefore, I am going to do my 2015 year in review now.  Why wait?  This will ensure me of completing it, and I can smugly sit back in realization that I will be the first person to have completed it. 

January 

This year I resolve to fix up my house and myself.  Joined a gym and spent $300 dollars on a gym bag, shoes and clothes.  The first week I went 4 times, proving what a good idea it was to buy all those clothes.  Since I’ll be looking great in just a few months, I signed up for a 6-month membership to an online dating site; I fully expect to meet someone wonderful within the first month or two, but 6 months was a better deal. I’ve also cleaned and vacuumed the entire house and brought 3 bags to Goodwill. 

2015 will be my year!

February

Going to the gym 2 – 3 times a week; 4 times a week was just nuts.   I plan on waking up at 5am to do yoga; spent $200 on yoga pants and DVDs.     I’m bringing healthy lunches to work every day.  Have been busy contacting likely looking single men from the dating site – 4 meet and greets this month!

This is my year!

 March

Decided it was too hard to get to the gym after work, so am going on weekends only, when I can spend a lot  longer exercising.  Also, it turned out that  the cat thought Yoga was an invitation to jump on my back, and 5am is way too early to do anything but sleep.  But that’s Okay, because I’m still exercising once or twice a week.  The dating site meets were a disappointment.  All the men I met were kind of blah, except for one – I really liked him.  He didn’t like me. 

I hope this will be my year. 

April

Something smelled weird in the fridge, realized all the vegetables I bought  had turned to green slime. Made it to the gym twice this month, yay for me!  Stopped bringing lunches to work, instead I’m just eating chips from the vending machines –only 220 calories per bag, so having 1 or 2 per day is fine.   House is a mess, but there is no point cleaning until winter is finally over.

May

Warm weather finally arrives!  No reason to go to the gym because I can exercise outside.  Signed up for a tennis class and plan to go jogging on the days when I don’t play tennis.  Spent $300 on a tennis racket, clothes and shoes for these new activities.    Really excited about this, I plan on playing nightly after work and weekends.  

June

Tennis is hard, and it hurts my knees.  I need at least 2 days rest after playing a game.  Jogging is okay, but so far I haven’t gone more than a few blocks. Have given up on eating healthy lunches at work – the job is stressful enough without having to obsess over lunch. 

July

Remembered I had joined the stupid dating web site when I saw the automated renewal on my credit card bill.  All the men who look good to me want to find women 10 – 20 years younger than they are.  The house is a mess.  

August

Too hot to do anything outside.  Went to try yoga again, but couldn’t find the DVDs anywhere.  The cat had ripped a hole in my yoga pants.  Went to a farmer’s market and spent a lot of money on health, fresh vegetables.    

September

Decided to start going back to the gym, but couldn’t find my clothes.  I spent another $300 on a new gym bags, shoes and clothes.  Went once, but it was crowded.   House looks dusty and dirty, did some cleaning.  Found the old gym bag, shoes and clothes.  Cleaned out the refrigerator; more slimy vegetables.

October

Bought 10 pounds of candy for Halloween.  Ate 10 pounds of candy.  Bought 10 more.   Went to the gym twice, but didn’t see any weight loss. 

November

Ate the 9 pounds of candy left over after Halloween.  Thought about going to the gym, but was too depressed because it now gets dark at 5pm.  This year sucks.

December

What a shitty year this has been.  Next year will be different.  Next year I will exercise on a regular basis, learn yoga, meet a nice guy and keep my house looking gorgeous. 

I can’t wait for 2016.

Why I still love Wrigley Field

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The first thing I noticed was the smell: a pungent, rich aroma that was a combination of hotdogs, warm beer, just a whiff of grass,  and that hard to define smell from old wooden seats and concrete. Vendors hawked programs, drinks and food.  There were new sounds I’d never heard before; the sharp crack of a bat hitting a ball, the roar of a crowd yelling in one voice, the voices of those lone individuals providing their own commentary to the ball game.  The organ, playing a signature tune for each batter.  The chatter from players, wafting its way up to us in the seats.

