This is Us is for All of Us

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When thirtysomething was on TV in 1987, I was 13 years old and called it one of my favorite shows. Maybe a bit age inappropriate; perhaps I should have stuck with the more candy-coated Love Boat, for its false fairytale, “wrap it up with a bow” endings or Dynasty for its hyper unrealistic familial depictions. (Although years later my father married someone 30 years his junior and gave me a half brother 30 years my junior, I now realize the soap opera is, in fact, based on real life.)

I spent my high school years typically convinced I was the only teenager who didn’t belong, with a fucked up “home life.” No, my parents didn’t beat me, but I watched life beat the shit out of them – and consequently – out of our family. There weren’t shows on TV showing alcoholic mothers and fathers who cheated. I loved thirtysomething because it showed death and infidelity and accurately portrayed how hard it is to be a grown up because life can give you quite a kick in the pants – often when you’re down.

From it’s gripping, pilot, This is Us has put a spell on me. Its emotional vulnerability has tapped into mine, like a tree for sap, and every week the show’s layered portrayal of humanity, friendship, pain, birth, death, LIVING drains me of tears, slowly and thoroughly. This is Us is for all of us. It is all of us.

This is Us, our generation’s thirtysomething, accurately and vividly portrays realistic characters enduring life angst, laden with complicated back stories, tragedies, regrets and secrets. Always secrets. That’s the thing about families: they’re filled with flaws, yet you can never fully break free from them because their roots are entangled with ours.

This is a show which gets humanity. It showed the human condition and everyone is in the “I am a Human Club.” Everyone can understand and relate to the plights of being alive. We’re bystanders behind screens, watching these characters reflect on heavy choices and diversions and we are able to see their consequences. Characters make mistakes, they analyze, they grow, they regress, they learn, they start over again.

The thing about This is Us that sticks with you and slowly permeates into your heart, is how these fictional characters mirror people we know in our actual lives. We all know a version of those characters and the reason they’re so real and approachable is because we see ourselves up there. We can connect to the concepts of marriage, parenthood, sibling drama, and insecurities about our appearances or our careers. We’re not alone in our struggles with self-analysis and perpetual review in the rear view mirror, reliving mistakes from our past, fearful of making new ones in the future.

Through its time-jumping storytelling style, the characters’ tales unravel weekly, casting a wider spotlight on backstories. We are climbing harder and harder in love with the characters each week as they become part of our [imaginary] extended family; as their sorrow becomes ours, we invest. We predict the plot; we try to prepare. Either way, we know we’re in for a sob fest and we eagerly await it.

As a show, it creeps under your skin, and like electric pulses continues to reverberate days later, as you review scenes and lines and start to well up. After the episode, “Memphis,” where one of the lead characters dies, I wrote down a page of notes. As the character uttered his final words, it was the profound moment I wish I had when I recently lost my grandmother:

“I haven’t had a happy life; bad breaks, bad choices. A life of almost and could haves. Some would call it sad, but I don’t. Because the two best things in my life were the person in the very beginning and the person at the very end that’s a pretty good thing to be able to say I think.”

This is Us is both real and fantasy all at once. The characters say things you wish you heard from your husband, brother, father or else maybe they’re forcing you to see how they already do. Its stories reflect our own and make us examine our relationships, our careers, our motives. It forces us to evaluate if we are living our days to our maximum potential.

5 Problems Only People with Multiple Cats Will Understand

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  1. You’ll never know who had diarrhea in the litter box.
  2. You never know who shat out a red string. Or a gold thread. Or a rubber band (or two).
  3. You don’t know who left the surprise pile of puke in the kitchen. Or the hallway. Or in the precise place you step when you get out of bed in the morning.
  4. You’re not sure who ate all the dry food. Or the wet food.
  5. You’re not sure who left those scratches on the fake leather ottoman. Or the new leather chair.

The bottom line is there is a shitload of uncertainty and mystery. Unless you install hidden cameras all over your house and watch them, like a psycho stalker (no judgement), these animals co-exist with us, often active when we’re asleep and we have to find the zen with this lack of control and knowledge. I imagine the TV reality family, The Duggers, with their 19 children, had to also acquiesce to this kind of lack of ungovernability.

