October 2020

Confessing to Loneliness at the End of the World

2021-01-08T18:44:59+00:00

Sometimes it hurts so badly I must cry out loud, I am lonely. “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” Crosby, Stills and Nash

Hiking (and holding my mask). Nature as a cure for isolation.

Can we admit we’re not okay right now? 

When I was newly widowed, one of the hardest things was having to act like I was fine, grateful to be alive and healthy, with so much of life still ahead of me, and no real problems aside from, you know, that pesky missing husband. No complicated grief here, ha ha.

But what I really wanted to say was, “I’m lonely.”

And, “I spend too much time by myself.”

And, “This sucks.”

But we don’t do that. Who wants to appear pathetic? Especially in a milieu where being busy is it’s own type of currency. So many people I talk to are just so swamped. They will never have time for you, ever, but they will tell you, upon rejecting your offer for coffee or lunch, all about their schedules as if you really wanted a play-by-play of their social lives.

And now, the world feels apocalyptic. So many people are grieving now. 
Bloggers are supposed to offer solutions. Five ways to Spot a Wanna Be Sugar Daddy. Twelve ways to Defang a Narcissist. (Just Block them, really). Eight Ways to Love Spaghetti Squash. (Is that cooking or porn?)

My best idea at this point is being able to admit we’re not okay.

”How are you?”

”I feel isolated. I’m sad and lonely.” (There. Doesn’t that feel better?)

A Little Background

Last summer, driving a friend’s boat and feeling hopeful. That was a year ago.

I wrote a manuscript. I hired a big deal editor to work on it with me. She was encouraging and I worked on my oeuvre every spare minute I wasn’t working on my Masters of Fine Arts in writing. Which I got in May. I sent my manuscript out to agents with my editor’s blessing.

And thud. No on wanted me…l mean it not me, yeah, it.

My one finished fiction piece got rejected by every literary journal I sent it to. Having completed the MFA, I don’t know what to do with it. I’d hoped all the intellectual stimulation and smart people in the program would inspire me to try….something.   

But I was not inspired. This past summer, one of my best days was taking half a gummie, watching all of Looking for Alaska, and ordering both the dragon roll and the double hamachi maki on Doordash. Such is the power of having not one, but two, graduate degrees.

It all had to count for something. But it didn’t. The universe was supposed to provide, but it was porous. 

Back to the Beginning

Starting again.

My life post-graduation reminded me of when I was a new widow, after the paperwork was done, the dust had settled, the leaky bathroom was remodeled, and…nothing. Now my MFA cohort is scattered, my well-curated schedule of classes, and homework, and editing my alleged manuscript is over, and I don’t know what to do anymore.

Dare I say it, I am lonely? 

I’ve been reading (some really good) articles by widows who are using their special widow powers to get through this time. They say how all of usage now living in a world upended. But we widowed people have had our worlds upended before. We’ve got this. (I do not have this). Sometimes they use my least favorite world: resilient. Resilience a rose-colored blanket we’re supposed to pull over ourselves with so nobody has to see the wounds underneath. That might be kind of awkward.

When my mom died when I was ten, the hardest thing I went through was having to act like nothing was really wrong. I was told how strong I was. But I was pretty unhappy, trying to keep up with hours of home work and new chores and even then I wondered, what’s the point of all this if I’m miserable. (Nope, I’m not bitter. I just became a lawyer at 25 to prove I could get all my homework done). 

I lost my dreams when my husband died.

I’d thought we’d have the rest of our lives together, cooking odd recipes, fixing up our little house. I thought he’d stop being such a workaholic and we’d finally travel together. When he became wheel-chair bound from cancer, I planned on fixing up our backyard to be a lovely place to sit together. At peace. Still in love after 32 years. A quiet kind of love. My dreams were tiny, finally get that deck installed, plant some new flowers for color, get him regular physical therapy.

Then he was gone.

And I did not want to hear the r-word. 

But I could go for a walk and look at the vermillion flowers on the crepe myrtle trees. I could say hello to the people I saw day after day and find some tiny bit of warmth in their smiles. I could add more flowers to my yard, go to yoga classes, breathe in unison with my classmates, and go out to brunch with my in-laws, reconciling with them after the confusion that was George’s death.

Here is what you are supposed to say to yourself when you are panicking, “I am breathing in (deep inhale), I am breathing out (sigh a long exhale).” It sort of helps. I know because I wake up panicked in the middle of the night, roiling about with the ghosts of my dreams.

I am not the r-word. It’s too grand. Too formulaic for a lost dilettante with two unused graduate degrees and a shitload of resentment for the American model of grieving. 

So back again.