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It was my first ball game, and where I fell in love with baseball, the Chicago Cubs,  and Wrigley Field.  This was way back, so long ago that people wore street clothes to games.  The game was so much quieter than today.  The only music was from the organ. The scoreboard was out in center field.  It was low-tech and simple, no lights, instant replay, or fancy graphics.  Inning scores were updated by a person inside the scoreboard manually sliding out the numbers, much like changing storm windows.  The “thwack” sound of each inning’s score being slid into place was audible.  There were no signs or advertisements at Wrigley, just green vines and brick walls.  And a team that was consistently in the cellar of the National League.

That was 1960.  A decade later, when I was in high school, I went to many games with my best friend.  All the games were held during the day, and bleacher prices were cheap; they hadn’t yet been turned into yuppie status symbols.  We’d get there early to watch batting practice, cheering whenever we saw Ernie Banks or Ron Santo.  Ernie, known as Mr. Cub, always made time to go and talk with fans, especially kids, and usually had to be pulled away by the coach when it was his turn for batting practice.  We cheered the team on during the great 1969 season, confident that we’d be back in the fall to watch them during the World Series.  Instead, we got to see them tank during August and fall to the Mets.

Later, things changed somewhat.  The 1980s brought in cable TV and an influx of new fans.  Suddenly the Cubs were hip, and those cheap bleacher seats became pricey.  The unthinkable happened – lights were added.  By this time, I was still a fan, but now located in Wisconsin and watching the games on TV.  I’d also started rooting for the Brewers, an American League team, and got to watch an actual World Series with them in 1982.  In 1984, the Cubs finally had another great team, this time anchored by Ryne Sandberg. I was certain that this would be their year, but of course, they lost. During that final game the cable went out, and I listened to the last sad innings over the radio.  The 80s closed out with another good team, another summer of anticipation and hopes, another season ending in despair.

I was still a fan but bruised; older, wiser and expecting pain as my lot in life.  The decade of the 90s came and went and the Cubs were, well, still the Cubs.  A few close calls, but never making it to the World Series.  The millennium came, and the Cubs still continued.  My personal endpoint happened in 2003 with the loss to the Marlins, and the fan interference that I still can’t bring myself to say out loud. By now I was a divorced empty nester, watching the game with a neighbor who was also a Cubs fan.  We sat in disbelief as a fan reached out and snatched the ball away, and then as the Cubs proceeded to lose when they were 2 outs away from the World Series.  Two outs.  TWO OUTS.

That was the end of my time with the Cubs.  I think of them now as that bad boyfriend who always manages to sweet-talk his way back into your heart no matter how many times he screws you over.  I’m done with them now; no more will they seduce me with hopes of this year, really, it’s a good team.  I wish them well, but I’ve moved on.

But Wrigley Field; oh, that gorgeous place, redolent with 100 years of games and ivy; it’s what baseball is and was always meant to be.  It’s the reason a 6-year-old became a life-long fan of the game.  And it’s still just as wonderful as it ever was.  Happy birthday, Wrigley Field.  I no longer root for the Cubs, but I still love their home field.

Spring for the Soul

Opening windows is a dangerous business; you never know what might happen.  Closed up tight everything is controllable, secured, known.  It’s a no-surprises world during winter: no errant breezes blowing papers around or unexpected odors wafting through the screen.

I’ve been living in that closed world for a long time, going through my own personal winter as dark and cold as the one I face outside every morning.  Nature is cyclical, and we humans are part of that cycle.  No matter how long and brutal the winter, spring always comes.

The ice and snow are retreating, and I have started to open a few windows.  I’m reawakening to the outside world.   Some of it is wonderful, scents and scenes I haven’t been privy to in a year and a half.  Other parts are not.  Spring winds blow warm and inviting, but can abruptly change.  Damages can happen.  Still… I’m tired of breathing  stale air.  I’m ready, even though I know the risk.

