THE THIRSTY UNICORN (or How to Stay Married on the Drought Days)

Hark!   I am back!

I’m really not sure when and why the word HARK fell out of favor.  I think the angels were on to something.   Who wouldn’t love to walk into a room or party or office meeting and announce, “Hark! I have arrived!”

Anyway…Hark The Ravenlunatic is back from summer hiatus!

My husband Saul and I almost bought a house this summer.   We already own a house 72 miles outside of New York City (where I still work) and live right in the middle of the quaint little town full of antique shops.   It’s almost like living in Brooklyn except instead of renting a bottom floor of a brownstone for thousands and thousands of dollars, we actually own all three floors.

This is a first house that either of us have owned.   I honestly never saw myself buying a house.  It felt way too grown up, but a year and a half ago we did it.

Then this summer a friend we walk our dog, Alfie, with told us about a little house on the hill over our town.   On a lark, Saul and I went to see it.   It’s nestled high on a hill with a view of the Delaware River that you can see from the wraparound deck.  It has wood-burning stoves to heat the house and windows everywhere and it sits on an acre of land.   It was perfect.   When Saul and I pulled up in our car I expected a pet unicorn to run out to greet us by eagerly licking our faces

I didn’t know until that very moment that this house was everything we ever wanted.

Well, let me back up.  It was everything I ever wanted.  Saul wasn’t so sure.

Saul liked the house but wasn’t as enamored with it as I was. Saul is often more wary than me when it comes to things.   He sees all the things that could go wrong and I see all the things that are right.   I think he’s too negative and he thinks I’m to naive.  Neither of us like being thought of as either of those things.

I often feel my job is to convince Saul to do things.   Here’s an example:

Early in our relationship we were invited by our friend to a Bette Midler concert.  It was in Madison Square Garden in New York City and getting through security in the crowded venue was a nightmare.  Saul was dreading the evening the entire time we were making our torturous way to our seats, but once Bette started telling jokes and belting songs Saul enjoyed it maybe more than anyone else in the entire venue.  I mean when Saul loves something he LOVES it (ask our cats).   Afterwards, as we walked out he looked at me and said.  “That was better than I thought.”

Saul often utters those words.   I have suggested they should be on his tombstone.

HERE LIES SAUL LYONS

1970-2070

It Was Better Than He Thought

Saul agrees that I push him out of his comfort zone and he usually is happy that I did although he will point out the Fleetwood Mac concert I pushed him to go to when our seat mates were so drunk and high they ruined Landslide by singing louder than Stevie Nicks and then fell on top of Saul while trying to twirl like her.

So, I pushed for the house. I just knew Saul would love living on the hill with the river and the view and the acre of land and the unicorn.

We made an offer and we got it!

The next day I drove to work thinking I was the luckiest guy in the world.

Then Saul called to say he got a call from the “well man.”

That is as ominous as it sounds… A call from the Well Man.

 

It’s like a warning in a horror movie.

Where were your children when the Well Man came calling?

And the news was as ominous as it sounded.

The property has a well–something that I never even knew existed outside of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.  And the Well Man knew about the well at the perfect house and he warned us it wasn’t so perfect.   Basically, the water in this well would trickle out on good days which meant days it had just rained.

It was like an ex-boyfriend of your fiancé showing up at the bridal shower saying, “Good luck with that guy” and then throwing their head back and laughing bitterly.

It seemed clear to Saul we had to pull out.

But I was not ready to give up.

I explained to Saul that we didn’t need that much water. That we could drink soda and wash each other’s hair in the river and collect melted snow in a barrel for bathing.

This started the most difficult two weeks of our marriage.    We could not even broach the subject without arguing.

Saul looks at things logically:  If we bought this house, all the potential issues we would have to deal with just to get running water would  make our bank account as empty as our well.

I approach things intuitively:  When we buy this house, we are stepping into another life that will make us happier and we will figure out how to deal with the issues.

My friend Sara and I another epitaph for our tombstones.  THEY BELIEVED IT WOULD WORK OUT IN THE END

Who is right?    And how do you argue for a feeling you have?

We kept trying to find a common ground and kept arguing.

Finally, I realized no possible solution to the well problem was going to make Saul think this house was a good idea.   I had to let go of the fantasy of moving to this house on the hill.   (Oh, have I mentioned I hate letting go of anything.   I’ve always thought the phrase Let Go and Let God was just a nasty threat.)

Neither of us will know what that house would have brought us.  It could have been miserable or it could have been joyful.  Or most likely we would have moved and gotten used to being in a new house and life would have continued being life—sometimes miserable and sometimes joyful.

Everyone knows marriage isn’t always easy.    There is always that part of the wedding where the officiant or minister says, “marriage isn’t easy” and the all the old married couples nod their head emphatically.

But yes, in my experience, marriage is constantly about trying to beat your opponent at the game before they humiliate you by beating you.  (Or as some call it, compromise.)  My friend Amy told me she has no interest being in a relationship and having to compromise the life she wants to live,  and, believe me,  I get it.

But the moment that made it easier to give up the dream of the house was the moment I realized it would make Saul feel relieved and it would make him feel safe.   Saul loves where we live right now.  He loves our home and truly with all his heart thinks both of us will be happier staying here for at least a while longer.    I thought the new house would make us both happier and he thinks staying where we are will make us both happier.   In the end, we were looking out for the other person and not just ourselves.

I just heard on CBS This Morning that happiness doesn’t come from outside things but from being able to cope with disappointment.  I would add that happiness also comes from thinking of other’s happiness.   We can do that with our friends, relatives, neighbors, pets, and strangers, but marriage gives you a lot of opportunity to exercise that muscle.

Come to think of it, maybe this  could be the epithet on both of our tombstones.

HARK!  IN THIS LIFETIME THEY LOVED AND WERE LOVED WELL

That’s a much more useful well

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Keith Hoffman is a writer in a small river town.  He has all the water he could ever dream of.

Artist’s Rendering of Dream Home

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The Homecoming Dance

The moment that was going to course correct my life was happening after 6th period English class, on October 2nd 1975.

I was currently in fifth period Spanish class where Mrs. Cheeseman was having us sing along to a Spanish version of Captain and Tenille’s Love Will Keep Us Together.

Yo Soy!  Yo Soy!   Yo Soy!  Yooo Soooy!

I was sure if Stacy Brown said yes to me, our love would keep us together for the rest of our lives.

I was new at Taylor High School. My mom had been a widow for six years.  After my two oldest brothers had left home, she moved her three remaining kids to a small house on the outskirts of Cincinnati, Ohio.  My sister had already graduated and gotten a job and my brother was going to vocational school.  I was left facing the prospect of being the dreaded new kid all by myself.  At least it was the beginning of freshman year, so everyone was new to the actual high school, but most of the other kids had spent their entire lives growing up together.