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On the flip side, multiple furballs have definitely translated to multiple bliss. Watching the interaction between kitties is equal to watching an older sibling hold the baby’s hand. There are moments of a feline fairytale, which cuddling cats, echoing purr sessions, and lick-fests, which I call kiss-fests. The love you get from one cat is exponentially more from two cats – or three.

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Additionally, cats have a biological need to roughhouse, scratch and bite (LOVINGLY). When cats have sister/brother/roommate cats, they have buddies with whom they can get their aggression out. I recommend getting cats in pairs because innately they are animals who are most content with their pride. They feel happier, safer and more social with cats around them.

Frequently Asked Questions

I found this site because I see hearts everywhere – LITERALLY! I came in search of what it all means or else to connect with humans who are experiencing this [not at all] phenomenon. At the very least you thought you’d find HEARTS. Instead, there are words, words, and more words. (Curses too!) Where are the hearts?

I started this blog with the intention of collecting photos of hearts everywhere because I too, found myself spotting the iconic symbol of romance in the clouds, in the rocks, in the leaves. However, I’m a writer and eventually this blog evolved into a platform for me to share autobiographical essays as I documented my life.

I spent 2016 in a self-imposed 365-day writing project called Life Clubs: Imaginary Threads of How We Connect to One Another. As virtual members of theoretical clubs, we are all linked by the life experiences that bind us.

I’ve lived through 4 decades of stories – joining many clubs along the way. The Immigrant Club, The Tattoo Club, The I Lived through 9/11 Club, The Parenthood Club, The Divorce Club, The Co-Parenting Club, The Getting Remarried Club, The My Aunt Died Club, The My Modern Family Trumps Yours Club. We have all inadvertently joined a club, and until your official initiation, you can’t understand what it’s truly like to be a member.

Through these stories, I tried to tell stories of the human conditions using examples of my life. I vulnerably spilled my soul in order to find other humans who would say, “Me too!”

So if you are looking to connect, I guarantee there is a club here for you. I’m still finding hearts in the world, but for now, I’ve dedicated my life to finding (and writing) the hearts in the stories.

I love photos and I have a goal of adding photos to all of the stories in the 365 Project – slowly, eventually … (see I am a Procrastinator Club). In the meantime, I’ve picked up my Instagram activity here.

Want to see some heart doodles? Click here.

Did you have an editorial calendar for 365 Project?

I had talked about the idea of “life clubs” for years, since I became a proud member of The Divorce Club in 2005. I decided to use Nora Ephron’s quote, “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim” as inspiration and I took the reigns at dictating the narration of my life. I made an initial list of about 150 life stories but quickly realized life narrated faster than I could keep up and the project evolved organically.

When I struggled with liberating the long-dormant tales of my adolescent angst, I found myself writing about what was pressing today rather than delve into an uncomfortable past. It’s easier to write about the now, harder to live in it. (Feel free to quote me.)

Did you really write every single day or a few days in advance?

I really wanted to develop the habit of writing every single day so I did. Some days I wrote more than one piece, but I always wrote at least one a day from scratch.

How many words did you write?

250,702. Apparently, this is the length of four average [first] novels.

What were your goals?

This was the first time in my life I had ever written down goals for anything. Ever.  Surprise: it works.

  • Become a better writer – physically become more effective at sitting down and prioritizing writing. See this through to the end, no matter how grueling, annoying or failing it may seem. One year without excuses!
  • Purge the floating stories from my mind and set them off on a sea of words, letting go, and ultimately alleviating panic attacks.
  • Learn to forgive myself and liberate myself from my own judgement.
  • Stretch my memory muscle. As I embark on this memoir-writing project, tapping into distant memories, I want to enhance those detail-grabbing skills from the distant past.
  • Finish something – in addition to dozens of scattered, incomplete notebooks and journals, I have two books that sit unfinished. While the ultimate goal is to have a comprehensive piece of work, I hope that this exercise helps me finish my other abandoned writing projects.
  • Reestablish an online voice and expand my portfolio
  • Own it. Value my words, my writing, and myself as a writer. Give myself one year without doubt. For 365 days, I will think, “I will sell this house today.”

Did you accomplish your goals?

HECK YES. Here was my last piece about the Lessons Learned.

What was the hardest part of the challenge?