I opened some windows, and so far, I’ve gotten more rain than sun, more gusts than sweet gentle breezes; but that’s Okay.  I can shut the window against the rain, but I’ll open it back up again.  Because the only way to get that warm, wonderful sun and fresh scent of growing things is to leave those windows open.

Grab a bucket and start bailing

There’s a lot of chatter out there on the interwebs about the difference between optimists and pessimists, and if pessimists have been unfairly maligned. Traditional thinking labels them as the gloomy Gus’ and Debbie downers of the world, the people that see the glass as half full, those who are just resolutely negative. The new approach identifies “positive pessimists” as pragmatic planners who hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

I think the real difference is being missed. It’s not a matter of being positive or negative, but rather how much a person thinks they can affect the external world around them. Let’s call this the difference between passivity and activism.

An activist who is diagnosed with a chronic disease doesn’t go home in defeat, but instead researches treatment options, enlists friends and family to help, and does everything possible to improve their situation. Activist pessimists and optimists can be hard to tell apart because they are often doing the same things; it’s the reasons that will differ. An activist optimist will exercise and eat right because they believe doing so will keep them healthy and provide a better life. An activist pessimist will follow the same exercise and diet regimen, but will explain that it’s to prevent health problems from affecting them. The difference is subtle; the optimist acts offensively, the pessimist defensively.

The same holds true for the passive optimist and pessimist. Neither of them will change their diet and exercise patterns: the optimist because of a belief that everything will turn out fine anyway, and the pessimist because of a belief that “when it’s your time, it’s your time.” There’s an old joke that perfectly defines the passive person. An area has had a massive flood, and a guy is climbing up on his roof just as his neighbor paddles over in a rowboat. “Climb in” says the neighbor. He waves him off saying “No thank you, I have faith that God will rescue me.” A few hours go by and water starts lapping at the base of his roof. A helicopter hovers overhead and drops a ladder; again, he refuses, stating that God will rescue him. Eventually, with the waters closing in, he loses his balance, slides off and drowns. The man awakens at the pearly gates of heaven, in front of St. Peter. “What happened,” he angrily demands, “Why didn’t God rescue me?” St. Peter looks at him and says, “Who do you think sent the boat and the helicopter?”

The passive optimist believes that things will turn out well, and therefore no special action is required. The passive pessimist believes that things will not turn out well, and therefore why bother trying. These two groups have far more in common with each other than they do with their more active compatriots. Passive people are less likely to be strategic, because being strategic means thinking through possible scenarios and having plans on how to react.

Why is this important? Speaking as a life-long pessimist, I’ve caught my share (and more) of grief for raising “what if” questions. I approach new things or ideas by first trying to disprove them, working my way around the edges looking for soft spots. It’s disconcerting to be perceived as that person always trying to ruin the party. Then there is the body of work suggesting that pessimists get sicker and die younger because of their negative views.

I never felt that the traditional description of a pessimist fit me. While I’m more than willing to entertain “the dark side” doing so has never deterred me from moving forward with a plan to lesson the impact of that worst-case scenario. There are a lot of people out there like me; we aren’t afraid to consider negative possibilities, and then we work like hell in the hope we can either stop them or mitigate their impact.

The revelation for me was realizing that the more important distinction was between those folks who put their hands up to do something versus the ones who sit and wait for someone else to do it. The underlying reasons why are less important.

It’s a Wonderful Life – Isn’t

Of all the movies considered holiday classics, It’s a Wonderful Life is the odd man out.  Christmas movies generally center around, well, Christmas.  Plots focus on the holiday, and conflicts are resolved with everyone ending up with what they want.  In A Christmas Story, Ralphie gets the air-rifle and has the best Christmas of his life.  He doesn’t know that, but we do.  This is the one that he’ll remember years later.  Clark does get the bonus check in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.  Kevin’s parents come home. These are happy movies.   Even the granddaddy of them all, Dicken’s A Christmas Carol,  ends the same in each and every version, with a reformed Scrooge providing a feast for the fecund Cratchit family, and the audience assured that Tiny Tim will end up healthy.