I had never fit in and it always felt like something about me was broken.  I could never grasp the social skills that other kids seemed to instinctively understand.  But at least now I had a whole new set of classmates who didn’t know my long misfit history.  Plus, in high school, there were no more recess periods where I had to pace furtively by myself on the parameters of the playground.

But there was still gym class.

The meaner boys figured out on the very first week that I was no athlete, and now three months later, I was their constant target.

This faggot thinks he’s cool!

I couldn’t help but flinch when I heard that word.  They used it in a lot of ways about a lot of things, but when it was directed at me it felt like they might know some truth about me that I didn’t yet know myself.

Plus, high school also had the added opportunity for humiliation and ridicule in the form of the locker room.  Boys hadn’t undressed in front of each other back at St. Jude Elementary.  We wore our t-shirts and gym shorts under our regular clothes like a good Catholics.    But high school athletes seemed to thrive in their states of undress as they strutted around the lockers like they were daring me to look at them.   But I knew if they saw me even glance their way, I would be an even bigger target of their taunts.  We both somehow understood that something was different about me.

Every gym period, I slunk down the steps with my head lowered and my eyes focused on my feet into the dark, dank locker room and hunched my string-bean thin body in the corner facing away from the rest of the boys as I got undressed.   I had no idea how I measured up to them since I never looked their way once our clothes were off, but I was sure I wouldn’t be measure up.  How could I?  I wasn’t even half the men those boys already were.

But I told myself once I had a girlfriend everyone would see that I was normal.  And I decided Stacy Brown was going to be that girlfriend.

Stacy sat next to me in English class.  She was smart and funny.  My brains and humor gave me an edge with girls that the athletes didn’t have.  I couldn’t dribble, but I could make a caustic remark or diagram a sentence with uncanny ease.

The first chance to ask Stacy Brown out was the upcoming Fall Football Homecoming Dance.  For weeks, I practiced how to ask Stacy.

“Hi, if you aren’t doing anything after the Homecoming, do you want to go to the dance together?”  “Hi, are you planning on going to the dance Friday?  Me too.  Want to go together?”   “Hi, do you like dancing.  So do I!  We should go to the dance.”  

The words jumbled in my head as I moved verbs and nouns and adverbs and pronouns around to get the sentence just right.   The dance was two weeks and one day away and people were starting to pair up.  I knew Stacy Brown was popular, so I had to make my move and I had to do it after English class or someone else would get to her first.

She was standing at her locker when I spotted her.  I almost turned and walked in the opposite direction.  I hadn’t told anyone I was asking her because I didn’t want anyone to remind me she was out of my league.   I just had to do it.  And if she said no, then no one had to ever know.   I just had to do it and be done with it.

As I walked up to her, I felt out of control.  My throat was dry but my armpits were wet.  My knees were weak and my ankles felt unsteady.  I got up to next to her right as she shut her locker.

“Hi Stacy.”

“Hi.”

‘Uh..did you want to go to the Homecoming Dance together?”

“Oh, how sweet!   Um…sure…yes.  That would be nice.”

“Great.  I’ll see you there.  Or well, I guess I’ll see you before that in class.  Ok.  Thanks.”

I tried not to sprint away in my state of joy.  I had never felt this happy in my life.   I had caught my prey.  I was going to the Homecoming Dance with one of the more popular girls in freshman class.  It’s true she wasn’t as popular as her big sister Brenda Brown who was Junior Class Vice President, nominee for homecoming queen and co-caption of The Taylor High drill team, the Taylorettes, but give Stacy time.  She would eventually become even more popular than her big sister, and I would be with her every step of that climb up the ladder holding her hand and helping her chose her outfits.

No one in my drama club could believe Stacy Brown was going to the dance with me. The most popular girls never went to dances with guys in the drama club.   I tried to explain to them that Stacy was different.  She and I liked to make jokes about how goofily cute Mr. Heinrich looked with his rumpled tie and wrinkled shirt when he taught English class.  I reminded them that all the great love stories were about the underdog finding love with the beautiful and popular person—Funny Girl, What’s Up Doc, The Way We Were—well, at least all the Barbra Streisand love stories were about the underdog finding love with the beautiful and popular person.  Stacy and I were the real thing.  Everything about us felt exactly right

As the day of the homecoming dance approached, Stacy and I acted as if it wasn’t happening and joked and laughed as usual.  On Wednesday, with only two days to go, my mom took me to get my hair cut after school.  I asked them to feather on the side like David Cassidy from The Partridge Family and John Travolta in Welcome Back Kotter.   We bought an exotic silk shirt with a wide collar that was dark green with red designs that kind of looked like amoebas all over it.   I had bell bottom imitation red suede pants that I laid out next to my bed and polished up my boots with the highest heels.

That night I practiced the bump—a dance where you bumped hips–by using a mirror as my partner.  Then I slow danced with the standing lamp next to my bed.   The big question was whether or not I should kiss Stacy Brown at the end of the night.  Would she expect it or be insulted?   I wished I had kissed someone on the lips before this.  I was supposed to in the school play  since I had been cast as the romantic lead, but we were saving the actual kiss until dress rehearsal which was still weeks away.   How did you know if a girl wanted to be kissed anyway?   In all the Bette Davis moves I had seen, she seemed to slap a man in the face which usually made him grab her and kiss her hard like she wanted him to, but I was savvy enough to know girls didn’t do that in the 70’s. I hoped I would instinctively know would to do when the time came.

The day before the dance, as nervous as I was, I knew I had to iron out the details of the dance with Stacy.  Almost-dating was turning out to be a lot harder than just being friends.

We went through English class without taking about it, and I could feel the awkwardness between us.  Time was slipping away.  I had to bring it up with her so I followed her to her locker after class.

“Hi Stacy, I meant to talk to you in class.”

“Hi!” she said shyly.  “I meant to talk to you too!”

“We need to talk about Friday.”

“We do.”

‘So, do you want to just meet after the game?”

“Um…actually I wanted to talk to you yesterday but I didn’t get a chance.  Brad Higgins asked me to the dance on Monday, and I’ve really liked him for a long time, and since you are I are just friends, I was wondering if you minded if I went with him instead?”

“Oh, sure…of course not.  That’s fine.”

“You really are so sweet.  Thank you so much.  I knew you would understand.”

“Of course.  Of course.   Great.  Well, I hope I see you there.”

I had to escape.  I had to get out of there.  I knew my cheeks were flushed and I could feel the tears in my eyes.  I had to get as far away as possible.

 

Friday night I walked into the Homecoming Dance alone.

I didn’t want to go, but my friends in Drama Club had insisted.

