What are we talking about today?

Some days have themes. I don't necessarily post something in each of these topic areas every week.

Sunday: Church-related or spiritual things.
Monday: Running.
Tuesday: Books.
Wednesday: Transportation.
Friday: Green living.

24 February 2018

Subscribed

I feel a bit weird, most days, writing about nonsense when the world is on fire. I don't want to give anyone the impression that I don't care or am unaware that there is more to be done in the world than share something I thought of while running last weekend or whatever random thing I'm on about. But it seems to be through the unimportant that my brain occasionally accesses greater truths, and when I manage to get those down, sometimes it touches people or makes them think (although that's not likely to happen today). I don't know how or when or why that happens, but the fact that it does is enough to keep me writing even when I fell pretty silly about it.

So! That being said, let's talk next year's Broadway in Cincinnati season. It's gonna be a doozy.

I was hoping, so very hoping, that we were going to get Come From Away next year. It launches its national tour from Seattle in October, and we get so many national tours in their first year that I had high hopes, which were promptly dashed when I got my upcoming season email. Seriously, though, this place is lousy with the arts and I have no complaints. My friend Bill knew what he was talking about when he told me to take a closer look at Cincinnati, and just this week I realized I've finally moved to loving it here instead of just liking it.

But never mind what we aren't getting. Here's what we are: Nine touring shows, eight of them either freshly off of or still running on Broadway, six of them (if my Broadway brain is working properly) in the first year of their tour, five of them in the first U.S. national tour of the show, and two of them the last two Tony winners for Best Musical. I was at a show at Aronoff Center last night and we're all keyed up for next season, on a heightened level of excitement that launched us into the very-energetic-on-its-own School of Rock. Love. It. Here.

Yeah, I think I'm okay with this lineup.
The one I'm most excited about? Not Dear Even Hansen, not The Play that Goes Wrong. (Look that one up on YouTube. I'm delighted it's coming here.) Not even Hamilton, although I'm in a differently excited realm than usual for that. Nope, I'm most excited for Fiddler on the Roof.

Why, why, why that one? After all, I saw it on Broadway. I've seen it live more than any other show, ever (that's counting high school and community theatre versions). What's left to be excited about?

It's my mother's favourite show. And as such, it's the first musical I ever knew existed. I knew the words to "Tradition" and "Sunrise, Sunset" practically before I could talk. I had wanted to take her to NYC before the show ended on Broadway, but timing and money didn't work out for that, so I promised myself that as soon as it came near either of us on tour, we were going. I cannot wait to share this with her--I'm going to trade in my great-but-miles-from-the-stage subscription seat to get us seats in the front orchestra instead so she can see every emotion on every actor. It's eleven months away and I'm already counting the days until we have what is certain to be one of the best theatre experiences of my life. (She already knows this is my plan. I'm not ruining the surprise.)

And that's why I'm so excited for next year's Broadway season in Cincinnati. 

23 February 2018

In the Bag

I know, I know, a green post is so boring after all the weeping and gnashing of teeth and other stuff that comes with this time of year at Cheekyness. Hop back a few days and read some sad things, if it makes you feel better.

Finding a plastic bag photo was more challenging
than I anticipated. Apparently there are not a lot of
photographers doing still life of grocery bags.
Source: Mentor Public Library.
Today, let's talk shopping bags. Specifically, the flimsy plastic kind they give you at the checkout. If you're very lucky and the cashier is in the right kind of mood, you might get one bag for each item. (Tangent: my grandma hates it when I refuse a bag for one item and just carry it out. She's convinced I'm going to get arrested, even though I usually have the receipt in the same hand. Going to the store with her is an adventure.) So, what to do with all of them?

The first thing to remember is not to put it into the trash. The only time you would ever need to trash one of these bags is if your raw meat leaked icky juices all over it. A little bit of condensation from your cold/frozen items, though, is not a good reason to throw the bag out. Let it air dry; it's fine.

The pre-first thing to remember is to take your own reusable bags (which you are properly washing every couple weeks, of course), but for the sake of this post we're imagining that you forgot them all at home. Put them somewhere where you won't forget next time, then read on.

These suggestions are in order from the least amount of effort to the most. Determine your energy level and then go:

1. Use them as liners for your small trash cans.
You probably don't have enough trash to use all of your bags this way, and will end up with a surplus. Not to worry; just move on to the next step(s) with the rest.

2. Ready-made lunch bag.
It has handles and everything! Of course, if you're like me and have managed to accumulate more reusable bags than you can possibly put groceries in, then you may have a more permanent lunch bag already. Moving on to...

3. Take them back to the store.
Just about every supermarket in America has a collection bin at the front of the store for used bags. Good news: You can also put other soft plastics, like your bread bags, into those bins. They'll take bags from other stores, the plastic that covers your dry cleaning, and pretty much any thin plastic. Do make sure that it's clean--this is not a place for potato-salad-encrusted Saran wrap. And if you are returning a bag with a zip top, remove the zipper first.

You can also take them back to the store the other way--by taking them all the way in for reuse to carry your groceries home a second time. More power to you.

4. Donate them somewhere not at the store.
This may be a bit trickier, but a little bit of Googling should reveal local organizations that will either use a plastic bag or turn it into something else. Here in Cincinnati, there's an org that makes them into sleeping mats for homeless folks. This is a pretty common thing--try your local American Legion Auxiliary if you can't think of anyone else. Not every Auxiliary does it, but the ones who do make the mats exclusively for homeless vets. Anyone who makes things out of bags will be happy to take your (clean and dry) unwanted stock.

5. Make your own reusable bag.
This one is just off-the-wall enough to be true. It involves some melting and sewing, depending on the tutorial you use, but might be a fun activity with kids who are old enough to assist. Here's a video to get you started.