To long walks alone and saying hello to the dog walkers. And planting flowers in my yard. And thinking of ways to turn what used to be George’s home into mine. And following the breath in what’s now video yoga classes. 

And saying to myself, “The hydrangeas are blooming. I feel less sad.” 

And thinking there are other dreams. They will come. In the meantime there are ridge lines to walk, and gardenias to feed, and breath to follow.

What I am Doing to Get Through These Times

Okay, I have not truly given up. There are only so many John Green film adaptations. So, I am:

  • Seeing a career coach-most people do this to add value to their professions. I am doing this to see if I can say the word ”career” without sputtering. (I never recovered from the sexist, unequal workplace that was my first–and okay, only–legal job). But I need to believe there is something that will give me purpose and keep me off the daytime gummies. I have homework again. Which would be good except one of my assignments is to write again. Hence yet another resurrection of this blog.
  • Hiking with a very small, socially distanced, masked group. I feel less lonely having a regular schedule with a couple of weekly hikes. I would recommend trying to configure your old groups to be helpful now. My old writing group meets one morning a week on Zoom. I miss the banana bread, but it’s still good.
  • Trying to figure out how I might self, or otherwise, publish my oeuvre. Not sure on this, but I’m not ready to put it in the bin. I feel like a failure with writing these days. And that’s not good. It’s what I’ve done for a long time, from legal writing to when I wrote for magazines. Even though nothing panned out the way I’d planned.
  • Needing to recognize progress. I am currently seeking purpose. When I was widowed seven and a half years ago, being a widow was my sole identity. Surviving widowhood was all I could handle. Trying to recover from George’s denial of his illness, my guilt as his caregiver, and my own fears of being alone, of dying alone, were all I could think about.

    And now it’s time to think about something else. Which means this blog may be moving on to the next question, “What comes after widowhood when it’s no longer all-consuming?”

    Take care until next time, (I’m shooting for every other week),
    Debbie

Confessing to Loneliness at the End of the World2021-01-08T18:44:59+00:00

April 2020

Reconciling with Gratitude: The Pandemic Edition

2021-01-08T19:06:52+00:00
Woman hiking in beautiful water setting.
A socially distanced hike a few days ago. Pretty hard not to feel grateful in that setting.

My goal for this time: to reconcile with gratitude.

I used to be good with it. When George died at age fifty-three, I was grateful for the years we had together. And I was grateful for the relative security he left me with. Having just seen him die of cancer, I was grateful for my own heath. I just wasn’t okay with other people telling me I should be, especially people who still had live spouses. It’s pretty dicey to tell another person how they should feel.

It Doesn’t Work to Tell Someone They Should be Grateful.


When my mom died when I was ten, my dad said something extremely useful: he said it was okay to feel however I really felt. (But I still had to get my math homework done). I’ve always been grateful for having an awesome dad (even if he did leave articles on date rape on my bed when I was in college). I didn’t like being a lawyer (I quit practicing many years ago), but I was grateful for the opportunity to be one.

But after being alone for years, my stores of gratitude eroded. For petty reasons, like no real writing prospects, Facebook posts showing couples at dinner parties hashtagged #husband best friend, and men who thought they knew what was wrong with me (It’s called self-esteem and it’s a virtue. See being raised by an awesome dad above).

There was the fifty-fourth birthday party I threw for myself when twenty people said they were coming but most of them cancelled the day before or the day of and I was down to four guests and a large order for artisanal pizzas I couldn’t cancel. Other indignities followed. I could be grateful despite losing my husband, but I couldn’t stay that way.

Gratitude seemed like a requirement to find pleasure in adversity. Like in Candide where Pangloss keeps saying, “everything happens for the best in the best of all possible worlds” while he disregards reality. And my sixth grade teacher who knew about my mom dying and suggested I emulate Pollyanna. Uh no, and please stick to grading vocabulary tests.

And yet, in These Times, I’m Finding Gratitude to be a Necessity.

I’m not enjoying hunkering down with myself. I’m too bitter and it’s been a battle not to slide into negativity. Which looks like pizza, pinot and Hulu during the daylight hours.

I have been grateful recently. For the chance to teach a writing class, and the smart, interesting students I had, and for getting to go to graduate school (I’m in my last semester of an MFA). Most of all, I’m grateful for finding my second love after years of searching and not giving up. We’ve created a store of great memories to fall back on. I didn’t want my most lasting memories to be of caring for my dying husband.

But then there’s the rest of it. Like the fact that I was trying to generate interest in my manuscript before the world shut down. And before that, it felt like every Facebook post I read was about someone else getting a book deal. Like they went to go buy feminine hygiene products, and there was a super agent standing in the same aisle waiting to chat! And my real fear: their work is just better than mine. I obsess the MFA will lead to exactly nothing.