“We’ll all be there and none of us have dates!”

“Remember this pain when you audition for Tom Sawyer in the spring.”

I wasn’t sure how going to a school dance would prepare me to portray a boy who coerced others to whitewash a fence for him, but it was nice that at least somebody wanted me to come to the dance with them.

As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I made a beeline to my friends in the back.  I pushed through the crowd and nearly ran headfirst into Stacy.

“Oh, sorry!”

“Hi,” she said.

“Hi…sorry I can’t talk!” I replied before practically trotting away from her.

Real cool, Keith. 

That night,  I almost convinced myself I had forgotten all about Stacy as I laughed with my drama friends telling stupid jokes and taking turns doing double bumps with each other where you bump one friend with your right hip and one with your left.

But when Peter Frampton’s Baby I Love Your Way came on, all us single kids stepped off to the side to make way for the couples.  The crowd suddenly parted like I was watching some choreographed move and I saw Stacy Brown with her eyes closed and her head-on Brad Higgin’s shoulder   His silk shirt was black and much cooler than mine and was open three buttons down.  His jeans were tight and his hair was still wet from the shower he took after helping win the Homecoming game.  For the first time that night, I really looked at Stacy.  She had a black dress on and looked prettier than I had ever seen her.  And she looked happier than I ever had seen her too.

The pain and humiliation from the day before cracked open as I stood staring at her.

I saw the contentment she felt and I realized I would never feel that for myself.

Contentment was for Stacy Brown and Brad Higgins–not for broken misfits like me.

silk

ABOUT THE AUTHOR–Many years later at a high school reunion, Stacy apologized to the author.  Since by then he realized he was gay and they would have had no future except an unfulfilling marriage anyway, he let it slide.

 

 

 

THE WRITING CONTEST: COMPETITION VS. ART

Two weeks ago I was at a Writer’s Conference in Boston.

Those of you who read TheRavenLunatic.com regularly might be surprised and alarmed to read that sentence since not too long ago I wrote a blog about my disastrous time at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference when an agent wouldn’t read even five pages of my memoir because she said the book had too many words.  (Pearls:  When to Push and When to Protect Your Art.)

But I’m nothing if not a determined Aries.  I am getting my book published.  You can count on that.

Luckily, the agents, editors and writers I came in contact with at the Boston conference were much nicer and more professional.   I got interest in my book from an agent on my very first day.  If nothing else happened, I was already glad I came.

Then something else happened.  It was called Literary Idol.

Literary Idol was a workshop on the second day of the conference that I signed up for because I didn’t like any of the workshops offered in that time slot.  The only other workshop I considered for just a moment was one called Writing Dark Humor.  But I figured teaching someone to have a sense of humor is like teaching someone to have sex appeal.

Although, come to think of it, I actually might take that second workshop.

I signed up for Literary Idol months ago without even understanding what it was.    I figured I would talk about Dickens or Mark Twain or Augustine Burroughs or some other author I idolized.  On the morning of the workshop, I finally got around to reading the description.  It said you needed to bring the first page of your book and submit it anonymously.  Then a professional actor would read it to a panel of agents and editors who would raise their hand when they got to a sentence that lost their interest.  If two or more raised their hand before the end of the page, you were out.  If you made it to the end–your first page would be voted on with the rest of first pages that made it to the end.  One of those first pages would be selected as the winner.

Awful, right?   Harsh?   Atrocious?  We are artist for god’s sake!    Artists are not in completion with each other!

I wanted to win that contest so bad I could taste it.

Let me tell you a little about my upbringing.  My family loved to play games like Password, Poker, Tripoli, Monopoly, Scrabble, Mystery Date, Operation, Mousetrap and Taboo.  No matter what the game, we played strictly by the rules and we played to win.   Playing games with the Hoffman’s was not for sissies.

This game-playing instilled a strong sense of fairness in me.  It also instilled a desire to win that is off-putting and unattractive to others.

But I don’t care since those others are losers.

Luckily when I got older, I matured and games became more about spending time with friends than about winning.

I’m kidding.

I stayed ruthless.

In the 90’s, I sent one friend ran out of my house in tears after I argued with her over a rule during a Scattagories game.   I apologized the next day—the same day she found out she had cancer.   A few weeks before she died a year later, I was at her bedside reminiscing.  “I can’t believe I made you cry that day,” I said with a tender chuckle.   “Yea, you were awful,” she said not chuckling back.

I actually did mellow out after that.

But still…a competition is a competition.   Why enter if you don’t want to win?

“Saul, wake up!  You need to help me with my first page!” I said jostling my husband.

God bless Saul.  I’m very lucky to have a husband who supports my writing.   Within ten minutes he was up and listening to me read my first page out loud.  Now the first page of my memoir has been the same for a long time.  But that morning I didn’t have the opportunity to wait until the top of Page 2 to get to the punchline.  I rewrote some sentences, tossed out the section about my mom in her green bikini weed whacking the front yard to the consternation of the neighbor’s wives, and got right to the meat of the story   Oh, and I took out an entire paragraph talking about my childhood idol, Mitzi Gaynor.  Mitzi had starred in South Pacific, but more importantly, had a yearly variety special where she sang and danced and did comedy sketches.  I adored that special and would watch curled up on the couch next to my mom,–but having to describe who Mitzi was took up too much space so I switched her to my other childhood idol Cher who has much more name recognition.  I know some of you may say this is cheating, but what’s a little artistic license when you need to win? And it’s not like my book is published.  I’m rewriting it as I work on this blog.   I was making  the first page better with these changes.

I finished the rewrite with minutes to spare.  I raced to the hotel where the conference was being held.  In my haste, I had forgotten my badge and had to charm the volunteers into letting me in.  Apparently, I don’t need that sex appeal workshop after all.

Agents from pretty big agencies sat in front of the room where the contest was being held.  The first thing they said is that the first pages being considered would be picked randomly and there might not be time to read all of them.

My heart sank.  Losing after they heard my page read out loud was one thing, but what if I didn’t win because I randomly wasn’t read?   This was probably the worst torture you could inflict on me.

One hour and fifteen minutes later, I was squirming in my seat still waiting for my first page to be read.  The majority of the first-pagers had been voted off.  I was texting Saul like crazy.  I don’t think they are going to read mine!  I’m in Hell!  

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Oh, by the way, I finally figured out what the name of the workshop meant.  Literary Idol?  American Idol?   Get it??   Maybe you already had gotten it.

“Okay, we have time to hear one more,” said the particularly gruff agent who was very much like a female Simon Cowell.

I began hyperventilating in in my efforts not to scream out READ MINE, YOU FOOL!

“The next piece is entitled.  Cindy Brady Gets a Penis.”

