How to Stay Positive This Fall

Optimism for each day of the week

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“You are being tested, my darling, and being tested makes you stronger.” — Cora (Elizabeth McGovern)

Autumn…the crisp hint of winter in the air. As the year begins to wind down, we all begin to dream of the holidays to come.

But this year is different. This year can’t wind down fast enough.

Many of us are bracing for fall like we are leaning into a punch. Too many experts predict COVID will come back strong hand in hand with the flu, and politics will only get uglier and more overwhelming as tensions rise in a nation increasingly divided.

Negativity pops up on our phones 24/7 and it’s hard to keep up….taxes, debates, the Supreme Court. According to my husband Saul, we are about to enter a darkly dystopian phase of our country’s history that will make The Handmaid’s Tale look like a romantic comedy.

With the world seeming to spin out of control, every single thing that goes wrong in my own life feels amplified. My dog has had a debilitating limp since June which has resulted in several vet visits. I’ve had emergency trips to the dentist, an increasingly sore back and weird things going on with my vision.

Plus, I’m in the middle of trying to get my book represented which means dealing with lots of rejections. I had one agent recently tell me my novel should be exactly the kind of thing he loves, but he didn’t. I’m definitely not alone. My friends with kids tell stories of life spinning out of control that make me dizzy.

My mom used to say, everyone has their bag of rocks. Now we each have our personal bag along with a supersized 2020 sack of boulders. So I’ve come up with my own guide of very simple things to do every day of the week to keep my spirits up as we finish out a year determined to grind us down.

Monday: Virtually Nothing Day

Even though I work from home and don’t have to get on a bus anymore, Mondays are still hard. Saul and I call them Elaine Days. Elaine Stritch was a great Broadway actress (and Alec Baldwin’s mom on 30 Rock). She told a story about having to sing at the Hollywood Bowl right after she got sober. Her accompanist saw how nervous she was as she was about to go onstage and whispered, “You don’t have to knock ’em dead, Elaine, you just have to get through it.” Mondays are always Elaine days. You just have to get through them.

I recently watched the documentary The Social Dilemma on Netflix about how Facebook, Twitter, and other social media are actually changing the way our brains work and tearing our society apart. It’s a sobering watch and hard to argue with when I look at what is happening to our country.

So Monday I’m giving my brainwashing mechanism (aka my phone) a rest. Honestly, how many times do I need to get fooled into looking at Facebook thinking to myself, “I’ll just have a quick catch up with some old friends,” and then five minutes later I’m feeling despair and anger?

I miss the days of those WHICH DOWNTON ABBY CHARACTER ARE YOU? quizzes, even though now I know Facebook was just collecting information to control my mind.

Tuesday — Get Inside Myself

It happened without me noticing. Since I started working from my home I’m not taking brisk walks through New York City anymore. My dog has that pesky limp so long hikes with him are out of the question. Some days my only exercise is walking from my home office to the kitchen and bathroom. The rest of the day I sit hunched over my computer typing or staring into a screen at several other people hunched over their computers.

I’ve lost touch with my body.

Tuesdays are for moving. I’m committed to taking a brisk 30-minute walk involving at least a few hills. I like to walk in the evenings where I can usually catch glimpses inside homes. I’m not hoping to see someone naked — I have the internet for that. But I love to see little moments of everyday life — people watching TV, making dinner, or sitting at their desk hunched over a computer.

Sometimes my husband and I put on music for a half hour and just dance around the house. When it’s my turn to pick the music I like to choose Broadway showtunes and pretend I’m in the chorus of Godspell or My Fair Lady or Mame. If that doesn’t keep you optimistic then I don’t know what to tell you.

Wednesday — Get Outside Myself

On Wednesday, I’m committed to improving myself or someone else or both.

Currently I’m taking a Wednesday zoom class called How to Get Your Book Published. I do this because at heart I am a masochist. I’ve taken these types of classes before. They are usually hosted by people who tell you how impossible it is to get your book published. I used to take them because you never knew what friend or influential person you might meet before or after class, but now 2020 has ruined that. The one and only time I tried to connect by private Zoom chat I sent the message to the entire class. Luckily I hadn’t written something like “This class is for masochists.”

It’s probably better to do something like Saul is doing. He’s sending out postcards reminding people to vote. He figured this was safer than making phone calls since we are both pretty certain no matter how well he was trained he would inevitably end up telling people about the Dystopian future that lay ahead of them.

Thursday — A New Chapter

This is the day I read. Any book will do — as long as it has real pages where news and Twitter alerts can’t pop up. I don’t’ care if its Tolstoy, Dickens, or a Doris Day memoir (which is very good), there is something special about reading something where the only electronic element is coming from the lamp I’m sitting under.

Un-casual Fridays

I have a closet full of button-down shirts I have not worn since March. So Fridays I’m dressing up.

Of course that can mean a lot of things to a lot people. Some people may want to wear their favorite pajamas, t-shirt, or a fancy skirt with full make-up — whatever he/she/they love. Friday is the day to feel special.

Come to think of it. I may keep those button-downs in the closet and slip into one of the caftans I’ve become obsessed with. Social media apps have quickly figured out I am recently obsessed with caftans and offer me amazing deals on new ones! #socialdilemma

Classic Saturdays

Saul and I have two movie nights. Fridays is for movies after 1960 and Saturdays are for movies 1959 or earlier. We asked friends to name some favorite movies that we may not have heard of — that’s how we saw Dance Girl Dance where a young Lucille Ball plays a wise-cracking dance hall girl who does an amazing striptease number, or A Woman’s World starring Lauren Bacall about executives’ wives and how they need to behave to help further their husbands’ careers. (Apparently it’s a no-no to try to seduce your spouse’s boss to get him a promotion). It’s a nice escape to see a time where people socialized without masks or iPhones.

Sunday — Do One Kind Thing

I saw a video recently (I am clearly still hooked into social media) where a woman couldn’t pay for all her groceries and was about take diapers off her tab. A man standing behind her stepped up and paid the entire bill of $28.00 for her. We don’t always get golden opportunities like that, but if I do, I hope I step up.

There are other easy ways to be kind. I can call my aunt who was recently widowed. I can send a text to a friend letting them know I am thinking of them and love them. I can set up the coffee maker for the next morning even though that is my husband’s “job”. I can rub my dog’s belly while we sit in the middle of a field instead of rushing him through a walk. The list is endless and pretty easy.

These are my tips to stay sane. Hopefully some of these will work for you. Or maybe inspire you to come up with your own. These days I’m not sure we can wait for happiness to happen to us.

About the Author: Keith Hoffman is a writer in Lambertville, NJ. According to Facebook he is Lady Edith Crawley — the “plain” middle sister on Downton Abby.

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Keith Hoffman lives with his artist husband, dog and two cats in the small town Lambertville, New Jersey 72 miles outside of New York City. He has completed a memoir entitled The Summer My Sister Grew Sideburns.

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