Giggin’

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“Sometimes…I miss performing.”

I was having lunch recently with an old friend, an actor currently onstage in an off-Broadway musical. We had performed community theatre shows together decades ago, and it’s wonderful to see him doing what he loves—on Broadway, regionally, and in national tours. I suddenly found myself wistful for the days I used to do plays and musicals, and I told him as much.

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“You can still perform,” he replied. “There’s always something out there to do. It doesn’t have to be on Broadway.”

“Maybe one day,” I said, and sheepishly backed away from my original statement.

Sure, there was the ukulele showcase and the impromptu one-off. But these moments have been few and far between. Life gets in the way. There’s commuting to the office, walking dogs, making dinner, running to Costco, doing laundry, catching up on Outlander—all what the kids today call “adulting.” It’s hard to head out to a rehearsal on a weeknight when you can barely stay awake past 9:30.

Plus, in this era of celebrity and competition shows, it can feel like there’s an infinite number of people trying to gain access to a finite number of opportunities or that any of those people are better than you. It’s easy to forget the only requirement to do something is to simply, well, do it. Don’t wait to be an actor, act. Don’t wait to be a singer, sing. Don’t wait to be a writer, just write.

I took my friend’s philosophy with me to our local watering hole recently when my guitar-playing friend, Alan Brace, and I played our first gig as AB,CD.

 

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A half-hour and eight songs later, we’d made our North American debut. That we were even there was part-fluke. Sure, Alan and I had met up a few times and worked on some tunes over the past year. But when my neighbor mentioned she was looking for someone to fill the early slot for a local gig she was organizing in a month, Hubs piped up, “Camille sings with her friend!” Opportunity knocked—or blurted—and I answered. Our “band” was booked on the spot, and the rest, as they say, became a blog post.

 

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The audience was extremely supportive—it helps that it was filled with mostly awesome friends and neighbors—but, best of all, I had my moment where I stopped longing to do something and simply did it. Sure, I could relay a thorough critique of performance jitters—where I was out of breath, where I was a little flat or sharp—but if you were in the audience, you probably didn’t notice or care.

 

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Photo credit: Jennifer Brown

 

Days later, I found myself onstage again (man, Opportunity sure is knocky!). This time as a reader for the Creative Writing Awards ceremony at Symphony Space in Manhattan (technically, on Broadway), which celebrated the writing of New York City public high school seniors. My company, which sponsors the event, put out the call for actors and I signed up without even thinking. In a quartet of seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds, I read No, a poignant piece by high schooler Keitha Clemon Duhaney that deals with the aftermath of sexual abuse. It was a true honor to interpret her words, and, for another moment, to feel back in my element.

 

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Photo credit: Paul D’Innocenzo

 

My actor pal was right: It doesn’t have to be big. You don’t have to be on The Voice to find validation. Your passion doesn’t need to be a make-or-break endeavor, (unless you want it to be). Do what gives you joy, what fills up your tank. Don’t wait around for “one day”—a lot of days pass while waiting for “one day” to show up. Invite friends over to read a Shakespeare play. Sign up for an open mike night in your town. Show off your juggling skills for your dogs.

Or you can even get together with your girlfriends for three-part harmony right in your own backyard.

 

 

What do you want to do? What are you waiting for?

The Ways and Means to New Orleans

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“I got the ways and means
To New Orleans
I’m going down by the river where it’s warm and green
I’m gonna have a drink
And walk around
I got a lot to think about, oh yeah…

This go ‘round, the “drink” was iced chicory coffee, an earthy compliment to the tower of billowy beignets and powered sugar designed to raise my A1C levels. The place? Café du Monde, an institution in the center of town.

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That’s right. We went about a month ago—our first trip!—and now Hubs and I know what it means to miss New Orleans. The Big Easy. The Crescent City. NOLA. Whatever you call it, make it a must-see on your itinerary. And be sure to bring a fork.

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Times Like These

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Tolkien quote

By now, you’ve probably heard about the terror attacks in Brussels, Belgium and the Turkish capitol of Ankara. It’s devastating, terrifying, and seems like affirmation that the world is in complete disorder. Most folks are are expressing condolences and concerns online. Some are decrying the bombers as “cowards.” Other voices are loudly calling for revenge.

