Sanity Courtesy of ORT*

How do we cope during this pandemic to fulfill that human need to buy stuff? We can’t go to stores (especially when many are closed), we can’t hold curbside garage sales, that religion of the bargain hunter, and we can’t ply the mall walkways to find what we need we didn’t know we need until we see it.

No, the solution and newest sanity therapy these days is *Online Retail Therapy. Sales are booming online for merchants for obvious staples, but even more so for those proprietors of entertainment and activity goods useful for distractions and indoor pleasures. No wonder the streaming services are doing so well. And try to find a cool puzzle or game in stock online these days.

As a stationery nerd, one who’s had to cease the formerly beloved distraction of wandering office supply stores, or the few cool true stationery stores left, not to mention garage and estate sales, it’s been a dry season this past year.

Fortunately, it’s been a new world of discovering lots of small shops online selling the goods we love, both here in the states and elsewhere. But my real guilty ORT solution falls down that much beloved (and dreaded) rabbit hole of subscriptions. From limited Blackwing Volumes pencils, to Field Notes limited edition notebooks, Dapper Notes handmade notebooks, ArtSnacks monthly boxes, Mouse Books pocket readers, and on, and on, these subscriptions have been the modern equivalent of care packages in the old days. Who doesn’t remember being away at college and getting a care package full of goodies from home to sooth the separation blues?

The problem becomes, though, that in active ORT engagement, such satisfying moments of search, finding, ordering, waiting, then finally opening, tempt like opening a fresh bag of Lay’s potato chips: you can’t “eat” just one.

Now that I and many I know are getting the vaccine, can the end of ORT been near? Probably not. While these one-two stabs of hope open up possibilities, don’t see any widespread opening of shops and old-style, in-person shopping resuming soon. So I’ll have to continue with my doctor-ordered ORT (nevermind what doctor, that’s not important right now…) for now. Not that I’m complaining, mind you, but I’m staring to have the problem of where to store all this ORT goodness.

Another Year Around the Sun

March, being my birth month, marks the approaching exodus from winter, and the entering of yet another year bookended by a birthdate. Measuring life via this yardstick was a celebrated day growing up. As an adult, it’s more one of mixed feelings. In these pandemic times, never a bad thing to celebrate still being “here,” but at a certain age, it’s also yet another year apathetically torn off the calendar of life.

No complaints here. I consider myself fortunate to be this far and confident I’ve a long way to go, but it’s still a poignant time of life. 

I view existence as a horizontal timeline, one we move along slowly while hopefully pausing, noticing, and enjoying each day. Some people, however, see this same timeline like a sine wave on an oscilloscope, with even peaks and valleys we ride up and down, our birth day being at the top of these curves. I suppose optimists see it that way whereas pessimists it’s at the bottom.

Of the many things I’m grateful for during this birth month, my thinking and cognizance seem to have weathered well, and such pursuits are more important to me now than in my past. Oh, if pressed, I might admit to wishing I’d read deeper and wider, written more often, and pursued more learnings earlier. Had I done so, I wouldn’t be enjoying the renaissance I seem to have now with reading and writing. 

If I were to sit and pen a letter to my younger self right now, what would I say? And if I could tell him only three things, what would they be? First, I’d tell him to stop worrying about where you’re going and focus on where you are. Second, I’d advise him to reach more outside his comfort zone to try different things. And last, I’d tell him to take better care of his body, especially during those dangerous years between our active twenties and the awakening from lethargy in our 50s. 

But of course, that’s not possible. All I can do is take these lessons I would have shared with him and apply them to me: don’t worry about not doing them yesterday, nor planning for tomorrow so much, but simply embracing them today.

Sarah Manguso’s 300 Arguments

Sometime last year I discovered the writer Sarah Manguso. Some call her a poet-philosopher, others one of the sharper literary voices out there. For me, being a fan of quotations and quotable zingers, especially from writers who have a gift for turning a phrase and that special talent to surprise you, I enjoyed it. Here are a few examples from 300 Arguments, which is admittedly all I’ve read of hers… so far.