I couldn’t believe it.

They were reading mine!

As the actor began to read, I watched the agents/judges alert to whether or not they were going to put their hands up to stop the reading.

To be honest, there was some really good writing before mine that I admired a lot.   There were first pages about unrest in Turkey and grandmothers who were geisha girls–but since mine was the only one in that pile that was funny, it stood out because it made people laugh and that always gives you an advantage.  This is why I don’t want others to take that dark humor workshop.

The judges liked my first page and the reader made it to the end of the page.  But then the unimaginable happened.  They accidentally placed it in the DISCARD PILE.

What could I do??  The contest was anonymous so I couldn’t stand up and scream AN ABOMINATION HAS JUST OCCURRED! but boy did I want to.

I had to think fast.  I sidled over a volunteer.  “They put my piece in the discard pile even though it made it through.” I said in a quiet panicked voice as if I were announcing a bomb was discovered under my chair.

“Are you sure?” the volunteer asked skeptically.

“Oh yes, I am sure!   I have never been so sure of anything in my life!” I said tensely.

By the look on her face, I could tell this last statement came out as somewhat of a threat.

She scrambled up and told the judges, and they fluttered around for a moment before correcting their mistake and putting my page in the TO CONSIDER pile.

Now it was time to decide.   I texted Saul.  I made it to the end!   I don’t think I’m going to win.  I think the Holocaust piece will beat me.  

I started to gather my things proud of myself for getting this far.

“Well I guess Cindy Brady gets a penis and first prize!” the mean agent announced.

“What?”

I won???

I leapt up to the front of the room and did my best to look humble.  After all, everyone else in the room had lost.

Late that day I met up with Saul.   He knew I needed this boost and his joy for me was touching and heartfelt.

As we walked through Boston, I thought about the other first pages in the group.   I thought about the excellent writers I had heard.  I thought about the writers who were beginners.  I would have written a very different first page when I was just starting to write.   I thought about the ones who might have needed a boost and didn’t’ get one that morning like I hadn’t gotten one in San Francisco.

I remembered when I was at a workshop years ago in Greece with several other amazing writers and we read our pieces out loud for each other.   My  funny piece followed a very beautiful but very serious piece.  Then I was followed by someone who had written a poem.  I can’t write a poem to save my life.  I realized in that moment that I wasn’t competing with those other writers.  We all had such different voices.    All I had to do was find my voice and make it as strong and clear as possible.  It was a huge revelation.  One that is important to remember as I fight and claw my way to get published.

In that moment with Saul in Boston, I sent good wishes to the other writers who had been in the contest  and then to everyone who sits down and writes from their heart.  The world needs good writers and it needs a lot of them.

May we all keep forging ahead finding our own voices.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Keith Hoffman won Literary Idol

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How Not To Get in a Middle-Aged Rumble at a Fleetwood Mac Concert

Last Tuesday I went to a Fleetwood Mac concert with my husband Saul.  Well…two thirds of a Fleetwood Mac concert…but we’ll get to that later

This wasn’t the Fleetwood Mac I had grown up with.   The best-known iteration of the group is the five who recorded the infamous Rumors album:   Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Christine Mcvie, Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks.  They were the ones who slept together, got married, broke up and then slept with other band members while miraculously staying pretty much together for the last 40 years.

But last year, Lindsay was fired from the group.  Stevie had finally said “it’s him or me” and the group chose Stevie.  I don’t blame her.  If I were 70 and incredibly famous and in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I might want to stop having to tour the world with the snarky guy who I broke up with 43 years ago who had repeatedly kicked me onstage and once threw me on top of the hood of a car.

Lindsay was replaced by Mike Campbell from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Neil Finn from Crowded House   Here’s where the story gets good.

Stevie Nicks is my favorite singer in the world and Neil Finn was my big sister Julie’s favorite singer in the world.  (I apologize for telling another “sister dying” story.  I know I tell a lot of stories about my sister dying–you can imagine how fun I am at a dinner party—but this one is a good one.)   Julie adored Crowded House.   She adored them so much the cover of their Together Alone album was used as the cover of the program for her memorial.

When I had arrived back to my home in LA after returning from Julie’s memorial, I went for about a week without turning on the TV or any music.   I barely even ate.   But eventually I couldn’t live on just candy bars from the corner gas station, so I got in my car and headed to Taco Bell.   When I arrived, there was a long line of cars in the drive-thru so finally I looked at the radio, reached over and turned it on.

Hey Now.  Hey Now Don’t Dream It’s Over came from the speakers.

I got chills    I wasn’t sure, but I thought that maybe it was Crowded House who sang that song.

I rushed home and looked it up on my computer (it was 2008 and I didn’t quite have the technology om my phone yet.)   It was indeed Crowded House. I was sure it was a sign.  I mean, what were the odds that would be the first song I heard when I finally turned on the radio?

And the message?  Don’t Dream It’s Over?   How could I not feel it was Julie telling me that the love we had didn’t end with her death?

Now, ten years later both Stevie and Neil who sang the lead on that song were performing together.   I had read the reviews and knew they sang this very song as a duet.    Again, what were the odds?  My sister had to be behind this.  She must have gotten to know some pretty powerful people in the spirit world to make this happen.  I don’t know if Stevie even knew who Neil Finn was.  There was some petty magical synchronicity happening.

I worked from home the day of the concert so Saul and I wouldn’t be late.  Our dog was walked early, and we headed out at five o’clock on the dot to our wondrous night in Newark, New Jersey.

Three hours and 10 minutes later we had been looking for parking for forty minutes.  Let me explain Newark to you.  It’s the reason all the rest of the entire beautiful state of New Jersey has a bad reputation.  It’s an awful and ugly city made more ugly and awful when every parking lot is full, and you are stuck in traffic with no one directing you ten minutes after a concert is supposed to begin.

Finally, we found a space in a lot about a 20-minute walk form the coliseum.

“I don’t like this spot.”  Saul complained as I put the car in park and started jumping out the door to run to the event.  “It’s too claustrophobic.”

“Um…why do you care?”  I said tersely.    You won’t be sitting in the car.”

Before I continue, I just want to say that I realize that many of my blogs involve a dispute or argument or out-and-out fight between my husband and me.   I tell Saul he is my muse for the blog.  He says he is fodder for it.

I moved to a new spot that made Saul feel better about his neuroses…I mean…parking claustrophobia, and we ran to the concert.   Magically, we got there at 8:20 just as the first beats of The Chain began.  I told you it was going to be a magical night.    Our seats were far back but straight in front of the stage and the venue is designed well so that we felt pretty close.  To our left was a place for people in wheelchairs to watch, and we loved being near them.

“Did I get us good seats or what?”  I said to Saul proudly.