6. Make your own many other things.
Remember those bread bag rugs all our grandmas and aunts were making in the 80s? Want to try one of those mats for the homeless I mentioned earlier? Need some non-wilty flowers in a hurry? The world of instructables is wide open to you, friend. Have a good time.

Seriously. Don't throw those bags away. There's no reason to send them to a landfill when they have so many other potential uses.

What else do you have in your house that might need a second life?

22 February 2018

Just Be

I took a couple days off at the beginning of the week, which turned out to be a fantastic choice when Cincinnati got up to 79° on Tuesday. My bicycle was happy to finally go somewhere interesting after weeks of sitting around when we set out to run a few errands.

Despite my tendency to forget it from time to time, I was remembering well that I live in Cincinnati now, and this week's warm temps were not here to stay quite yet. So, to avoid bitter disappointment later, I kept reminding myself, "Don't get carried away. Just be here in this moment." Normally, that is a strategy that doesn't work well for me.

I ended one of my errands at an intersection of two one-way streets, both going the opposite direction from where I wanted to go, so I thought I'd just go a block and then turn.

Well. This is one of the few times in my life I've managed to convince myself of something and make it stick. A few blocks later, I realized I'd completely forgotten to turn because I was having such a good time rolling right along. There's a great deal to be said about being in the moment and ignoring everything else--not thinking about what I'm doing later or making a mental grocery list or imagining the stack of paper my coworkers were cooking up in my absence. From time to time, it's a good thing to just be.

It's less of a good thing when your sense of direction depends on you being able to think at least a couple minutes down the road, but one can't have everything. But going the wrong way meant I found a thing. Last spring, I did a Cincinnati-themed A to Z Challenge, and when I got to Union Terminal I learned about the mosaics that were specially commissioned for the building. I read at the time that some of them had landed at the Duke Energy Building, and I lodged it in the back of my mind to go look harder for them one day, since I'd been around and inside there a couple times and had never seen them. Guess where my wrong turn took me?

I had crossed the street and was admiring the Firefighters Memorial Park when I happened to glance over and, had I been walking, I would have stopped in my tracks. As it was, I said aloud to absolutely no one, "Wait! Is that them? It has to be!" And crossed back over to see them. They are every bit as amazing as I had imagined they would be.

I only took pics of these two, because the glare made them not look so great.
I'll head back on a cloudy day and get them all.
So there's one more thing to be said for being in the moment. You never know what you may find.

21 February 2018

You Are Here

A couple months ago at work, I was expressing my difficulty in climbing stairs while carrying something that blocks my view of where I'm stepping. I asked, "What's the word for knowing where you are in space? Prio-something?" A coworker called back, "Proprioception!" I said, "Yes. That. I don't have it."

An exhibit in MOMA. I like it.
That's just a little story for you, and not really what this is about. No, this is about my ongoing struggle to build a map in my head. Places I go often--work, church, Kroger--I could find in my sleep, if necessary. Downtown has been a bit more tricky, even though I'm down there a lot. (Parts of downtown are tricky. I can find the Aronoff Center just from the excited twinge that comes over me when in range of live theatre.)

But when I try to visualize where things are in relation to other things in Cincinnati, I often realize I'm picturing a different city. Perhaps this is my brain rebelling against my forcing it to learn its way around a fifth city. How do people who move a lot do it?

There's research that suggests that people who walk and people who drive have similarly accurate mental maps of a place, while regular transit users lag behind them and folks who are exclusively passengers lag even farther still. And there's a cool study on how the brain changes and builds synapses on repeated exposure to the same route. The research mentions neither bikes nor how many cities you can pack into your brain before it explodes. Obviously that's a gap for academia to address.

I'd like to see more research on
Hemingway's experience of building a
mental map. I agree anecdotally, but I'm
all about gathering more data.
Here's one that's even more interesting: kids who live in walkable and bikeable neighborhoods have not only a better sense of place--as in, where things like the park or their school are--but they also feel better about the place they live. Kids who are driven more and rarely walk are they opposite--they have a harder time knowing where they are, and their neighborhood seems more scary. I wonder if being scared of their surroundings is entirely because they haven't gotten the chance to know them well, or if it's also from internalizing the fears of the adults around them. I'm not a kid and I absorb other people's feelings, so it's not hard to imagine that less emotionally developed people do it.

And one more before I go: many studies have found a connection between exercise and thinking/memory skills. So it is the right choice for your or your kids to walk rather than drive when the opportunity presents itself? Only you can answer that question, but even if you can never head out for school or errands car-free, at least try to build in a walk around the block a few times a week.

Your brain will thank you.

20 February 2018

Hope for the Best, But...

Nobody wants to prepare for the worst. It's a very persistent brand of optimism that says if we aren't ready for tragedy, then tragedy can't possibly strike. Would that it were.

I posted a similar thing a year ago, and friends who have been through non-death but still yucky seasons of life, like a long illness or a divorce, told me that many of these suggestions can be adapted for things besides sudden widowhood. And with my family's sudden sad reminder earlier this week that life is short and tends to take a turn exactly when we're not expecting it, I decided this was worth updating and posting again.

However, I do hate writing this only days after children were murdered. My heart breaks as we grieve with the parents currently living their worst nightmare. The somewhat lighthearted nature of this post is not intended as disrespect, as I wish that we lived in a world where no parent need ever bury a child, whether by illness or accident or calculated intent. Indeed, my suggestions are 100% meant for adults, and if I sound flippant, it's only because death comes to us all and I'm still trying to get used to the idea.


Source: St. Mattox on freeimages.com.
You're going to need a Keely.
I don't really know how one finds a Keely, since mine just kind of turned up one day and she's been stuck with me ever since. Basically, no one should be going through life without their own Keely anyway, nor should anyone go through life without being a Keely. (I'm doing my best. I don't know how she does it. She has magical powers.) With apologies to Aaron Sorkin, here's the best way I can think of to find your Keely: Do you have a best friend? Is she smarter than you? Do you trust her with your life? Will she jump in between you and any needlessly irritating folks?