Which is why It’s a Wonderful Life is so different.  The movie doesn’t have a traditional happy ending.  At its start we meet George Bailey and get an introduction to his life.  He is smarter and more ambitious than anyone around him, and wants out of the stuffy town of Bedford Falls.  His plans are waylaid by a combination of bad luck and bad relatives.  His father dies unexpectedly as George is readying to leave town.  The family business is a partnership, but the partner is the semi-moronic, most likely closet-alcoholic Uncle Billy, a man who provides the answer to the question “Why is nepotism bad”.  Instead of waving goodbye, George ends up promising his mother to watch over the family business until his younger brother retunes from college.   Harry Bailey, George’s younger brother, turns out to be as dependable as Uncle Billy.  Instead of holding up his end of the bargain, he returns from college with a rich new wife and makes a clean escape from the stifling burg of Bedford Falls.

George has a decision.  He can stay in the town he finds boring with job he despises, or he can leave.  He feels the call of duty and stays, ending up marrying the girl next door who never had any ambition in life other than being Mrs. George Bailey.

That’s where we come in to the movie.  George is now middle-aged, still running the Building and Loan, still employing the worthless Uncle Billy, still dreaming of excitement and travel.  He’s content with his life, but not really happy.  The crisis that George goes through is manufactured; it happens only because Uncle Billy is a moronic halfwit who probably would be challenged by which end of the brush to use in scrubbing a toilet.  It’s the weakest part of the movie, and acts only to move to the story to the denouement, when George discovers that his life of lowered expectations and unmet dreams is actually good, that in fact he has a wonderful life.

The scenes of Bedford Falls without George act to assuage his sense of frustration in having sacrificed all his dreams.  George, and the audience, sees the consequences that would have arisen had he not been there to lose his dreams.  The Building and Loan would have failed, leaving his mother a poor widow.  Uncle Billy and Druggist Gower both spent time in institutions.  Bedford Falls is a party town, and (oh Lordy no!) there appear to be jazz music and Negroes.  Worst of all, of course, is the fate of Mary, who has become… gasp… the town librarian (apparently the most horrible thing that could befall a woman) and, judging from her clothes, perhaps a Lesbian as well.

And so we leave George at the end of the movie, with family, townspeople, and the bank examiner all in his living room.  He’s still a middle-aged guy who will never travel or leave Bedford Falls, and he still has to work with people who are far less competent and intelligent than he is.  He’s no better off than he was before; but now he’s learned that he is personally responsible for making everyone else’s life better.  Talk about guilt.   He’s everyone who ever turned 40 and wondered what the hell happened.

Merry Christmas from Sarah, Bill and me

I don’t celebrate Christmas, which of course makes me less of an American in the eyes of Sarah Palin and Bill O’Reilly and all the other notables on the Fox News/Tea Party side of the great American political divide.
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To them this is clearly and obviously a Christian country, and always has been since Jesus and George Washington first wrote the Constitution.
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I was shocked, really truly deeply , to find out a few years ago that there is a war going on, and that I and those like me are the aggressors against the poor, overwhelmed and terrified 90% of individuals in this country that identify as Christian.  Apparently, my status as a non-Christian is an affront to the real Americans, of whom I am certainly not.  I am sorry.

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My sins are vast and many, and as the first step in my atonement (and I hope use of the word “atonement” doesn’t too clearly mark me as being Jewish) I am listing a few for which I ask forgiveness:

  • When I was in third grade, our December art class activity was creating Christmas tree ornaments.  I threw mine out on the way home.  I wasn’t the best artist, but more to the point we didn’t have a Christmas tree and I couldn’t see any use for them.  I realize, now, that in doing this I was assaulting the decent God-fearing, Christmas celebrating kids in my class and in this nation.
  • When out shopping for gifts, I’ve been known to say a cheery “Happy Holidays” to people.  It was intended to be friendly, but Bill O’Reilly has opened my eyes to how painful this is to people that celebrate Christmas.  As I find it hard to tell who is Christian and who isn’t just by looking at them, from now on I will shun eye contact to avoid insulting anyone by stating the wrong greeting.
  • Some of my favorite movies play this time of year.  While Christmas-themed, I never thought that “Christmas Story”, “White Christmas”, or even “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” were religious.  I was wrong.  These are deeply spiritual movies that touch on timeless Christian themes such as tree decorating and air-rifles.  I will keep that in mind while watching.  Shown here is a scene illustrating how God rewards the holy.