It’s an odd (not in a bad way) little book of Twitter-length thoughts. Her own site defines this book as “genre-defying work of aphoristic nonfiction” which pretty well covers it. Here are some that appealed to me:

  • Think of this as a short book composed entirely of what I hoped would be a long book’s quotable passages.
  • When someone insults you, it will infuriate him if you pretend to misunderstand the insult as a compliment.
  • I made so many mistakes on purpose just to get them out of the way.
  • There are truly two kinds of people: you and everyone else.
  • It’s impossible to fail if one doesn’t know how the end should look. And it’s impossible to succeed. But it’s possible to enjoy.
  • Vocation and ambition are different, but ambition doesn’t know the difference.

This Canvas Called Life

Yesterday’s stroll down memory lane continues to stir up more thoughts about my past than expected. I wonder why we sometimes dwell on a period of our life remembered fondly, and for some, wistful to experience them again. So what’s the value in recalling these younger, impactful times when few responsibilities allowing doors to experiences and experiments?

Why did these dredged-up memories of my twenties stick with me so long after looking at these photos? Was I subconsciously yearning for living like that again, or the fabled time machine fallacy of “Wish I could go back then knowing what I know now?” Connecting to the people and places back then, that’s no longer me (nor them), since our lives since changed into different people and newer places. We should cherish such memories, since these are the layers of paint we applied to the canvas called life throughout our years. Each overlapping layer—our experiences and errors—build up to what our lives are now.
 

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

We all probably have that Uncle or someone at family get-togethers who tells the same old stories from his past. I remember at one such gathering finally asking him, “So what cool stuff’s happened to you since then?” To which his reply showed how tightly he held and refuse to let go of the past: “Oh, you know, the same-old, same-old.”

Philosopher and author Nassim Taleb wrote about the “narrative fallacy,” that tendency for some to pull unrelated events from the past, spun into stories and inserted into conversations, often unconnected to the conversation. For these people, it’s another chance to brag about one’s feats, salve for their souls they must think need constant reminders of those glory days.

So does that mean telling stories from our past is bad? Out of context, or for the benefit of the teller and not their listeners, probably not the best idea. Sharing and learning from those who’ve walked this Earth longer than we have is a valued tradition. But when it’s all someone can talk about, probably not good to dwell too much on the past, or see them as their “best of times” with later years merely clock-watching until it’s over.

We grow to fit the time we live in and enjoy and appreciate it because of these continually applied layers. Each succeeding layer influences the next, changing in color and tone, through the years. We should never stop creating our life’s artwork, even though we don’t know how majestic or colorful each added layer will be, but we know they will reflect who and what we are.

Vivid memories of my youth simply reveal a life embraced and explored. These people and places back then are ones to cherish, not wish to be back there with them. Each layer on our canvas are ones to be thankful for, and perhaps occasionally enjoy fond memories. Quickly, though, we return to finding the right paints for the wet layer we’re brushing on today. Each day we should be ever grateful to what’s underneath, once again standing at our easels, on yet another day with brush and palette in hands.

Rememberence

Winter, that season for renewal and remembrance, never fails each year to reveal something long forgotten, or at least, seldom remembered.

Yesterday, in a bold act of taking on a long overdue to-do, I sorted the box of family photos. These memory triggers waited in quiet patience all these years for me to get around to sorting (tada!) and inserting into new photo albums (still to come).

While the sorting went well, it was an interesting afternoon of smiles and bittersweet memories. Not unexpected, it stirred long-asleep memories stored, but not forgotten. We’re often asked if we have any regrets in life and have to admit I have few. But reminded by this wander down memory lane, I regret losing touch with special people met along my winding and varied path in life. Past girlfriends, especially those who broke my heart, have in the past caused a dusting off of “what if…” thoughts, yet long ago forgiven. Other people I simply fell out-of-touch through the inconvenience of distance.

One girl in particular, whom I have thought about often over the years, brought back wonderful memories of a grand summer spent together. It never seems that long ago, the memories still fresh. But the math made me realize that summer is now 42 years gone. Wow. An enormous amount of water under the bridge, as they say.

Other photos of my youth, my kids when babies and toddlers, places lived or visited, houses lived in, were all sweet, soft textures of a varied life. The timing of this intentional to-do effort relates to one of my books in progress: “Decades,” essay-stories spun around significant events from each decade looking back. Before I continued revising, or embarked on new ones, I wanted to see what evidence exists to help verify the telling.