During the first half of the show we enjoyed ourselves immensely.   Stevie was at the top of her game, and we even liked Mick Fleetwood’s drum solo.   Then Stevie and Neil sang THAT song and it was stunning. I was certain my sister was enjoying this moment right along with me.

But during Landslide things got ugly.

There were two guys and two women probably in their 50’s to the right of us.  They were definitely not part of the nice wheelchair crowd.  I think of them as “old” even though they may have possibly been younger than me.  But they were getting stoned with extremely pungent pot every five or ten minutes and getting really sloppy drunk.  In my opinion, partying too hard or dressing provocatively after the age of forty-five  just makes you look older.

You would think Landslide is not a screaming, staggering-to-the-point-of-almost-falling-over and talking-loudly type of song.   It’s a quiet and contemplative about getting older, being afraid of change, and snow-covered hills. But these people felt differently.    During the quiet guitar solo, they stumbled around in their row and continued to fall on top of Saul.  It was not the peaceful landslide I was hoping for.

I saw Saul who, let’s face it, was there because of me–getting more and more stressed and angry at the people next to him.  I knew that look in his eye.  It was a look you didn’t want to mess with.

By the end of the song Saul was clapping in a dangerously aggressive way in their direction while I was fighting with an usher who would do nothing to stop the drunk people.

“Come on. We’re going home.”   I announced to Saul.

“No.”  Saul insisted. “If we go home, these people win.”

I wasn’t sure what us “winning” looked like to him, but to me it looked like us sitting through the rest of the concert in a miserable state or getting ourselves in a huge brawl that landed us permanently in the wheelchair section.

“We’re leaving,” I insisted and started walking to the door.  Saul was wary.  He wasn’t sure if this was some kind of bluff on my part that would land him in hot water later.   And he wasn’t totally wrong to be nervous.  I’ve been known to do things like that.

As we walked the twenty miles to our car,  I was not happy with my husband.  “Why can’t I be married to a man who can sit through an entire concert?” I asked myself.   I couldn’t believe I was leaving the evening I had been so looking forward to.

Saul and I have a rule that we can’t fight in the car.  We fear it will lead to one of us driving over a ravine to “win” the augment.  As you can see, we are all about winning.  It’s the same reason we don’t have a gun or chain saw in the house.    If I were ever president and got the nuclear code, the world would definitely be in danger during one of our marital spats.

We rode silently in the car as I contemplated how unfair my life with Saul  was.   But I also couldn’t help enjoying that we didn’t have to fight crowds to get out of the coliseum or the traffic to get out of the lot.

And all of a sudden, I had compassion for my husband.  He had gone to the concert to support me, but while there, he had reached his limit.   (And don’t tell him but I had reached my limit too.)

 

What had happened was– I let go of my vision of what the perfect night was supposed to look like.  That rigid desire for what I imagine to be perfection is always what ends up making me unhappy.  When I was younger, I would have insisted we stay to the bitter end of that show no matter how miserable Saul or I had become.   But tonight, I was able to give this “perfect” night up for some peace and quiet and a calm husband.

My big sister would have understood. Julie was always reminding me to be kind to the people I loved. Actually, my big sister might have been hanging out with the people next to us.  She did once get her head stuck in a fence at an outdoor concert.

Saul and I got home and played with our animals, kissed each other goodnight and went to bed.

We had heard the song I wanted to hear, got home at a decent hour,  were thoughtful towards each other and weren’t going to feel bad in the morning.

It turned out to be a perfect night after all–just not what I had dreamed it to be.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:   KEITH HOFFMAN plans to not have any of his exes on book tours with him after the age of 70. prog

 

PEARLS: When To Push and When to Protect Your Art

This week someone looked me in the eye and told me “I’m sorry it’s just too big.”

Unfortunately, it wasn’t in the situation I had always fantasized that sentence would be said to me.

But let’s go back to the beginning.

When I told Jenny,  the head of my writers group in NYC where I’ve been workshopping my book for the last two years, that I was going to attend a writer’s conference in San Francisco, the best way I can describe her reaction is apoplectic.

“NOOO! DON’T DO THAT!”     She said looking at me like I had just announced to the group I had signed up to take a personality test with Scientology.

I tried to explain to her that my husband Saul and I had decided this year was the YEAR OF THE BOOK.  I had been writing my memoir for several years and was finally finished.  Now we were going to do everything we could to get it published.  “NO STONE UNTURNED!” was our motto.  But Jenny felt the that the only thing I would find under this writers conference rock was worms.

I had been to one other writers conference in San Miguel, Mexico a few years ago.  I heard some pretty good keynote speakers like Mary Karr and David Ebershoff, and I took some awesome workshops.  There was a lot of talk about the importance of social media and how so many writers are notorious for sucking at it.  (Which reminds me, please Venmo this blog if you like it).   But the gist of these conferences as opposed to a writer’s workshops involves talking to and hearing from agents.

Agents have a tough reputation.  Like lawyers and policeman and prostitutes, you tend to think negatively of them until you really need them.   I have always liked agents.  I had one when I was a TV writer, and one of my first jobs in NYC was working for an agent.   I knew Fran Mcdormand (that’s what we insiders called her) and Joan Allen when they were up and coming young actors.

But at these conferences, the agents who attend have something that the thousands of writers who are there want.  They are the narrow gateway into getting published traditionally. And the writers who want to walk through those narrow gates are a mixed group.  My writers group in New York is a small, serious group.  But at conferences, you have serious writers mixed with writers who want to write a book to get rich (You are better off playing the lottery and it’s a lot less time consuming.)  Billions of writers who come from crazy childhoods think  their life would make a great book (oh wait..that sounds suspiciously like me).    So there is a bit of a feeling at these conferences of being looked down upon by these agents.  You don’t feel like you might be the next David Sedaris, but more like you are part of the delusional masses who think they can write a bestseller but are more likely to die alone of consumption.

The agents don’t quite say that, but throw out a lot of hints that this is what they feel.

This is why the head of my writers group didn’t want me to go.   She believes a serious writer needs to treat their writing like something precious.   I have found that when people have any type of artistic gift, whether at being a musician or artist or dancer or writer or editor– or any of the number things that requires talent—they tend to be very insecure about their work.   And the more talented–the more insecure.   “Hi, I worked on this book for twelve years of my life.  I’m sorry.” would be my “elevator pitch” if left to my own devices.  The paradox is that to make any type of art, you also have to have some bold self-confidence deep inside of you or you just would never do it.

Despite Jenny’s dire warnings, I got through the first few days of the conference pretty okay.  I heard again I need to have a stronger “platform” (please twitter this blog if you are enjoying it) and was told by one agent that I had the best pitch she had ever heard.  In fact, she said “If I were to teach a pitch I would use it as an example.”    Well…I was the star of the conference.  Poor Jenny was wrong.   I was on my way to riches as a book writer!    Maybe I should buy a lottery ticket!