Life’s intervention. Going through this year showed me a new kind of strength and resilience. The world didn’t stop for my 365-project. In fact, it seemed the world intensified. Life heard I was documenting the year and the earth reverberated with material. Life gave me two weeks in Hawaii, but also took my aunt and my grandmother two months apart and flooded our apartment, sending us into a 4-month unexpected, life-halting renovation. In one year, I went to the Emergency Room with every member of my immediate family and I used every day to cope with life, with words (publicly).

Did you successfully form a habit?

Yes, and more than one. I didn’t realize I had formed a habit until I was allowed to stop writing on January 1st. The most important habitual training was when I had an idea, I immediately wrote it down because I was going to need a story that day – or if not that day, the next. When I suddenly didn’t have to create a piece a day, I couldn’t resist the desire to write down my ideas. In addition, my thought process had solidified such that everything that happens to me still feels like fodder for another Life Club. The habit has become celebrating shitty experiences while spinning them into stories.

Do you recommend doing a 365 Project?

I needed something extreme to jostle my brain and prove to myself I could. In retrospect, this was one of my extreme ideas which felt like a strike of brilliance, which was going to help me “write my way out” Hamilton style. I thought if I pushed to such an extreme, the reward would be literary agents falling at my feet begging me to publish my stories. (I didn’t write that as one of the goals, and clearly, should have.)

For others, I would recommend adopting more of an “everything in moderation” philosophy. I would recommend a 260 challenge (weekends off). The body needs a chance to rest, though it was truly hard to stop the internal writing even if I wanted to.

Do you have a favorite story?

Not yet. I plan to make a list of Top 10 – or 50. Eventually. See I am a Procrastinator Club.

Please drop me a note and ask any other questions and I will add them if they’re pertinent.

41 Days Without Literal Documenation

It occurred to me when searching my blog for information on my life last year (yes, this is occasionally the most efficient method) that I had gone 41 days without documenting my life in 2017 with the exception of my grandmother’s eulogy.

A whole January passed and I gasped at how much happened and how much of it exists in the folds of my brain coils only.

January in bullets:

  • I started meditating using the app Headspace, and just like a member of a new club, I thought, “I found the answer to everything.” I even got my son into it – and allowed him to pay for the monthly subscription after he finished his first free 10 sessions. I, on the other hand, finished the ten sessions and then aborted, finding inadequate excuses for failing to find ten minutes to breathe each day.
  • At the end of 2016, I was excited to tell the Year (and our new President Elect) to FOAD. I was hoping 2017 was going to be filled with less death and drama for our family. Then my grandmother died. I chalk up my grandmother’s death to 2016 since this is when she took the fall, from which she’d never get up. I spent the days between December 7th to January 25th writing a eulogy in my head, which I delivered on January 26th.
  • I started a reading “challenge” because so much of last year was spent writing, I found it incredibly hard to fit in substantial reading as well. As a writer, I felt like this was an integral part of my job which I was not doing. This year I’m vowing to do this better and hope to read at least 24 books; so far I’m up to number 5.
  • My sister visited and we went to a Korean scrub and massage and consequently, I had a back and shoulder injury for two weeks and counting.
  • Immediately after the new year, I wanted to take forced relax time, which I found incredibly difficult, but I spent a few days doing adult coloring with glitter gel pens my husband bought me as a “congratulations on finishing your writing project” gift.
  • I played and lost the Dear Evan Hansen lottery every single day since its inception. I caved and purchased tickets to the 2017 Winner of Best Musical [YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST], which we’ll see on May 23rd. My 14-year-old son, on the other hand, did win a lottery at school to see the show, and is seeing it next week! (and for free!)
  • I read Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, which was grossly depressing. Writers confessing in engaging essays how 99% of novel writers still need to “keep their day job.” Because of this, I bucked up, revised my resume, and have dived back into the corporate job hunt, entering the new phase in my life I’m dubbing Life 3.0
  • I’m not giving up my dreams. I’m still pursuing a literary agent and the eventual publishing of “Life Clubs: An Organic Deconstructed Autobiography” or “Life Clubs: What You Have in Common With a Russian Immigrant Writer Married to a Clown.”