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I offer up this public apology to make up for my years of atrocities. If you want to find me, I’ll be baking butter cookies and watching “A Christmas Story”.  And, to all my blogging friends, a very Merry Christmas!

Musings on a cold and snowy morning

Winter is settling in, and the land knows it. Animals, earth, and people seem intent on slowing down and creating cozy, tucked in corners. Fall foliage is gone; trees have shrunk to the bones, perennials wilted down to their roots, annuals almost disappeared. Fat squirrels rush about completing their preparation for the cold, hungry months.

I’m settling in too. My weekly visits to the cemetery have been put on hold until next spring, when I’ll look for flowers sprouting from the bulbs I planted a few weeks ago. With colder weather and closed windows, I’m noticing how grimy the house looks, and have started work on turning it back into a home – my home – that I can enjoy. It hasn’t been that for a long time. Not since Rick started being sick, certainly not during the frantic few months that took me from wife to widow, not over the last year as I struggled to adjust to my new station in life. I’m cleaning now, reviewing everything to determine if I still want it. It’s sad work, changing the look and feel from “our place” to “my place”, but it’s work I need to do. I’ve lost patience with being in this in-between phase of life.

I’m not sure what I’m aiming for; I’m flying blind, just randomly reacting to things with no set plan. Slowly, though, I’m starting to get ideas. The second bedroom was used as an office when Rick was alive, and is now a staging area for everything brought over from his house. I’m starting to see a picture in my head of a room with worktable and bookshelves, a comfortable chair and good lighting; a place where I can retreat, but also a welcoming place for visitors to stay. Before I can create the vision that is starting to appear in my mind’s eye I will need to finalize Rick’s things. I need to get moving, to select what can be sold, what to keep, and what to get rid of.

My throat has been sore the last few weeks and it scares me. My attitude towards mortality has changed. I’ve always assumed that any ailment I contracted would heal, and that’s always been the case. Until last year, when I watched Rick go from initial diagnosis to death in under two months, and when what had seemed to be small unrelated things suddenly became the unrecognized signs of a major problem. I’m no longer cavalier about minor symptoms, now thinking that each cough or headache is a sign of some horrible problem. I’m terrified about all the bad things that could happen to me at home. What if I choke on something, or fall and hit my head, or cut myself: I’m alone; there will be no one to help.

I never thought about things like this before, but I do now.

Walking to work this morning in the first snowfall of the winter, I realized that another season has started, that my life is moving on whether I want it to or not. It’s hard work, coming back from grief. Last year at this time, I was experiencing the first two “firsts” of my widowhood, my birthday and Thanksgiving. I skipped my birthday last year, refusing to acknowledge or celebrate it. Thanksgiving was just barely noted; I spent the day with friends, but came home to a lonely dark house.

This year is different. I did celebrate my birthday, going out to dinner with friends and seeing a show. It brought home how much quieter and sadder my life is now. There were no flowers waiting for me after work, no week of finding small gifts hidden around the house, no cards left on the pillow. I’m cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year, but not really feeling any excitement about doing so. It’s an assignment, something to check off a list.

I realize I’m rambling, but these seemingly random and disconnected thoughts match how my life feels right now. It lacks a narrative theme, the unifying connective tissue to pull the individual parts into a meaningful whole. I lurch from one mood to the next. This weekend I started planning what I want to do with the extra bedroom, but also spent time sobbing uncontrollably about all I’ve lost. I’m starting a new phase, moving away from what I was to a new me. It’s too soon yet to know what that new me will be, but I know I’m not the same woman I was 15 months ago. I’m harder and softer than I was, tougher and more vulnerable. Less afraid of taking risks, more afraid of what the future will be. It’s a journey, one I’m just beginning.