Thoughts at the Turn of a Decade

I planned to spend the last day of 2019 writing and the evening hanging out with the kids. They’re getting older, and I know that days spent celebrating New Year’s Eve with Mom are few and precious. But then I decided that I wanted to prepare a special meal for the day, which meant that instead I spent much of the afternoon in the kitchen making a cassoulet—as well as a batch of varenyky in advance for Sviat Vechir, Ukrainian Christmas Eve, next week.

So, in between chopping and sautéing, braising and boiling, I kept leaning over to jot down thoughts on the laptop positioned at the end of the counter. Once they were tucked in after midnight, I was able to finish up. Here are my stove-side thoughts for the end of a decade.

2020 is the beginning of the sixth decade I have been alive for; this is the decade when I’ll turn 50. Looking back:

1970s
I was a child, and surrounded by love. The world was scary and wonderful
in the way that fairy tales are wonder-filled. My life was full of star wars
and little houses on the prairie and sorcerers and ghosts.
1980s
I became a teenager and immersed myself in books.
I fretted about the future and dreamed about falling in love,
and I learned invaluable lessons in loneliness.
1990s
I fell in and out of love so many times. I found my voice
and learned how to use it. I found my path and I decided
who I wanted to be when I grew up.
I read everything. I taught. I danced and I wrote
into the early hours of almost every morning.
2000s
I got married, moved back and forth overseas, became a mother.
I learned new lessons in generosity and loneliness.
We traveled to awesome places, touched the past
and planted seeds for future adventures.
Through my children’s eyes, my life was full of star wars
and little houses on the prairie and sorcerers and ghosts.
I wrote new stories, and I tried to figure out who I was in a new context.
2010s
I wrote and parented and wrote and parented and rarely slept.
Thanks largely to the internet, I reached out to find community.
I was welcomed into circles and made new circles.
I tried to figure out how to be a better mother, partner, friend, writer.
I failed sometimes. I fell out and in and out and in love,
and I learned new lessons in loneliness. I got divorced.
I taught. I danced, and I wrote into the early hours.
I watched my kids turn into teenagers, and I see them
trying to figure out their paths and find their circles.
The world is scary and wonderful, but I am reminded
that we can overcome the monsters in the forests
and in the closets and in the mirrors.
(That is the gift and magic of fairy tales.)

So as the decade is ending, there are two things I keep thinking about:

First thing is that it’s important to finish things. Sometimes that means the end of a story or a book; sometimes that means the end of a marriage or a friendship. Not every ending is happy, and many of them hurt, and all of them are work. The work part is important. So is asking for help.

The second thing is that it’s ok to change our minds. The only thing we can know with certainty in the present moment is how we feel right now. We may have felt differently a week ago and we may feel different in a day or a year. That’s ok, because we are all changing. To be human is to try things, to make choices, to change our minds, to try other things. Hopefully we find people to share the journey with us, so that we can learn from one another and love each other along the way.

This feels really important as I watch the kids growing up. I am aware of the pressure they feel all around them. There’s the pressure that schools put on them to figure out their futures, but there’s also the pressures of social media. In this very public reality they live in, where so much of their lives is being broadcast online in photos and in streams of words, they are expected to know and share a lot about who they are.

While this can be a beautiful way to explore identity and find community, if you’re someone who is searching or uncertain, it can feel isolating and paralyzing when everyone else seems to have figured out who they are and whom they love and what they want to do.

With these things in mind, here is my wish for my kids and for everyone as we move into the 2020s.

Don’t be afraid to finish things. Remember, when we finish one thing, we create space for something new. When you are ready, be open to the new things.

When you need help, don’t be afraid to ask. There are people who want to help. If someone asks you for help and you can help, try. This is a lesson in karma right out of the fairy and folk tales.

Try to encounter people and their beliefs with a generosity of spirit. The world is full of new ideas and experiences that will challenge us and sometimes even change us. That’s scary but also wonderful.