Since turning 56, my metabolism has embraced its inner snail and every time I’m about to take a bite of anything yummy, I say to myself “a minute on the lips, etc.” Which doesn’t really work when you spend your days in sweat pants. And are soon be a person with an MFA who spends her days in sweat pants communing with Hulu.

Daisies from my walk. Just one more reason to be grateful. Sigh.

I’m Still Searching for Solutions

My best idea so far is to try to be grateful whatever the results. I get to go to school. And be in love. And walk through daisies (see photo above). George died seven years ago last Friday. I guess that’s part of what I wanted to tell you today. And I’m far happier than I thought I’d be two years ago. And yet it’s hard to let go of bitterness. The men I wish I’d spoken my mind to, the ones from whom I’m still waiting for apologies. (Not ever).

I’m curious, can happiness or at least equilibrium, be a choice? We cannot control outcomes, only efforts. I just have to keep repeating it. And choosing to be grateful.

Reconciling with Gratitude: The Pandemic Edition2021-01-08T19:06:52+00:00

March 2020

Our Inner Critics in the Time of Quarantine

2021-01-08T19:09:50+00:00
Woman hiking but criticizing herself in the caption to demonstrate self-criticism
I was hiking, but I should have gone further, and that shirt is so unflattering, and I’ll probably never get a book deal, and I probably picked the wrong color to paint the bathroom walls…

Probably because she was sick of hearing me whine about how I’ve started to hate writing, a friend challenged me to blog more. So I’m going to post a few times a week in the hopes it will keep me out of the Chardonnay and Mad Men. At least until it’s late enough in the day that I’d be getting into them pre-quarantine, you know, like after noon.

My first thought when she suggested frequent blogging was, oh, I’d never be good enough to write often about anything anyone else wants to read about. I’m far better in small doses (just ask most of the men I’ve dated). I can barely handle a post every six months. Well I could, but I’ve never gotten much social media traction, and I used to write for magazines but I wasn’t good enough for it to amount to anything. Now I’m writing a manuscript no one will actually want to read. And no, I don’t much like listening to myself either.

Resolution One: Stop the Self-Criticism

We are going to be spending more time with ourselves, with far fewer interactions to dampen our self-abnegation. Far fewer reasons to put on make up and our darkest jeans and hear from our companions that we look great, no not old at all, really, the pants don’t look too tight. Far fewer chances to grab bits of my tummy and ask for a third time if the pants should be retired. Which which is probably why I never got invited out much for meals in the first place.

I remember when George died and having no idea of what I looked like. Sure, I was thin and tired, but did I look old for my age or young or attractive or expired or ? I was so used to seeing myself through his loving eyes. I had to make my own judgments without his voice to tell me my truth. And those judgments were cruel.

My self-assessments were based on some combination of OK Cupid responses and the stigma that came with being alone for days on end and dating a bunch of really self-serving men I was too ignorant to recognize as enemies. And I didn’t have a career anymore, and I’d never accomplish anything. My own voice was a nasty mean girl.

Now many of us have far more time alone to evaluate ourselves and, sadly, to find ourselves wanting. Let’s look at my morning online yoga class wherein I tell myself: Good for you, you’re sticking to an exercise schedule. But then comes: You won’t get any trimmer. Your metabolism’s shot. Better do that hard vinyasa class if you want it to have any effect (even though my body’s crying out for gentle yin).

Amp all that up a hundred-fold when I try to write.

So, my goal is to be quarantined with a dear friend, not a nihilistic critic.

That’s the new me. And I have to change since my darling partner keeps offering praise, to which I reply, thanks, but you’re wrong. (see tummy grabbing above). He finally told me it was exhausting to try to cheer me up. I thought, nooooooo, if anyone loves praise it’s me and now I’m killing it off.

So I resolve to stop following my own inner voices. I will silence them with positivity (once I figure out what that is and how to make it last) and without too much alcohol and Mad Men. I can do this. It will just take some reprogramming. Like, great, you’re doing yoga. That’s enough.

As I said above, I’m trying to blog more to keep writing. So contact me with your quarantine resolutions and I’ll put them in the comments amd maybe get a discussion going. Or ask my advice on widowhood or dating or whatever. As a self-loathing wanna-be writer, I’m completely unqualified to answer anything, but I did it before a few years ago and it was a lot of fun.

if any of this resonates, I’d really appreciate shares or subscriptions. I’m trying to see if I really want to blog anymore.

Take care, Love,

Debbie

Our Inner Critics in the Time of Quarantine2021-01-08T19:09:50+00:00
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