Find your Keely now, so that you can bank lots of good times together before a crisis arises.

You're not going to be ready for the stupid stuff people say.
Unfortunately, my cousins are having to experience this right now. And it was my turn to be on the other side of the coin: your experience with tragedy will not stop you from saying stupid stuff in your turn to the next person. It's part of being human, so unless the current goofball has a history of being thoughtless/causing trouble/etc., and as long as they don't repeat the ugliness over and over, chalk it up to temporary idiocy and let it go. If it's either of those first two things, though, it's okay to reduce or cut off altogether the time you spend with them. Don't be a martyr to someone else's stupidity.

Dying is expensive.
Your bank account is going to take a ding. It's a bummer, but it's true--if you haven't started paying for a funeral, burial plot, etc., there's no getting out of it now. I managed a funeral on the cheap, so it can be done, but you'll still have to shell out some cash. Even for younger and/or childless folks, consider a small life insurance policy just to cover final expenses should the worst happen. (If you have children, you should already have a policy.) Also, that bill you get for the final ambulance ride/ER trip/DOS pronouncement is going to be the worst bill of your life.

Your credit score will likely fluctuate as well when you change all your joint accounts to individual ones--it's been three years and I've only just gotten my credit back to where it was before. This will be all the more true if you, like me, had little to no credit of your own before.

Single and with no one else to consider? If you don't want to buy life insurance, at least sock some cash away somewhere in a just-in-case fund, to help out your family if something goes horribly wrong.

Married folks need to be sure both names are on every account. Unmarried folks need to name an authorized representative.
It never occurred to us that by letting Chadwick take care of all our bills, we were effectively locking me out of all our accounts. I had to send death certificates to everyone just to get anyone to talk to me. (Special shoutout to City of Austin utilities and Bank of America, who were much more kind and sympathetic than, for instance, Verizon.)

Married, life partner, long-term relationship, whatever--make sure that if something happens to you, the person you trust with your life and things can continue taking care of your business. In fact, if you have a friend or next of kin who you trust, having a third authorized person on the account who might be slightly more clear-headed for speaking to your rubbish collector might be something to consider. Also, this seems as good a place as any to point out that you'll have some extra paperwork to do at tax time for a couple years. (Death and taxes, though--the IRS has customer service folks who are great at this. Call them. They're incredibly helpful.)

If you don't have someone you're sharing your life with, pick a next of kin, trusted friend, whatever--someone who is capable and trustworthy for closing out your accounts.

Similarly, share your passwords. To everything.
I mean, if you don't already have access to each other's accounts anyway, that's probably something you should talk about. I'm all for respecting each other's space, but to keep passwords secret is to invite some problems in. However! The real point here is that if you're felled by serious injury, hospitalization, or worse, your spouse will probably need to get into your computer sooner or later. Make sure passwords are stored somewhere everyone can get them.

My sister knows the password to my computer, but sooner or later I should write them down somewhere for whoever is the first one who has to get into my electronics. I don't really have a good solution for this yet. I'm sure someone does. (One of my baby cousins knows my phone pin, because I let her play with my phone at every family get-together. I doubt anyone will think to ask her.)

Any special instructions/bequests need to be written down.
I'm lucky enough not to have had interfering relatives on either side of the family. (Of course, they were all far away, so...) But if you think there may be a relative, friend, neighbor, etc. who will muscle in at the worst possible time to claim Great-Aunt Myrtle's antique vase as his or her own, make sure your partner has some ammunition to fight back. People as young as I am may not want to go to the bother and expense of writing a formal will (unless you have a condition that you know will shorten your time on this earth), but at least write some stuff down.

Know your rights.
I can't speak to separated or blended families, couples of different nationalities, same-sex couples, common-law marriages, or others that are outside my experience, so I urge you: do your research for your particular situation and make sure all your bases are covered. Y'all may be in need of legal documents that I didn't necessarily have to have.

If you have any ideas for a final send-off, it's never too early to say so.
The only things Chadwick and I talked about ahead of time were donating organs and planting trees with our ashes. The first one obviously had to be dealt with right away, but I still haven't planted a tree. I don't know when that's going to happen, so in the meantime, I keep the ashes put away somewhere that visitors aren't likely to see it and ask, "What's that box?" Because there's no good way out of that conversation.

You're not going to be ready for the outpouring of kindness.
Tell the first person who asks, "What can I do?" to bring over some tissues. You're going to need them for more than just the obvious reasons. Humans can rise to amazing heights when called to it. Be willing to let people do things for you that you can't do for yourself.

This is a time when it's okay for it to be all about you.
People who bring you down, people who insist on telling you what you're doing wrong, people who refuse to respect your boundaries--these are people you can do without right now. It's okay to banish them for a while and then only let them back in when you're ready. Recruit some folks to run interference, if necessary. This is a great job for your Keely.

Get things written down, prepared, put away, and then let it go. One less thing to worry about.

19 February 2018

What Not to Say, Again

I wasn't going to bother with this post in 2018. I've written it down a few times now, with updates as appropriate, and I thought, "People who are reading my blog have probably already internalized this and don't need to hear it again." But then just a few weeks ago, a Facebook friend announced a loss, and I watched in resignation as her page filled up with dumb stuff and I thought, "Yeah, I need to write it down again." I said so on Twitter, and this happened:
I took a bunch of pics in a cemetery
once. Those pics have really come
in handy.
Indeed. And even if I hadn't reached that conclusion, my cousins' experiences last week have only served to underline this need. So, here it is again, and please feel free to share it as broadly as you like in the hopes that well-meaning but poorly equipped friends can get some fresh ideas. And maybe that the insensitive clods will at least have a go at keeping quiet.