You don’t have to figure it all out at once. Be kind to yourself and patient with yourself. Give yourself permission to change your mind: about a major, a job, a career, a person, an idea, a place, and most of all, yourself. Being authentic means being honest about who you are and how you feel in a given moment, this includes recognizing the need to change something in your life.

I was nearly 16, the same age my oldest daughter is right now, when we moved from the 1980s to the 1990s. I can’t imagine navigating young adulthood today. Their generation is aware of the world and its global challenges in a way that we were not. They also have tools we only dreamed of.

I keep coming back to fairy tales. I’d like to think that together we can overcome the monsters… in the forests and in the closets and in the mirrors. Maybe we can see the end of some systems and patterns that have hurt people and the planet for too long. Maybe the 2020s will be the decade when we create the space for something better.

Happy New Year. xxo

On New Years, Faraway Friends, and Fairy Tales

Photo by Eight Eyes Photography.

They take their mugs, then their seats, and fill the room; the empty chair holding everything they do not say. Until she speaks to raise a mug and, in remembering, cracks the silence, spills everything, and takes them back with, “I remember when” and “He always” and “I will miss” and “If only.” (Seven,” KROnline )

I’m delighted that my new short story, “Seven” has been published by The Kenyon Review Online. The story is essentially a love letter to friends near and especially far, whom I don’t get to see often enough. It was also born out of something I was thinking a lot about at the time: What may have happened to the fairy tale heroes and heroines, victims and villains, as they eventually faced aging and death? It’s not the sexy part of the story, but I feel like there is beauty and grace to be explored there.

So much of 2015 was spent working on Geek Parenting, that I wasn’t able to write and submit a lot of short fiction and poetry. “Seven” was an exception, and I’m grateful to begin this year by having it published it in such a well-respected and widely-read journal.

Thus the wheel turns and we leave 2015 behind, having lost loved ones, having turned parts of our lives upside-down, having welcomed new relationships and projects, hopefully having created a few new treasured memories. We look ahead to 2016, beginning to write onto those blank calendar squares, planning the ways we hope the year will play itself out (although it will surely surprise us).

I have not traditionally been a fan of New Year’s Eve. Many of my best eves have been spent “writing in the new year” in a quiet house or apartment, a cup of hot coffee beside me (maybe with a splash of Kahlua). However this time it felt appropriate to celebrate the threshold between the years with something more creative and dramatic–with a Celestial Ball in three stories of a festively decorated historic New York City Romanesque Revival building filled with live music and occupied by all manner of beautifully costumed people meandering about, drinking, dancing, and laughing. It felt very much like the shimmery veils between so many fantastic worlds were lifted to allow for such a congregation of sparkly, mythic creatures.

I was swept up in all that that magic and forgot to take photos, but thankfully photographer Steven Rosen was there, and he took this beautiful portrait. (Oh, the light!)
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(If you’d like to see his other breathtaking portraits from that night and others, you can find them on his facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/stevenrosenphotography)

There’s so much out of balance and broken and hurting in our world right now. I want to believe that the systems in place that continue to perpetuate hatred and injustice will finally be dismantled, that new models will spring up to reshape a future where all people are treated with dignity and respect. I have hope, and I want to do my part.

In so many cultures, the end of an old year was a time for magic, for fortunetelling and storytelling, for casting spells and making wishes. My wish for 2016 is not long: May we find our way to love in 2016–in the people, animals, activities, and ideas that nourish our authentic selves and connect us with humanity as a whole.

Happy New Year.

 

A year of mad beauty and so many shades of joy

Tonight was a relatively quiet end to a year that was anything but quiet. I would not have it any other way.

2010 was an incredible year: published a novel and literary magazine, celebrated Chicago’s literary history, partied with rockstars, writers, composers, and photographers, renovated a house and cultivated a home, celebrated friendship among American Gods, and danced in the kitchen with the three magical people I’m blessed to have for children. I rekindled and reconnected with dear ones, was awed by art and inspired to continue living a life of creativity and connection.

It was a good year. Thank you to everyone who helped to make it possible. I am blessed and grateful and excited about what the future will bring.

May your new year be wonder-filled.

Happy New Year.

xxo