I was recounting my 365 writing project to someone the other day who empathetically claimed to relate to my project because they had taken a photo a day. I laughed thinking it wasn’t a fair comparison. How could you equate a photo a day to an essay, a story of your life?

Nonetheless, I quieted my judgement and thought, well, maybe if I don’t want to commit to another 365 writing project, BUT I could snap a photo a day to document my life in a different way. Let an image serve as the perpetual trigger of memories from a day. Let those loose, unformatted words which will accompany my Instagram snap, quiet my annoying inner voices persistently yelling at me to “Write It Down NOW!” All the time. Every minute. Because when I write it, I solidify it and reinforce that it happened; immortalizing it. I make my memories linger longer and louder.

For now, I will use my pictures as communication to fill public eyes while I keep my words more private. 

I Doodle Hearts

When I started this blog, I had the intention of posting photos of hearts I discovered in my path and creating a forum for strangers around the world to share their heart discoveries with me. However, the blog has long ago become a words-dominated forum. I, on the other hand, continue to find hearts – and they find me. Last year, even in the midst of an intense 365-day writing project, a random February walk through Times Square led me to this! Also, I doodle hearts compulsively, in every medium – but I especially enjoy watercolors. On the eve of Valentine’s Day, here are some heart doodles … because as long as I create them, I’m guaranteed to find them everywhere!

Baba’s Eulogy

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My beloved aunt died on November 25th, and two days later I delivered my first eulogy at her funeral. Two months later, on January 25th, my grandmother died, a few weeks after a bad fall, at age 86. Here I was writing the second eulogy in two months. Only this time, I focused more on celebrating her life more than lamenting her death.

Here is the eulogy I wrote:

My Baba Maya knew where she wanted to go and she figured out a way to get there. She got things done. She was our matriarch, our fearless leader, with a ferocious dedication to her friends and family. She was a trailblazer, a first generation feminist, a card shark, an infamous cake baker, a loan shark, a mama, a wife, a tyawtya, a sister, a friend, a Baba, and a 5-time great-grandmother. People knew Maya Nudelman and when I told them I was her granddaughter # 1, I beamed with pride. For me, like for so many others, she was a significant lifeline whose absence will be deeply felt.

When I think of Baba, I remember the cakes. The constant hum of twirling mixers and tasting buttercream directly out of the star-tipped piping bag. Baba’s cakes were at the forefront of confectionary design in 1984 amongst Brighton Beach and Forest Hills where Bat Mitzvah and wedding cake orders piled in and where she sold her treats to the Russian stores, gaining local notoriety for her “Kievsky torte” and “Mister Eex.”

For 4 decades, through my eyes, one of her main reasons for living was to feed people, especially grandchildren. She asked you if you wanted an orange three times in a row after three insistent “No’s”, a peeled orange would appear in front of you, which you’d obviously eat and so she’d obviously say, “See, I knew you wanted an orange.”

When it came to her granddaughters, she was ferociously devoted to getting to see us. She made her way, by whichever means necessary, even with a police escort, to visit Michelle in Binghamton, with blueberry bleenee – enough for her and her college friends. Or the time I lived on Wall Street, around the corner from the Stock Exchange with crisscrossing traffic patterns she somehow ended up in the high-security rotary in front of the Exchange. In broken English, she convinced the NYPD to rotate the rotunda, for the first time since 9/11 I think, because “her granddaughter lives right upstairs.” When my sister had her first art exhibition at Rutgers University, my grandmother showed up, greeting my sister who was sporting royal blue dreadlocks and proudly posed for pictures with the photos of Reena’s mutilated dolls in the background.

My grandmother perpetually preached the importance of speaking Russian and was my first teacher. I would sit on the gray and white folded table while she assembled layers of cakes and crushed nuts with rolling pins, and I would stare at the “Novoye Ruskaya Slova” in front of me and ask her letters, one by one. “This backwards ‘R’ is ‘ya?’” I would ask? Yes, “ya,” which means “I” is last in the alphabet, she would remind me. That’s how I was taught to remember it – always put yourself last.

Baba was the original “say yes” woman. When invited to a party, she always went. I remember flipping through old photos, stumbling upon strangers or distant relatives and thinking, “who are those people?” She never doubted her need to be there, to share in the celebration; if she was invited, she went, and always brought a generous cash gift.