For the times that you don't manage to stop yourself in time, shake it off and do better the next time. Whether we like it or not, the wrong words will pour out of our very human mouths when faced with other peoples' grief. Also, it's good to remember that while most of these things that I suggest you not say are pulled from the consensus of widows groups and similar sources (yes, I did more research than just living through it), grief is idiosyncratic. It's possible you'll run across someone who's okay with these statements. But it's easiest not to count on people in grief hearing what you mean and not what you say, not when there are other options.


Part 1: Things That Are Better Left Unsaid

1. For the love of everything, please don't race to be the first post your condolences on Facebook

If you don't know for sure that all family and friends who should hear the news firsthand have been informed, find something else to do with your fingers while you wait for the closest relative to post first. I recommend a good cup of tea and perhaps a crossword puzzle. Honestly, the deceased is not going to get any less dead if you don't say something right away. Even if your intentions are good, please wait. Go ahead and send a text to the widow(er) if you like--but again, don't expect an immediate response, or indeed any response at all. It's not a grief-off.

Also, if you think you should have been among the first to get a phone call and weren't, or you read it from someone on Facebook before you got the call, take any aggravation/resentment you may feel and find a healthy way of dealing with it that doesn't involve airing your grievances to the bereaved. Ever. This does not have a statute of limitations. Give the family some slack--there are only so many times anyone can say, "My [family member] died this morning" before it gets to be too much.

2. "Did you know he was sick?" or "Was this a surprise?"

My aunt and cousins have just had to deal with (and are probably still dealing with) being asked this. I cannot stress this enough: if you don't already know, it's none of your business right now. Full stop, no exceptions, especially in the first few weeks when the bereaved probably don't want to share what happened hundreds of times. Other people have almost certainly asked before you, so please restrain yourself. Ask a more distant relative, if you must, but not the people sitting in the front row at the funeral.

I got asked this so many times that I started telling people that a pulmonary embolism is an acute condition that can happen to anyone at any time, which is not 100% true, but usually gave the questioner reason to ponder his or her own mortality, preferably somewhere else. If you don't want this treatment, it's best not to ask.

Caveat: after a while, people started to phrase it as, "Can I ask what happened?" which at least gives the bereaved a chance to say "I'd rather not talk about it" if that's how they feel. (And if that is the answer you get, back off immediately.) If some time has gone by and you've still never heard what it was, this is probably the way to do it. Just please don't assume that every dead person was harboring a secret fatal illness.

3. "S/He's in a better place."

This may be true, but you shouldn't say it out loud in the presence of family members who are struggling just to stay upright and survive the next minute. Hawaii is also a better place, but I wouldn't want him going there and leaving me behind, either. If this is comforting to you, say it to yourself. Don't say it to the family.

And the next is like unto it:

3. "It's comforting to know that s/he's with Jesus."

You don't know whether this is comforting or not. (Spoiler alert: For me, it's not, even though I believe that it's true.) So also keep this one to yourself, if it helps you.

And the next is like unto it again:

5. "God needed him/her more that you did."

No, God bloody well did not. I don't understand why people of faith have so many awful platitudes we've cooked up for times of crisis, but it's time for us all to forget them. If this is the best you can do, just sign the guest register and take a seat with your mouth closed. This is a terrible thing to say, not only because it's not comforting, but also because it turns God into some kind of weirdo body-snatching alien from a bad horror movie. Just don't.

6. "How are you?" or "How are you, really?"

I know, I know. It seems like a well-intentioned, innocent enough question. The problem is, everyone wants to put the emphasis in those exact places. The further problem is, when asked with any kind of emphasis, the question carries a connotation of "You can tell me the truth, even things you don't want to tell other people, because I'm being all kind and understanding!" Yes, even if that's not what you mean, that's how it sounds, and that being the case it can imply a closer relationship than you truly share with the bereaved. Steer clear.

On the other hand, asking "How are you?" without any weird emphases and being open to an honest answer, or to no answer at all, is not as bad. If nothing else, "How are you?" is how we open a lot of conversations, so it's at least a common convention and is less likely to be misunderstood. However, know in advance that the answer may well be an exasperated, "How do you think I am?" So tread carefully.

7. "Were you close?"

Okay, I pulled this one from my personal archives. Obviously, this isn't something people ask widows. (At least, I hope not!) When I lost uncles in 1997 and 2001, this was all anyone could ask me. Fortunately, I haven't heard it this past week. So this one might be an age thing, the result of young people overall having less experience with grief. Whatever the reason, please don't ask this. They'll probably tell you without you asking, anyway.

8. Anything that might be trying to get the person to look on the bright side.

We're not going to get to the bright side any faster just because someone is trying to "help" get us there, no matter how good your intentions are. This is, in fact, one of those times when looking on the dark side is totally appropriate. There's a road out, but in no universe does someone come out of the darkness faster if you forcibly shine a Maglite into their face.

I've probably missed some important ones, but this should be enough to get you started. Above and beyond all else, think before you speak. Always. That's the best way to save everyone some aggravation, embarrassment, and heartache. And of course, I'm not leaving you hanging without some replacement ideas. Keep reading:


Part 2: Things that are good to say

1. "Please text/call/Facebook me, even if it's the middle of the night."

This is not for casual acquaintances. You should only say this to someone with whom you already have a text/call/Facebook relationship. You should also edit it to fit your own boundaries--if you have small children in the house, 2 AM phone calls may not be how you can help, for example. Only say this if you are able and willing for the person to take you up on it.

2. "What can I bring you?"

This one works for anyone, unless the bereaved has some sort of restraining order against you. Be prepared with suggestions if the person says "I don't know." Be prepared with non-food ideas if the person says "My fridge is full." Be prepared to get a gift card if the person says, "No, thank you," but gift-giving is still one of your love languages. Stick it in a card and drop it in the mail--they'll appreciate it later. Promise.