The next day I had a one-on-one fifteen minute meeting with that very same agent.   I was ready.  I had my pitch, my one page synopsis, and the first five pages of my book.

The first ten minutes of the meeting went well.  She told me how great my pitch was “Oh really?   Why thank you!  I believe you did mention that the other day.   Gosh.  Thanks.  I mean it was just off the top of my head.

But in minute fourteen things went awry.

How many words did you say your memoir was?  I forgot”

She didn’t forget.   I had deliberately not mentioned it.   I had learned at the conference that most first books need to be 90,000 words and mine was 126,000 words.  Apparently,  agents and publishers frowned upon so many words.   But she and I were  getting along so well, so I sheepishly told her the total.

She looked at me like I had confided to her that I enjoy blinding kittens.

“Well, you need to cut 36,000 words out of that.”

Now of course I wanted to say, “But what about The Goldfinch, or Harry Potter or David Copperfield, or War and Peace but I knew I would sound like a delusional fool.

So I looked appropriately ashamed of all my words and promised her I would cut them down.  “Sure.  Easy no problem.”  But I wasn’t ready to completely surrender.  “But can I leave you the first five pages?”

“No,” she replied.  “When you’ve really worked on the book and it’s ready, I’ll read it.  But don’t worry.  I’m not going anywhere.”

Now that was a tiny bit insulting.  I  recently found the first vestiges of my book from back in 2003 in my computer.   I have been working on it for years and intensely working on it every single day for the last two years.  I even rewrote the ending after my sister died.  It wasn’t just a notion scribbled on a napkin.

I was devastated.  I had been knocked out of the running by how many words were in the story of my life.

I went into the lobby  and texted my husband who was in our motel napping.  “Hope your nap is good.  I’m really depressed.”    I wasn’t really that concerned with his nap, but it seemed like a less self-involved way to start the text.   Saul immediately called me up and boosted my morale.

But the big question was the next day.   I was scheduled to do a “speed-dating” pitch to several agents.   I just didn’t think I had the heart anymore.  I’m scrappy, and I know that rejection is part of the game, but I didn’t want to set myself up for a string of speed rejections.   Before I met Saul, I speed dated all the time.  In fact, my early blogs are all about speed dating.   I was terribly unsuccessful at explaining my life and my appeal  in a short amount of time and I didn’t think I would be any better with explaining my book and its appeal.

The next morning after a good night’s sleep, I talked to my friend Leanne about it.  Leanne is a minister.   I’ve known her since college and she even married Saul and me.   I love Leanne.  I wish every minister were as cool and open-hearted as she is.   I told Leanne the entire story and my dilemma about speed dating with agents she replied, “Well, I hate to quote Jesus…”  (she actually doesn’t hate to quote Jesus but that’s part of her charm)  “..but you shouldn’t cast your pearls before swine.”

Now let’s be clear.  Those are Jesus words not mine and I don’t think he was talking about his agent when he said that.  I don’t think that agents are swine.  DO YOU HEAR THAT ANY AGENT WHO JUST STUMBLED UPON THIS BLOG?

But what Leanne and Jesus meant, in my opinion, is that you have to protect your art and you have to protect your soul which is where your art comes from.   I just wasn’t ready on that day to cast my book upon the rocks of rejection.  When I dated, I would have to take breaks from dating every once in a while to shore up my defenses before going back out there. It worked for me then, and I suspected it would work for me now.

So, I didn’t go to speed agent dating and I don’t regret it.

Maybe I will eventually decide to cut my book down.  Maybe I will keep it as long as it is and will die with the unread heavy manuscript burned next to my tired-from-typing-too-many words hands.   All I know is that last week I made the decision to protect that little fragile thing inside myself that so loves  to create, and I believe with all my heart that can never be a bad thing.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:   KEITH HOFFMAN learned at his last Writers Conference that blog entries should be 750 words.  This one is 1577.   He is a rebel.  Follow him on Twitter @khravenlunatic #SocialMediaSavvy

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Grocery Shopping Can Destroy Your Marriage (and other relationship tips)

Last weekend started out kind of rough.

Friday was my husband Saul’s birthday.  He and I aren’t really the gift-giving type of couple.  When we took the Five Love Language Quiz, we both scored zero on Receiving Gifts as our Love Language.   (If you haven’t taken it yet, I highly recommend it.  I know it has a really corny name but I swear there is something to it.)

https://www.5lovelanguages.com

My love language is Quality Time meaning I like someone’s full and undivided attention when I’m talking.   (I often envy’s Saul’s phone for being the recipient of this kind of love.)  Saul’s Love Language is Acts of Service.  He lets me know he loves me by changing the kitty litter.  It’s kind of like one of us speaks Bavarian and the other speaks Punjabi.

Since neither of us care about gifts, I told Saul that my “present” to him would be that I would be nice to him for the entire day on his birthday.

This was a huge mistake.

When I imagined how this “gift’ would play out, I imagined that I would be nice to Saul, and Saul would be really  grateful for my niceness.  I didn’t account for the variable that Saul would be in a really cranky mood for his entire birthday.  And by cranky, I mean like the pure evil that possessed Linda Blair in The Exorcist.  

I did sort of okay with this whole nice thing until we went grocery shopping later in the day.   (I know what you are thinking:  Keith really knows how to make birthday’s special!)  But we were throwing a party the next day, and needed to get food and beverages.

Saul has this weird quirk.   For some reason, he thinks it is better to use the smallest shopping cart available.   If there was a mini kids cart that said SHOPPER IN TRAINING at the front of the store, I’m pretty sure he would take it.   I don’t know where he learned that a big cart was somehow wasteful.

Oh…and he will bring in as few reusable bags as possible.

SCENE—MY HUSBAND AND I STARING INTO THE TRUNK OF OUR CAR AT OUR BEAT-UP REUSABLE BAGS. 

SAUL—We’ll only need to two.

ME—No, we’ll need all five. 

SAUL—But what if we don’t use them all and they think we are trying to steal a new one and charge us?

ME—if we can’t fight them in court,  I will pay the buck fifty. 

Why he thinks some suspicious cashier is going to try to charge us for a wrinkled bag with crusty spilled hot sauce stuck to the bottom I can’t quite fathom.   And this doesn’t make him buy less food, he just feels some sort of pride in jamming it all into one tiny cart and a few overstuffed grocery bags.

So, we shopped for the party, cramming in twelve-packs of soda, several large bags of snacks, and ingredients for a large pot of chili until everything was piled precariously high.  Normally I would have insisted we get a bigger cart or just grabbed  one of my own, but I foolishly thought since it was Saul’s birthday, I would let him have his way.