She never forgot a gift. She felt obligated and called it such, “Ya tyebye dolzhjana.” If it was my birthday or my kid’s birthday, even a month later, she would emerge from the back, cash folded in her hand, our little not-so-secret, secret.

She wouldn’t throw anything out if it wasn’t ripped apart or completely annihilated. Why do you need more towels if the ones you have still function to dry you after the shower? This theory also applies to sheets, couches, pans, plates, clothes. This is a way of life which you cannot beat out of a person. She had cash in the back which she gave readily to her granddaughters as gifts, but she lived in the same apartment for nearly her entire life in America.

On my last visit, I asked her, “How are you, Ba?” and she answered me in the same way she always had, “loochye vsyeah,” better than everyone else. “Vsyaw bootee horosho” she always said. Everything will be good.

Beyond the profound loss of our leader, we grieve an end of an era, a shutting down of an apartment which was a portal to our childhood, to those early days of America, brimming over with innocence and ignorance, possibility and promise was enough to be blissful and hopeful. A youthful joie de vivre, a rose bud yet unopened. We were a family at the brink of opportunities, challenges, American dreams – and she spearheaded it all.

She left this world in peace, nothing left unfinished, unafraid, no debts unpaid, no journey incomplete. She leaves behind a legacy of anecdotes, a lifetime of memories. She has penetrated into every one of us – buried herself deep in our hearts where she will forever smell like sweet cream and be wearing her soft, weathered house dress, and the glasses she often no longer needed but wore for decoration, and her bold red lipstick. I’ll never picture her without her red lipstick.

She’s coming to you now, Deda, no GPS needed. After all, she was our Ultimate Navigator.

“Lessons Learned from Writing Every Single Day for a Year” Club

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-1-40-44-pmMany things can happen in a year. Things move whether we want them to or not; whether we’re ready for them or not. Babies are born, children grow, adults age, and all ages die. The most human clubs of all are birth and death; the two clubs we’re guaranteed to join which bookend life. In between them lies our common struggle, though the specifics differ greatly.

I’ve learned it’s just as hard to keep up with reading a blog a day (unless you’re my husband editor or loyal little sister) as it is to write one. I’ve also witnessed people react strangely when caught in not reading. Guiltily they say they haven’t had the time or they haven’t had a chance to go online. They like to binge read, they assure me. At the beginning of the year (OK, maybe it was towards the middle of the year) I was angry my parents weren’t reading. So I started writing about them because: passive-aggressive writer.

Throughout the course of the year, I’ve grown to care less. I find this result most ironic because my project was about human inclusion; my daily mantra: “writing about the human condition using examples from my life.” My goal was to illustrate how we can all relate on one level or another. We can find something in common with anyone if we take the time to figure it out. A year of telling stories of my life in essays; tales where others may say, “Hell yes, me too; totally happened to me!”  My goal in writing every single day was to reinforce and validate for myself, once and for all: I am a writer. I needed to do this every single day, especially the days I wanted to do anything but write.

Over the course of writing over 250,000 words, I learned words beget more words, like sex begets more sex, and crying begets more crying. I’m not going to run out of words any sooner than I’ll run out of tears and I will never be ambiguous about whether I earn the title of writer again. I’ve concluded it’s not for anyone else to declare or accept. This project was about me and for me. It was about developing a habit. It was about strengthening a muscle. It was about figuring out what kind of writer I want to be (not internet). It was about me comprehending how to channel my mental health challenges into my words. It was about me freeing up the brain space cluttered with my life stories.

I discovered marketing my work was as much of a full-time job as writing. Talk about using the multifaceted tentacles of my brain. Not only did I flex my writing muscle, I stretched my social media muscle, inadvertently boosting my “Klout score” (it’s a real thing). What I discovered, in not only writing daily, but in publishing every day on my blog (and other online sites), was the quality of the writing, which I dutifully tried to improve upon, often felt secondary – or even irrelevant. Internet writing is not novel writing; it is not even “feature magazine writing” akin to the classes I took as a journalism major at NYU 20 years ago. Successful articles go viral because of likes and shares and cool gifs. The audience wants short, easily digested tidbits of gossip rather than an 800-word essay. Followers are worth their weight in gold, but are they reading?