Caveat: Don't bring or give anything if you will be in a huff later if you didn't get a thank-you card. It's possible that the family will run out of steam for writing all the thank-you notes they intended, or will never conjure the energy in the first place. Give with no strings or expectations, or don't give at all.

3. "Can I go to the bank/supermarket/library/etc. for you?"

Yes. Yes, you can. Again, maybe this isn't something you'd say to someone you've only said hello to twice. If you don't know them well enough to know if they're too private to accept this offer, skip straight to a nice sympathy card with some kind words inside.

4. "Do you want to go to [fun thing you've always done together]?"

Give this one a little while before asking the first time, and keep in mind that the answer will likely be 'no' the first few times you ask. (Make sure you're spacing out your invites appropriately. This is also idiosyncratic--weekly? Monthly? Maybe next year? Pay attention to your friend's response to decide when to ask again.) Please, please don't give up on your friend. One day, the answer will be 'yes.'

5. Sharing a favourite memory or something you liked or appreciated about the departed person is nearly always welcome.

This means other kinds of stories, like "most embarrassing moment" or "something horrible he did to me when we were kids," are probably not welcome. Don't be the weird cousin who tells awkward stories at the wake.

Also, don't hold back on telling stories even if it's been weeks or months or years since the deceased passed. The idea of not wanting to remind the bereaved about his/her loss is silly; it's not like we're going to forget. If someone says they don't want to hear a memory right then, accept that in the moment, but that doesn't mean that they'll feel that way forever. In fact, there's a good chance they may reach out to you to hear that story once they're in a better frame of mind.

6. Go to the funeral.

This is not one of mine; it comes from a wise friend (who came to Chadwick's funeral, btw), and she is 100% correct. It's the best chance to show that you care. You don't even have to say anything. I'd be lying if I said I have instant recall of every person who was at Chadwick's funeral, but I do know that every person who stepped through the door made my heart swell a bit more. Especially those who travelled long distances and were a surprise. You never know how much your presence will bless someone.

7. "I care about you."

Just don't be creepy. If you don't know the person well enough to be non-creepy, there's always the standard-issue and perfectly acceptable:

8. "I'm so sorry to hear of your loss."

Cliched? Sure. Appreciated? Oh, yes. Even in those dark moments, we all know that there are no words. Better to say a few and let your presence speak for you than to try to "fix" it.

So if you've read all this and you're mad at me now or think I don't know what I'm talking about, congratulations! You are my target audience. Don't send me an angry comment; instead, re-read this through a few times and try to memorize the things in Part 2. Print it off and hang it up, if you need to. Take it along to the next funeral as a cheat sheet.

Above all, thank you for trying to lighten the load for someone else. That's my point for writing this again--to help you help your nearest and dearest through an awful time. Keep in mind that your words have power and you'll do just fine.

18 February 2018

To Be Happy You're Alive

Reading my Facebook memories in the days leading up the anniversary of Chadwick's last day is a bit like, well, a Crockpot fire. It's like Mrs. Landingham leaving the office to go pick up her car. It's like Henry getting on that chopper. I get the same jolt of realization as I do when I watch beloved characters going about their normal business with no idea that their lives are about to be irrevocably shattered.

Last year, I wrote about what went down that day, so if you've never heard the whole story, that's where you can read it. I'm not writing all that down again.

There's nothing not to love about this picture. Even if you
didn't know him, this pretty much says it all.
A few months ago for Chadwick's birthday, a dear friend sent me a message addressed to him that read, in part: "You are with her everywhere. Every adventure she takes, she takes you along." I certainly hope that's true. For all that I can't make up my mind about whether I like the idea of his spirit hanging around, I hope I'm living a full enough life for two people. If nothing else, I want to honor his spirit by experiencing every moment as fully as I can, even the moments when I'm frustrated or disgusted by this world we're living in.

This life isn't fair. Some days, nothing goes right. This is one of those days. In a life gone horribly wrong, I'm doing my best just to keep going. And I hope you are, too. That's the least we can do for those who've passed on from this life and who are no longer allowed to participate, but who may well be watching.

Post title is a line from "Light," from the musical Next to Normal, which is still basically my life anthem. You're on your own if you watch any more of it than that song.

17 February 2018

Strands of a Life

Legacy may be planting seeds in a garden you never get to see, but that doesn't tell us what to do with the gardens that are left to us. What we leave behind matters. But so does what we do with what's been left.

An old episode of Theatre People caught my ear recently, when Jeanine Tesori said, "A lot of the middle ages is taking the strands of your family's history and trying to decide what you're going to use in your own embroidery." I may not be quite to the middle ages just yet, but choosing my own strands is a thing I'm definitely thinking about this week.

Some literal family embroidery--my
grandmother's. This is a thread of hers that
is also in me. The fact that we shared this
was the sort of thing she might have
mentioned while she was still alive.
Some strands I left behind long before it even occurred to me that that's what I was doing, when straight out of high school I decided I needed to move away from my family and its history and see what I could embroider on a clean canvas. I brought them with me, though, with the needing things just so and the snark and the hanging onto things because I'll find a use for them later, plus wherever the writing thing came from.

My grandfather's nickname in his final years was "Mr. Wonderful," because whenever anyone asked him how he was, he would say, "Wonderful." He said that to me when I saw him the last time in the hospital--I walked in when he was alone, he grinned the same smile that my mother and uncles and brother all inherited, but not me--I said, "How are you, Grandpa?" and took his hand. He said, "Wonderful," before telling me he was in too much pain for me to hold his hand like that.