We were carefully pushing the piled-high cart down the last aisle, when I went to pick up a cooked chicken.

“We don’t need that,” Saul said glaring at the chicken.

“But dear…” I said through gritted teeth.  “I’ll want it in the afternoon before the food for the party is ready.”

Saul shook his head in dismay as if I was making the most foolish decision anyone has ever made in a grocery store.  I bravely picked out a chicken and, knowing my husband, put it in a plastic bag  to avoid any juice spilling,  and then tried to wedge it into our cart which at this point was like a giant Jenga of food items.

We were ready to check out with our cart filled with tons of party supplies when Saul asked if we should do self-checkout.  I looked at him skeptically, but could tell by his face that this was in fact NOT a question.   Normally I would protest but it was his birthday after all…

Ten minutes later, Saul was quite frustrated as we stood waiting in front of the self-checkout that was repeatedly telling us we had to wait for help from an attendant who was nowhere to be seen.  Saul seemed surprised by this even though it happens at every single self-checkout anyone has ever been to.  I mean, it is a gift from God if you make it through one of those without having to wait for an attendant who is not there.

But I stayed nice.   Barely.

After the attendant finally showed up and helped us,  we continued the check out and got to the chicken.  Saul struggled to find the bar code and finally had to remove  the chicken from the plastic bag.   Once he scanned it. he announced to me with quite a bit of exasperation that he needed to put another plastic bag over the one I already put it in because it got juice all over the self-checkout scanner.

I knew what he was really saying.  I knew he was letting me know that he thought I was never going to really eat that messy, juice-dripping chicken, and I was wasting money and valuable cart space.   I quietly vowed to myself then and there to eat every part of that chicken including the marrow inside the bone.

It was pretty much at that point that I stopped being nice to Saul on his birthday.   I was sullen and answered him in one-word, unhelpful answers, and made sarcastic asides under my breath. To my credit, I didn’t leave him in the grocery parking lot like I really really wanted to shouting, “FIND YOUR OWN WAY HOME!” at the top of my lungs as I peeled out steering with one hand and devouring the whole chicken with the other.

Things got better that night, but the next morning brought its own troubles that had nothing to do with my husband.

I was walking our dog, Alfie, with a woman we met through our dog walks and who we have become close to.  She and her husband are both scientists and have the best dogs named Mabel and Jamie.  I love our dog,  but Mabel and Jamie are equally as awesome.  As we were walking,  a cop drove down the muddy trail we were on.  It’s near a section of abandoned tracks that no one walks on but us dog walkers.  Theoretically we are not supposed to have our dogs off leash but everyone has always looked the other way…until now.

“It’s a warning now but the next time I have to give you a ticket,” the cop said apologetically.  ‘I’m sorry.  I don’t want to be doing this, but it’s the new regime.  It’s an edict form new mayor.”

“The lesbian mayor??” I replied incredulously.  “But I voted for her!”

Now I realize in retrospect you shouldn’t call someone out by their sexuality.   I can’t pull the I’m gay so I can do that defense.   Gay men and gay women are from vastly different worlds.  I’m sure we speak very different Love Languages

But until that moment, I had assumed our new mayor being a 28-year-old hip lesbian would not care about dogs on leashes in a remote trail in town.   It was a wrong assumption clearly.  I had voted for her because I was still sore about Hillary losing.   It was a rash impulsive vote that now affects my dog’s freedom.

Now I question everything.

Now I wonder if Hillary would have been equally strict about enforcing leash laws.

I stormed home where Saul was in the kitchen busily making chili and pie for our party, and I angrily told him what happened.

“The next time I see that mayor at a restaurant, I’m going to flip her plate over on her table,” I announced.   “And I will scream “IF I CAN’T WALK MY DOG OFF LEASH THEN YOU CAN’T HAVE YOUR EGG FRITTATA!”

That is the nice thing about living in a small town.  You actually may see the mayor at a restaurant and be able to flip her plate of eggs over if you are upset about something.    It’s probably  good I’m not too likely to see Trump at my local McDonalds.  I would probably be tackled and killed by the Secret Service pretty quickly.

Saul tried to convince me that being the target of the Mayor’s wrath may not be worth knocking her plate over.  I don’t know if I agree.  But we had a party to put together so I let it go.

We were throwing a Writers and Artists Salon that night like I read people did in the 1800’s.   It’s  a fun way to get people together in our community who didn’t know each other.  We had done several of these when we lived in Brooklyn.

At the height of the party that night, Saul had his artists friends drawing with him on the first floor and I had my writer friends on the top floor doing writing exercises.   (it’s more fun than it sounds.  You’ll just have to trust me.)  Alfie alternated between floors worriedly wondering why the house was full of eccentric monkeys.

That night as Saul and I got ready for bed, I looked over at him as he sat in his pajamas petting Alfie with one of our two cats on his lap.  We were that good kind of exhausted you feel after throwing a party.

I smiled gratefully at him.  I was reminded of a story another dog walker told me that he and his husband had.

“You fed OUR daughter yogurt?!  Do you know how bad that is for her???”

 “A lot of children have eaten yogurt and are still alive!”

 I get it.  I get those fights about yogurt and chicken. Even when we are in the middle a fight in the middle of a grocery store parking lot,  Saul and I  know we are solid.

I love that Saul tempers my urges to scream at our new Mayor and guides me to a better solution.  One reason I love my dog off leash is because, when we walk on trails deep in the woods together, Alfie goes his way for a little bit but always comes back and makes sure we stay connected.  I often don’t speak a word to him, but we are communicating the entire time.  That’s what is like when Saul and I are throwing a party  Each of us is being a host separately while still staying connected.

None of this is easy…being mayor, being married, being single, being a dog—but I believe it we do stay connected…to  our partners, our friends, our community or our pets (or any combo of the aforementioned),  I think that even as imperfect and tiny-cart loving as those people and pets may be…with them at our side and checking in especially during the rough patches—we have a much better chance of enjoying our time here in the woods.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:   Keith Hoffman is writer and is working on a new book, DO THESE LIMA BEANS SPARK JOY?:  THE ART OF GROCERY SHOPPING

dogs

 

 

How Not To Die from Mid-Winter Blues

When I leave for work in the morning it’s dark and when I come home in the evening it’s dark.  Basically, from Monday to Thursday I don’t see my house in the daylight.

I’m not complaining.   I love seasons.   When I lived in LA, I used to get depressed by the sun.  Every single day it felt the same…relentless sun.