It took me a professional degree in my field, two decades, five corporate jobs, and the world’s most supportive husband to help me convince myself to be brave enough to have faith in myself. When I worked in the advertising and marketing world, I loved interviews and presentations but I came (even more) alive off the page. I thought the hardest part of getting a job was securing an interview; once I was in the door, the job was in the bag. I was that confident in my potential for working for anyone else, yet I’ve spent a lifetime with the challenge of selling myself to me.

Throughout the 366 days, I swung wildly in both directions: either thinking this was genius or discrediting it had any value at all. I kept a journal as a secondary project to the Life Clubs essays and upon re-reading it, I found the one constant was a perpetual haze of doubt which coated every word I wrote. I was conflicted because I judged the work, not on merit, but on a financial scale. No one was paying me a salary to do the most productive writing I’ve ever done and yet it felt like the hardest job I ever had. I stepped into the lifelong artist struggle: creating the work without the monetary carrot dangling at its conclusion.

Halfway through the year I began to drown in my multiple novels worth of words. I had to search my own blog to make sure each piece was unique before committing to the page. I wrote “I Miss My Sister Club” way early on IN MY HEAD and didn’t realize until October 24th I never ACTUALLY wrote it. Beyond the sheer volume of words, my stories became interlinked, one explaining or justifying another. As the year progressed, I noticed I was able to link to more and more stories as I revealed more about my life. The stories which occurred organically served as the conflict disrupting the narrative, and the anecdotes of my past merged with the drama of the year to paint me, the writer, the artist, the mother, the confused woman trying to make her dreams come true.

 Going through this year showed me a new kind of strength and resilience.

The world didn’t stop for my 365-project. In fact, it seemed the world intensified. Life heard I was documenting 2016 and the earth reverberated with material. You gave me two weeks in Hawaii, but also took my aunt and my husband’s aunt four months apart and flooded our apartment, sending us into a 4-month unexpected, life-halting renovation. In one year, I went to the Emergency Room with every member of my immediate family. I used every day to cope with life, with words (publicly). When I struggled with liberating the long-dormant tales of my adolescent angst, I found myself writing about what was pressing today rather than delve into an uncomfortable past. It’s easier to write about the now, harder to live in it. (Feel free to quote me, I’m an official opinionator.)

I’ve written about poignant things and silly things and sad things. I’ve learned to write anywhere, everywhere, whenever I have the free minutes – often when I “didn’t feel like it.” Making this kind of commitment didn’t come with the luxury of “feeling like it.” I wrote on any surface with any implement – on my laptop, in the Notes app on my phone, on my skin, on gum wrappers and paper chopstick wrappers, inside my daughter’s composition notebook, and on scraps of paper in a rainbow of colors. I even mastered the art of talk-to-text. I’ve transcribed everything that’s happened to me this year. What did all this create?

250,702 published words. More than I could have imagined I would write. Yet, I still minimized my work, telling myself it was no big deal. Anyone could write every day for a year. I was hard on myself after each piece I wrote. I wasn’t even doing anything physically strenuous. I didn’t think any one of the essays was good enough. Every night of 2016, often late into the evening, I would pass my husband the piece of the day to edit and preempt it with, “This sucks, sorry.” This torturous nightly passing-off of my imperfect piece was an exercise to help me loosen my perfection paralysis. I would hear Saturday Night Live’s Lorne Michaels in my head: “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready, it goes on because it’s 11:30pm.”

I tried to remind myself how the project has to be looked upon as a whole. It is not any one essay; it is a slow-motion, deconstructed narrative of my life in 365 essays. There are many donut shop stories left untold and I barely grazed the Melrose Place-wannabe years in the advertising agencies and certainly there are more divorce story dramas and comical antics to divulge when your husband is a professional clown. Though the official project has come to end, clearly I have more work to do, more discovery to unfold and life to embrace. This project taught me tremendous amounts, but looking back at life through my stories has highlighted some important truths which will guide me to even greater success. Life is not about how to avoid the struggles but how you deal with them; taking ownership over them and joining the club.

At the beginning of the year, I surrounded myself with inspirational quotes from famous writers and wrote them over and over again in my notebooks, on watercolor paper, on post-its I hung on my wall. Yet, as I look back on 2016, my favorite quote comes from Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot: “Embrace the suck and move the fuck forward. What other choice do we have?”