My Chadwick greeted the world with arms and heart open every day. I said of my uncle's passing earlier this week, "the world just got a little less kind and open-hearted." The pieces of my family's thread that are already in me are so deeply embedded that I don't even have to think about them, I can't even see them most of the time, but this open-heartedness and embrace of the world and everyone in it--those are threads I have to fight for. They aren't in me, because I have, at least somewhat from necessity, closed off my heart. I wonder what I'm missing, what kind of tapestry I could be making, if I could access those threads that I've left in the box for now. Who knows how my embroidery will change as the years go by?

I can't use all my family's thread. And I certainly don't want to. We have some ugly colours that I've purposely avoided, because that's not the kind of legacy I want to leave behind. And I've added some that are just me, which means leaving even more of everyone else in the box. 

What threads are you using?

16 February 2018

Carded

Humans, we need each other. We need connection. We need someone who cares. We need to know we aren't alone.

This is a pretty tall order. Due in part to our current disconnectedness, it's not always easy to know who needs a word of encouragement. Or who the person is who I can make a difference for. And who doesn't have more things going on than hours in a day?

I don't have a solution, except that my usual throwing my hands up in the air and retreating into a book to avoid actual human emotion is probably not one. But I do have a teeny tiny thought.

Some of the postcards on my ribbon board. It's possible
one of these is not so much a postcard as me showing off
that I got a thing.
This thought started when I was perusing my Facebook memories a few days ago, and found an old comment of mine that sending a postcard instead of a Facebook message is only marginally more expensive and you get a pretty picture, too.

Remember when we used to send letters? I loved writing letters in pre-internet days, but that dwindled away until the only person I was writing letters to was my grandmother, who is no longer around to receive them, so for the last three years I've sent the odd postcard from D.C. or NYC, and that's it. I think it's time to change that.

How is this an environmentally friendly idea? I don't know, but what I do know is that the postal service runs whether I'm using it or not, so I may as well give them something to carry that isn't junk mail. It is possible to tear the front off a card you've received that you weren't sure what to do with later (does anyone else have this problem? I can't bring myself to recycle a card, no matter how many years it's been gathering dust) and use that as a postcard, so that's a good way for a bit of reusing to sneak in. Plus, happier humans = better planet, at least I certainly hope so.

So I'm challenging myself starting right now to send out at least one postcard a week in 2018, and to do that I need your help. Want a postcard? Send me your address via DM and I'll put you in the queue. Why am I doing this? Because I care about you and want to brighten your day a little bit. Because we need a bit more connection in the world today. Because I want a reason to go buy some postcards.

What will you do today to make the world a more connected place?

15 February 2018

Saying Good-bye

The sad posts weren't supposed to start this soon, but as always, the universe had other plans for me.

On Saturday night, I got the call that my healthiest uncle was in the ER in critical condition. I started getting ready to head to Indianapolis in the wee hours, and in the meantime, fired off a text to two very sensible friends: "I can't lose someone else in February. Can. Not." They talked me down off the ledge, and it turned out that yes, in fact, I can: about 15 hours later, he was gone and I'm still very much here.

I keep banishing February and it keeps coming round again. This is the fourth family member that we've lost in February in four years, and that's only counting the ones I'm actually related to, because my extended family's other families (on both sides) have suffered losses in (or near) February the past few years, too. Winter sucks.

I let one of the baby cousins play with my
phone on Christmas Eve. Thank goodness.
Anyway. Today we say good-bye to a kind and gentle soul who somehow managed to cope for 45 years with the so-very-not-those-things family he married into. His cheerful demeanor and voice of reason are lost to us forever. He filled a deep need in the extended family, and I don't know that anyone will ever step into that void that he has left behind. We are bereft, and no one more so (naturally) than my auntie who has had him at her side for so long.

I've been trying to think of stories to share and I settled on a few, but most of them are recent and not from when I was a kid and saw him all the time. Because, I think, he's always been more of a constant presence than someone with whom I have a series of happenings to write about later. Always there, always ready for a chat, always going to be around forever. Until he wasn't.

Uncle Buster (not his given name, but that's what we call him) worked for Indiana DOT for years. Sometime around the third or fourth grade, we were assigned to interview someone for a report. Apparently I was already a budding transportation enthusiast, because I decided to interview Uncle Buster about highway things. I don't remember what we talked about, except that I was keen to know what the control boxes near traffic lights were called. Looking back now that I've become an active transportation advocate and a technical writer, I'm high-fiving both of us for having such a great idea.

It's ridiculous that all of my pics
of my family are from 15 years
ago, but whatever. My sweet little
flower girl is now in her first
year of college and has gotten
slightly taller since then.
Skipping ahead a few decades, I think Uncle Buster was pretty excited about Denise and I coming home (her for a visit, me to stay-ish) two summers ago. I was doing something in the deep recesses of Grandma's house a couple days after we arrived when there was a knock on the door, and she said "hello" in the voice she uses for strangers, so I thought it was a Jehovah's Witness or something. Then a familiar voice said, "I'm looking for a couple of girls!" and I screamed, "I'm coming!!" from wherever I was in case Grandma decided to call the cops before she realized who was standing in front of her. (She knows all of my dad's family very well and figured it out pretty quickly; she just didn't recognize him right away.) We ended up on the back porch talking about my bicycle for an hour while Grandma tried to get him to eat something. Poor Grandma and Denise were bored out of their minds having to hear us talk bike things.

Last May, I ran the Indy Mini and so did my oldest cousin's husband. He finished something like an hour ahead of me, and I didn't even know they were there until I got home and checked Facebook. That afternoon I got a phone call from Uncle Buster to ask how the race went, and he asked if I'd seen my cousin (his daughter) & her husband there. I said no, that he'd finished about an hour ahead of me and I never even laid eyes on either of them. Uncle Buster, who up until then was apparently confused about how running works, said, "But he's older than you!" Once I stopped laughing, I explained that any advantages a few years' younger runner may have, especially at our age, are easily overcome by things like training, genetics, better diet, longer legs, and not being 30 pounds overweight. I think he was reassured by that answer. Or perhaps he spent the rest of his days convinced that I'm the faster runner and last May was just a fluke.