“You are depressed by sunlight?” An LA co-worker once asked in disbelief (and I believe I detected a little bit of disdain in his voice as well.  It’s the same disdain I get when I tell people I don’t like chocolate or strawberries.  Not liking chocolate, strawberries and sun makes other people contemptuous).

My mother understood.  She knew how much I loved thunderstorms and how much I missed them in LA.  I wrote for the New Mickey Mouse Club years ago and my office bungalow was right smack in the middle of the Disney MGM lot in Orlando.  Every single afternoon there was a thunderstorm at around 3 or 4 o’clock.  I could be in the worst mood, and then there would be this violent thunderstorm for about fifteen minutes.  Then it and my bad mood would be suddenly gone.   I loved it every time.

Every five years or so there would be a thunderstorm in LA, but it was hard to enjoy since it usually set the city on fire.  When I would visit Ohio, my mom would pray to a god she didn’t believe in to give me a thunderstorm while I was there.  It was her way of showing me a good time, and I loved how much she understood me.  (She also always gave me a white chocolate lamb in my Easter basket when I was a child instead of those dreaded and awful tasting dark chocolate bunnies.)

When I was trying to decide if I should move back to New York after my mom died, I asked her for a sign.   A few minutes later, I put on my headphones and pressed shuffle the first thing I heard was Stevie Nicks singing that thunder only happens when it’s raining.  That felt like as sure a sign from my mother as I could ever imagine.

My mother hated winter.   She loathed February.   Yesterday was the anniversary of her death.  Do you know why?   Because she hated February so much she died on January 31st. She was determined not to experience another stupid February.  Her death was a final F-U to February.       This determined stubbornness was one of the many reasons I loved her, but it did make that February a little  drearier for the rest of us.

My husband Saul is also not a fan of February.  I don’t think it helps that his birthday is on February 1st.   (Yes, there is something symbolic that his birthday is the day after my mother’s death day, but I haven’t quite figured it out yet.)  Saul is younger than me.  Not as young as I hoped.  I thought I would be marrying a twenty-five-year-old at my age, but my midlife crisis didn’t work out as planned.  Saul is only nine years younger than me, and he is at the age where you start to realize you don’t turns heads the way you used to when you were younger.   Saul still turns heads though.  I’m at the age where I can only turn heads if I yell something alarming as I enter a room like FIRE! or BUFFALO STAMPEDE! or BOYS IN MAGA HATS!

But even though I love seasons, I still can get a little down this time of year.  I’m sad we haven’t gotten any big snow, and am aware that we get so much less snow than we did when I was a kid.   I’m also angry and sad our President doesn’t care about global warming because there is nothing in it for him.

I’m also a bit sad I finished writing my book.  Do I start another book or just never write again?  I had always planned on being like Harper Lee and writing one great book and being done.  But now, if I really want to be like Harper Lee, I have to write a prequel to my memoir and make myself racist.

So, February if gets you down, I’m here to help.

How do you get through it if you don’t have money or time to go to a warm climate for vacation (which if you do—go! Don’t even read the rest of this.  Read it on vacation on a beach and laugh at the poor suckers who need it.)

Here are my suggestions for beating that I-Wish-I Were-Dead February Feeling

BUY A ZEBRA—Please don’t buy a live zebra unless you live in some sort of wildlife reserve or a zoo, but I don’t really believe animals should be in zoos, so what I’m trying to say is buy a fake zebra.  And it doesn’t have to be a zebra.  That is what Saul and I bought earlier this week for our backyard to go along with the hippo we bought last year.  I think the secret to Saul’s and my marriage is that we buy hippos and zebras for our backyard.  We never argue over important things like that.   But buy your own version of a zebra.  Something unusual that you love even if not one other single person loves it.  It will lift your spirits.  (Unfortunately, I can’t see my zebra in my pitch dark backyard from Monday to Thursday, but it gives me something to look forward to in the weekend daylight).

 

zebra

THROW A PARTY—Saul and I are throwing a Writers/Artist Salon this weekend where people who like to paint or draw hang with Saul on one floor and people who like to write hang on another floor of the house with me.  Saul is going to make chili and pie.  That’s another perk of February.    It is the middle of winter, and no one is going to see you in a bathing suit for another few months (if you do take that beach vacation, I suggest wearing a caftan since you will never see anyone on that vacation beach ever again.  If you are single and want to hook up during this vacation, then I recommend making February the month you dabble in chubby chasers.) Throwing a party gives you something to look forward to and checks off several “Oh we should get together” dinners with friends that you would have to endure in the miserable weather.

PICK-FROM-THE-HAT MOVIES—Saul and I started this tradition over the holidays. We put the names of movies we want to see, or have talked about seeing, or want to see again on scraps of papers and then we pick a piece of paper from the hat on cold evenings at home.  You can of course also play this by yourself.   It takes the guess work out of what you should watch and avoids overwhelm. One caveat:   You HAVE to watch the movie you pick.  No do overs.  You’ll be surprised how much you can enjoy something, once you get past your initial resistance.   In these last few weeks, we’ve watched Fearless with Jeff bridges, La Grande Illusion (some hoity toity movie Saul wanted to watch), After Hours, A Star is Born (the new one with Lady Gaga), Flashdance,  A Walk on the Moon and Black Panther.  It’s been fun, but I prefer Judy Garland over Lady Gaga any day.   And how did we collectively NOT  know that Jennifer Beales had a dance double in all those scenes?  It’s so obvious now.  The other thing I learned from this exercise is that the musical phrase What A Feeling stays in your head for a long, long, long time.

VOLUNTEER—Helping animals or people is always good.   I’ve been really bad at volunteering lately so I won’t go on too much about this.  But I will remind others and myself.  If you can’t volunteer, at least flirt with a very old person.

My friend Lisa loves February. She loves the light of February–the muted blues and grays and how they cast a less harsh light over everything.   The way the sky feels so full when it is about to snow (pre-global warming).   She always reminds me that February is the time to do those inside projects or make those long-delayed phone calls.   You don’t have to feel guilty you are not outside like you do in the summer.   You can stay inside in your sweats.

I love winter because I look at the woods when I walk my dog.  They were so lush and thick in the summer and now look so barren.  I look at our backyard that was filed to the brim with milkweed plants and bees and butterflies this summer and now looks so dead.  It’s hard for me to believe that that garden could be full again next summer.  I tell myself nothing will come back to life.  But I’m sure the woods will be full again, so I’m sure my back yard will be too.

Winter reminds me that everything is cyclical.  When I can’t write one day, I’m pretty certain I will be able to write  the next day or the next week.

When work or love or money or any number of things don’t go our way and some part of our lives feels so barren, winter reminds us that everything always seems to come around again.  The winter makes the spring that much sweeter.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR—Keith Hoffman plans to die on January 19th, 2022 if Trump is reelected.