“Mourning Celebrity Deaths” Club

“There have just been so many deaths this year,” I said to my therapist earlier this week as she tried to break me down and understand the root of my paralyzing fear of death.

“There are so many deaths every year,” she said, dismissing my statement. “It’s no different.”

Reflecting on the year, I’ve considered whether life seemed more intense because it was a leap year or because I was carefully documenting each dayThe list of celebrity deaths seem more prevalent than ever, but are we just chronicling and socially mourning more than ever?

It’s strange to mourn the death of someone you’ve never met, someone who you don’t depend on for your everyday life yet we collectively feel a dagger in the heart every time we get the CNN Breaking News alerts on our phones. Another death. Who now?

Yes, the potential for more “entertainment” from the celebrity is halted, but many of the deaths are of people who haven’t produced for many years. (At least David Bowie had the courtesy to leave us with one last album and Carrie Fisher was able to finish her Star Wars VIII scenes.) Yet our human tendency projects others’ dramas onto ourselves and somehow their deaths hold a mirror up to our own mortality.

Here is a comprehensive list of all 2016 Celebrity Deaths, but highlights include: 

David Bowie, 69

Alan Rickman, 69

Glenn Frey, 67

Garry Shandling, 66

Prince, 57

Muhammad Ali, 74

Elie Wiesel, 87

Garry Marshall, 81

Gene Wilder, 83

Leonard Cohen, 82

Florence Henderson, 82

Alan Thicke, 69

Zsa Zsa Gabor, 99

Carrie Fisher, 60

Debbie Reynolds, 84

The media’s coverage of famous deaths can have us believing this year is worse than ever, but the real statistics tell us it’s all status quo on the rate of dead celebrities.

The way we grieve as a culture – within our local communities – or on the Internet is different now. Because of the abundance of over-sharing in our culture, we inadvertently partake in a public pity party with the invisible connections on the other end of our phones and keyboards. I’m not sure if it makes our personal grief lighter, but somehow we’ve taken on celebrity grief as real, even though their lack of physical presence will not actually affect our daily lives.

We’re not even sad for the dead person, we’re sad for ourselves; what was taken FROM us. As if we were entitled to them anyway, as if they were a possession. When our bodies depart this earth, who we’ve been stays behind. The us we’ve sprinkled into our partners, children, friends; through our creations and our jobs and contributions to our communities. The mark we leave behind will last longer than the time we have here.

We are a piece of meat flying on a rock in the middle of the galaxy. It’s a miracle we don’t explode and burst into dust. We can’t worry about the little things and certainly, celebrity deaths should be the easiest for us to tolerate. Notorious figures live on indefinitely in their art and in the ripple effect they have on the population as their fans absorb pieces of them by osmosis. We can’t leave actual pieces of our bodies behind and possessions will deteriorate eventually, but we can leave behind stories. We can leave behind memories. We can leave behind lessons. Celebrities are just the lucky ones who die with an eager audience waiting for their eternal endowment.

“Be Here Now” Club

There were just three days left in my 365 writing project and my daughter is home on winter break. My husband, off to work, suggests I put on a movie for her so I can write. He knows I feel the impending heat as I am inches away from typing an imaginary “the end” on a non-traditional manuscript in a category of its own: organically, unplanned, spontaneously-transcribed, incomplete pseudo-memoir in essays. 

Today, though, I stared into my daughter’s big brown eyes and committed to spending a day without breaking eye contact. All year I’ve prioritized my writing and I vowed today would be all about her. I lingered in each drawn-out moment of her day and stayed with her for as long as it took for her to eat breakfast because she had a five-minute story in between each bite. I played the Princess Cupcake game with her, having mini imaginary adventures as we assembled the rubber cupcakes. We played six rounds of Connect 4, where she claimed victory five of those times. We colored together, side-by-side, in one of those thin-lined, adult coloring books filled with details, where the pages seem impossible to complete. We ate string cheese, literally one string at a time, and drank ice water, eating crushed ice one at a time. We watched My Fat Greek Wedding 2, me explaining some of the vague reference but then using the infamous, “it’s Greek to me” when she asked about the sex references. I painted purple glitter polish onto her nails and icy blue with silver swirls and dots onto her toes. We Skyped with my sister in Maine where my daughter modeled her new Hamilton t-shirt and showed off her custom-ordered Hamilton-quote necklace.