Another recent visit home, sometime last spring, he asked how I'd gotten here and I told him I took the bus. He reacted like he'd never heard of public transportation, and then asked why I'd never told him I needed a car, because he would have helped me find one. I told him I don't need a car, and he said, "You just said you don't have a car."
Me: "I don't."
Him: "But I can help you get one."
Me: "I don't need one."
Him: "You just said you don't have one."
Me: "I don't."
This went on for a few minutes, me keeping it up just to see how long he would keep going, until my auntie finally couldn't take it any longer and told one or both of us to can it. We started talking something else, and she finally commented on my patience for long conversations with a man who could talk for America. I told her, "I was married to one of these, too," and she said, "Oh, yeah, I forgot about that." I dearly hope Chadwick and Buster run into one another on the other side. In eternity, they may finally get through all the words they always intended to say. (Unlikely.)

And finally... Uncle Buster and I had a nice chat for an hour or so on Christmas Eve. At one point, he asked me if I was a member of the Christian Singles Network in Cincinnati. (I don't even know if that's a thing, btw.) I asked him if he was high.
Him: "I'm serious!"
Me: "So am I!"
Him: "Well, but don't you want--"
Me: "No no no no no. Whatever is at the other end of that sentence, I do not want it. No."
Him: "... Well. Okay."
And then we moved on to something else. Airplanes, I think.

Goodnight and joy be to you, Buster. We'll see you on the other side.

(This video really does work, even though it's grey in some browsers. Go ahead and click.)

14 February 2018

The Replacements

Ash Wednesday is upon us. Not ready? It's not too late. Really. I've started late a few times, and had to re-start more often than that. Tomorrow is always a new day.

So! I'm not sharing my fast, because I don't. And this year's fast was really quite an easy choice. The more difficult preparation for me was deciding what to do instead.

I will definitely fall into this hole if given half a chance.
Source: Asif Akbar on freeimages.com.
Maybe other people don't have this problem. If you don't, I salute you and hope you'll write your own blog post about how you succeed. But for me, I can't just take things away and be done with it. I have to have something to fill the space, or the same old things will fall in again when I'm not looking. If I want a change to stick, even if I decide this one is only for the next six weeks, then I need a smooth surface to build on, not one riddled with potholes.

My process was pretty simple: I looked around and thought, "What are some things I've been neglecting that I can give attention to during Lent?" I'm going so far as to create myself a pretty list to hang up on my wall for when my brain starts getting tugged in the direction of something that's off the table until Easter, because I will forget without something there to remind me. I have, it seems, learned some tricks for accommodating the gaping holes in this brain of mine. This is similar to my practice of not bringing chocolate into the house so I won't eat a ton of it in one sitting, except from the opposite direction.

Here's what I came up with:
1. Reading
Kevin Tuerff's Channel of Peace is on my shelf and ready to go. I have Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together on hold at the library. And I realized earlier this week that my skills at finding something quickly in a paper Bible are almost non-existent after many years of using an ebook version, so I have one likewise on a shelf where I will see it and remember to open it up.

2. Writing
Between this blog, the Women in the Marketplace blog I've neglected even more than this one, and a still very much unfinished school story that I would really like to find out how it ends, I have plenty to keep my keyboard busy. Incidentally, sad blog posts are coming this weekend. I know some of you only come round for those, but if that's not you, I won't be offended if you run away until the sad stuff is done.

3. Crafting
I've lost track of how many projects I have in progress, but there are three in particular that I'd like to finish soon, and one I need to start because it has a hard deadline.

I'm not certain what this hand is doing, so I'm off to a
good start. Source: John Hughes on freeimages.com.
4. And some other things...
There are some things on my list that I think it's best that I keep to myself. Things that should remain, like the fast itself, with the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. Maybe after Lent is over I'll share some more. We'll see how it goes.

How do you deal with changes you'd like to make in your life--temporary or permanent? Do you fill up the gap with something else right away, or are you able to leave it alone and let it heal on its own?

13 February 2018

In My Mailbox

I got a new book in the mail yesterday.


This book came to me in one of those crazy experiences I keep having that make me wonder if this is real life. Once I've worked out whether I'm actually awake or not, I'll tell you all about it.

Kevin Tuerff, the author, is the basis of Kevin T, the character, in Come From Away, my current favorite show on Broadway. You can hear Kevin T (played by Chad Kimball), in this song, featuring "Channel of Peace," the song for which the book is named. While I've sung a version of St. Francis' prayer for years, it's never been with this tune (which is a real hymn, by the way), and I'm pretty bummed about that.


12 February 2018

Coping Skills

I work in a building full of counselors, which certainly has its upsides, but sometimes I forget that there are things I don't want to say in front of them. Like, when discussing emotional upheaval, I say, "That's what I have running for. I don't know what other people do." They don't react, because they've been carefully taught not to, but that doesn't mean that I don't hear their sudden silence. Mwah hah hah.

These are great tools, but sometimes they're not the tool
that's needed.
And while it's mostly true for me (I also have chocolate, books, and crayons), that doesn't mean I shouldn't get my own therapist sooner or later. I absolutely should, rather than relying on the good vibes of my coworkers to keep me even-keeled. (I'm guessing they've figured out by now that I go around absorbing their affect, like an emotional vacuum cleaner.) I just haven't yet. I mean, it's pretty good chocolate, and if I run until I'm ready to collapse from exhaustion then it's easier to fall asleep.