In sorting and reminiscing on the photos, however, I discovered unfortunate gaps. While I remember events well (or so I think!), Lack of photos will make it more challenging to write accurately for some of them. Yesterday I noticed details in some the photos I’m not sure I would have remembered correctly. The passing years have ways of altering memories, making some things grander, and other things minimized. I’ll have to do some hard thinking and perhaps intentional, targeted journaling to see if I can scrape off the rust from those memories I’d like to include in the book.

The funniest reaction I had yesterday were from photos in my twenties. The visual “facts” went contra to my retained memory. Back then, I’d always worried I was too heavy, too chubby. Looking back at those, my immediate thought was “Damn, I was skinny.” Vanity: enabler when young, but lost baggage now.

One Down, One To Go

Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay 


Yesterday was my first of two COVID-19 vaccinations. Who knew getting needle-stabbed would be so eagerly anticipated, a celebrated milestone of this ongoing pandemic reality show?

Connecting this surreal experience to anything similar in my past was challenging. Between the calm, purposefully distanced elders in line contrasted with the high-energy, helpful county health workers moving us through the lines, I couldn’t help think about this slice of American hope, one courtesy of socialism.

With too many Americans falsely considering any form of socialism as the devil’s work, yesterday was an excellent example of why our democratic socialism works: public county health department and public workers delivering publicly provided free COVID-19 vaccinations to a public regardless of race, creed, color, or economic status. Maybe doubters will finally realize our lives depend on democratic socialism in too many ways to count here, and it’s a welcomed benefit of American life.

As I sat in my chair at the back of an elementary school’s cafeteria, safety distanced from others to wait out my 15-minute “what if” moment, I had time to think about the significance of this experience.

In our now-lost former normal times, elementary kids would be in this room, either during an indoor activity, or since it was around noon eating lunch and learning essential social skills: coping with others, trading lunch food (really Mom, PB&J again??), or hanging out with goofy friends.

That sad thought morphed into a sad empathy, realizing in my six decades on this planet, unlike some, I’d never had to endure bread lines familiar to my parent’s generation, or waiting in lines for food stamp, or water bottles after a natural disaster. Yet here I sat, dutifully waiting, complying, and patiently distancing while the monkey mind wondered if I’d die in the next 8 minutes from shot side effects.

I’m no stranger to shots or needles, at least the modern version of me. But at the end of my 10th decade, my lack of any shot or needle injection experience would soon change. Raised in a household with a religious exemption to such things, the only previous shots were the first-born ones like smallpox.

Before my memorable summer #10 would begin, the Navy transferred my father to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Navy didn’t allow our family’s religious exemption when transferred overseas, so I had some catching up to do. Every Saturday for eight weeks my Mom would drive me to the Navy clinic for shots: not just one, but one in EACH arm, for the next eight Saturdays. Yup, 16 shots in all.

Happy Navy family arriving…

As a boy raised not to cry but to “take it like a man,” those were testing Saturdays. Most, as I recall, weren’t that bad, but the Saturday I got the yellow fever shot (long needle) I recall seriously betraying my manly training. Despite the dread each week as Saturday approached, offset by Mom’s buying me an ice cream after (first life lesson that such rewards really don’t make up for the event), I survived and didn’t catch any nasty bugs during my two-years at Guantanamo.

Now my waiting clock resets, and the countdown begins toward shot #2. Its reward is the promise of ~90% risk-free, earned by my immune system kicked into learning-crazy mode from the pseudo invaders. It’s a science miracle this vaccine developed so quickly, but there’s still much work on it ahead. I’m in the camp that expects our future fall regimen will be a one-two protective punch from a flu, then a COVID shot for the foreseeable future.

I can now add yesterday to my short-list of “where were you…” events such as JFK’s assassination, the moon landing, and 9/11. But getting this vaccination, while brimming with hope, comes with a nagging fear that many will either refuse it, or worse, think they’re immune now and shed the masking/distancing.

I’ll keep the same personal protocols going, at least for now, and probably permanently adopt wearing a mask in high-density public situations. The shot gives me a new, glorious feeling that it will now significantly lower my risk against the worst. And that’s well worth a couple stabs in the arm.