I didn’t bother with my phone all day and saved my writing until later. I lived completely in every minute, savoring my daughter, who exhibited perfect behavior, appreciative and cooperative all day. 

At day’s end, I reflected on how I successfully lived in the now all day. Something I’ve perpetually struggled with my entire life felt so zen, yet I didn’t recognize the sensation. On various vacations throughout my life I’ve dipped my toe into the realm of relaxation, but it’s a foreign, uncomfortable feeling. However, had I spent the day on my default multitasking setting, stressing about what needed to get done, or focusing on writing while ignoring my daughter, I would have not only short-changed my experience, I would have inadvertently diluted the light I exude. Another by-product of being fully present was time stood still. I was not as obsessed with the ticking because my attention wasn’t directed at the time; it was on being.

Being in the now is a philosophy, a religion, a practice, a habit, a way of life; kind of like being vegan. My husband, the Eagle Scout, loves to recount the Native American philosophy of eating, which should be done in silence to dutifully honor and respect their food. Truly being present means tastes are saturated. Being in the now means I should focus less on the perpetual loud ticking of life pressuring me to hurry up, write more, accomplish more, travel more places, get more massages and manicures and focus more on directing all five senses towards BEING RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW with every single thing I do.

I’ll chalk today’s epiphany up as an another example of an intangible profitable consequence of writing every single day. In fact for the rest of my life (or perhaps just the foreseeable future), I imagine there will be many occurrences where I will find myself saying, “I learned this from writing every day…”

“Happy Tears” Club

I’m a whirlwind of emotion the last few days as my project is rounding up. My ongoing analogy to running a marathon feels more poignant than ever as I pass mile 25.98 and I imagine runners in the last mile operating on another dimension; not unlike the super strength you exhibit when your kid is stuck under a car and you lift it. 

I’m not a runner, but I’m over-tired; not from the physical writing or from coming up with ideas; that part was easy. (I still have 100 of the original ideas I came up with which I never ended up writing about.) I’m exhausted from the feeling of having to do something every single day; it’s a daily deadline with no break. 

Each day, until I wrote my piece, the stories brewed in my mind (and my stomach), a constant hovering to-do overhead. Even if I accomplished my writing earlier in the day, my mind continued spinning, prepping for tomorrow. I spent countless hours over-scrutinizing my progress, contemplating future endeavors, and managing real income projects. I’m also emotionally drained of engaging in a repetitive devil’s advocate debate in my mind; the “This is the greatest idea ever” versus “What a waste of a fucking year.” I’ve learned how perfection paralysis and analysis paralysis leads to inactivity and rather than providing insight, they serve as little beyond anti-productive procrastination tactics.

Throughout this complicated year, filled with copy-inspiring events, I have prioritized my writing above socialization. Dinners cancelled, parties skipped, playdates avoided – there just wasn’t enough time in the day to spend with my own family and survive my everyday life. I didn’t acknowledge the heft of the load I was carrying for 365 days and I’m fucking ready to set it down.

There’s a reason the cliche “everything in moderation” is a recommendation which can be applied to everything. Even a droplet of water every day will make a hole in a rock (or something like that).

In the last few days, whenever anyone has said, “your project is almost finished,” my eyes have welled up and I can’t understand why. They don’t feel like tears of joy or accomplishment; they feel like tears of confusion – or at least they do for now. Upon reflection, I hope to see they are tears of pride. I’ve never set out to do something so colossal and accomplished it. Part of me feels modest, hearing imaginary judgments, instinctively wanting to downplay the whole achievement. Yet, another part of me wants to scream it from a rooftop: I WROTE AN ESSAY EVERY SINGLE DAY FOR A YEAR. [Over 250,000 words!]

Part of my victory feels anti-climactic. There is no pomp and circumstances nor an official finish line to cross. No one will give me my time, wrap me in a mylar blanket, or hang a medal around my neck. My resolution is less tangible and I imagine, with time and distance, will only grow in value until I’ll easily recognize these tears were the happiest of all.