This is my long way round to say that one cutesy little expression runners love, "Running is cheaper than therapy," should remain cutesy and never, ever be treated as absolute truth. Running is not therapy, and miles spent pounding pavement, even in the company of the best running buddies ever, is no substitute for a trained professional human.

Let's not use our sport to browbeat others or make them feel less than. (Unless, you know, you're beating the pants off your running buddy at your next 5K. That can usually be solved by the winner buying the first round of drinks.) And let's never treat exercise as a replacement for other needs. Running has a huge place in my life and I'd be a lot worse off without it, but I never want to use my miles or my words to hurt someone. I'd rather use them to bring us all together.

How will you bring people together this week?

11 February 2018

Almost Time

If you're planning to observe Lent this year, but haven't worked out how yet, now's probably a good time to think about it. I mention this because I have a tendency to think I have more time than I really do for most things, and it's possible other people have a similar affliction. 

Don't forget: we already know this
story has a happy ending.
Source: George Bosela on
freeimages.com
.
I write pre-Lenten posts not because I'm any kind of an expert on Lent, but because I got a few years' head start on most of my previously non-observing acquaintances, so people tend to ask me relevant questions. The least I can do is share a few things I've learned on this journey, in case you were wondering but don't have anyone to ask. So, here you are:

1. Are you judging me for not doing Lent?
No. I don't have that kind of mental energy. You do you and I'll do the same.

2. Do you have any Lenten resources to recommend?
I do not, but if there's a particular area of your faith that you'd like to explore more, that's a good starting place. Your local library probably has a decent religion & spirituality section.

3. Should I announce my fast on Facebook?
People are a little weird about this one, which is probably why I've heard a lot of strange reasons in favor of blowing a virtual trumpet on Shrove Tuesday. Here's what I got:
  • Before you decide, please read Matthew 6:16-18 and carefully consider your motivation for announcing your fast.
  • If you're asking me as someone who's done this many times and has some experience of the value of people knowing my fast vs not: no, you shouldn't.
  • If you're asking because you're hoping that announcing your fast will start faith-producing conversations: you may have misjudged the medium if you expect a productive conversation on Facebook, but if you have an exceptionally open-minded audience, go ahead and try it. Best of luck.
  • If you're asking because you're looking for some accountability: I'd suggest you find an offline human, or if it must be online, that you approach someone you trust via private message.
  • If you're asking because giving up Facebook is your fast and you want to let everyone know where you're going: I'd only do it if your absence will upset someone. Again, this is probably best done via private message rather than a public announcement.
  • If you're asking for spiritual guidance, I refer you again to Matthew 6:16-18.
4. Do I have to go meatless on Fridays?
Are you participating in Lent as part of your faith tradition, and if so, does that faith tradition ask you to go meatless? If so, in order to fully participate with your community: yes. If you're creating your own community or going it alone, then you have a bit more leeway to decide which elements, if any, of the traditional fast you're going to adopt. 

5. Did you know it doesn't really add up to 40 days?
Yes. Sundays don't count as part of the 40 days because Christians celebrate Jesus' resurrection on those days, and that celebration supersedes the mourning/fasting of Lent. (Sundays aren't meant to be days "off," though. Lent isn't a diet with cheat days built in.)

6. Does it matter what I give up?
Yes, it matters, but maybe not in the way you're asking. (And it's okay if you haven't decided yet.) Some things to consider:
  • What are you trying to learn from Lent? What areas of your life need growth? Think about that and let that shape your fast. Also keep in mind that your fast, if it's helping you learn/grow, may not be something you want to stop at Easter. You can absolutely use these six weeks as a starting point for something more permanent.
  • Some folks are under the impression that people only give up sins that they should have already been trying to remove from their lives. Now, if Lent helps you do that, I'm not about to tell you not to. Six weeks of focused intent may be you push you need to finally deal with that thing. 
  • You may feel like giving up chocolate or TV or something small is silly. But if you're a first-timer or you choose something small that will be a genuine challenge, there's no reason to feel less than because you gave up coffee. Growth can come from small things, too.
  • It's not so much what you're giving up; it's what you replace it with. So before you say, "Got it!" take some time to consider what you're adding to your life during Lent.
7. What if I don't start on Ash Wednesday or fizzle out by the end?
It happens. That's why the Israelites prayed, "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (That's Lamentations 3:22-23.) Make a new beginning as often as you need to.

8. What else do I need to know?
Get in there and do it, and be open to what changes in you. If you have a community to do this with, by all means, embrace that community whole-heartedly and do this together. God has placed you in a community for good reason, and fasting together as a shared experience can multiply your joys and divide your struggles. Do not neglect your community this Lent. Embrace them.

You still have a couple days to get ready, but try not to wait until 11:50 Tuesday night.

09 February 2018

Be a Light

How do you make the world a better place?

I'm wondering this because I first started making Friday my environmentally friendly theme day many years ago, when over the course of many conversations it became evident that easy earth-friendly things I thought everybody was doing were in fact quite the opposite. So I started writing them down. Some stuff is just so much fun to do and I'm bummed that everyone hasn't figured it out yet. You can turn kitchen scraps into dirt! Old clothes into pillows! Why wouldn't everyone want this kind of magic in their lives?

It's choose-your-own-metaphor day here at Cheekyness.
Source: Sorina Bindea on freeimages.com.
And despite the fact that I intend to continue making my footprint on the earth as light as possible, current trends in governmental thinking be darned, I don't want to lose sight of all the other ways of making the world a better place.

I would like people to recycle more and litter never. I would like, in this place of abundance, for everyone to not waste so much stuff. I would love for the people who think it's no big deal to send other people death threats on social media to retreat into the lifestyle of an internet-free hermit and let the rest of us get on with being not-horrible humans. We could probably do all those things at once.

Make the world better for your having been in it today. I'll do the same and we'll meet later to talk about how it went, okay?