I get it. Anger feels good. Anger feels powerful. Getting angry makes us feel like we’re in control, like we’re taking action. It’s “the American way.” What we don’t want to hear is that “anger” is just a self-righteously dressed up word for “fear”—fear of not getting what we want, fear of losing what we have. Yet reacting from a place of fear won’t solve the chaos we feel in our current divisive atmosphere. In fact, it’s playing right in to what terrorists are out to do: Divide us, disconnect us. As long as we keep trying to build walls or “carpet-bomb” ideologies or shut down borders to those fleeing danger, we’ll never achieve the stability so many of us say we want. Matching their hate with hateful reactions reminds me of the proverb, “He who seeks vengeance must dig two graves: One for his enemy and one for himself.”

There is so much to say, so much to process. It’s taken me two days to even find the words to put this post together. Sayings from Lao Tzu on softness, Thich Naht Hanh on compassion, or Mr. Rogers on “the helpers” come to mind. There isn’t enough bandwidth to make sense of it all. But I’ll share this: I once heard Marianne Williamson say of the 9/11 hijackers that “they were not cowards; they hated with conviction.” She then asked, who among us sent love into the world “with conviction?” None of us could say that we loved with absolute conviction. I still don’t always remember to do that, though I’ve never forgotten her point.

Those behind the atrocities in Brussels and Ankara must face and deserve consequences for their horrific deeds. Of that, there’s no doubt. But an angry, knee-jerk response on our part almost guarantees that days and times like these will happen again and again. We need to find another way. We need more than thoughts and prayers.

Just hours after the incidents, the people of Belgium were outside writing messages of peace on their streets. Do we have the conviction to do the same?

 

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Mofo FOMO

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By the time you read this, chances are, enrollment for Marie Forleo’s B-School will be over and done. I know that because I keep getting email from her and her friends nearly every day, sometimes twice a day. I don’t mind them. I like them. They are filled with wonderful ideas–starting your own business, becoming an entrepreneur, using your authentic self to create success. And, come the deadline, I will most likely–highly likely–feel woeful for not signing up. I imagine that’s the first lesson of B-School: Make people feel like they’ll miss out.

That isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s probably the best way to garner your audience. And Forleo has a big audience. I know I was salivating at the mouth to join her entrepreneurial seminar and I have no idea what I want to “preneur!” (She even has an answer for that!) She’s extremely good at what she does and her team hit me right where I live: Fear of missing out, or FOMO.

 

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Lunch Time

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He just showed up one day–the creature prowling around the front yard of our house, then the neighbors house, then back to us. We’d see him up the street, down by the park, in our backyard. It’s not unusual to see feral cats in the neighborhood, especially since we’re out walking the dog several times a day. They don’t bother us; they run away if we get too close. But not this guy. He’d actually walked closer to us. He came when we called him. This guy was different.

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Tennis, Anyone?

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I can’t say for certain what sparked it. Maybe it was the over-the-counter allergy medication I started taking. Maybe it was the warm fall day or my approaching birthday. Maybe it was the new moon or the sun moving in Libra. No matter what it was, almost overnight, I was beset with the urge—the need—to play tennis.

On an ordinary Wednesday night, I grabbed my tennis racquet and shouted, “Let’s go!” before heading out the door for the nearby tennis courts. Hubs was obliging. After all, I couldn’t play by myself. So for the next thirty minutes, I hit the ball—mostly into the net—with a ferocity I hadn’t felt in ages. “I got a demon in me,” I repeated over and over like a mantra. By the time we got home, the demon had fallen back asleep. She would wake again the next night. And the night after that.

Must. Play. TENNIS!!

Must. Play. TENNIS!!

In my entire life, I’ve only had a marginal interest (and less aptitude) in the sport on the court. I played doubles on the tennis team in 9th Grade and won a total of ZERO games (apologies to my doubles partner, Nicole—it’s wasn’t you, it was me). Even as an adult I rarely picked up a racquet—and when I did, it was my Prince Jr., made with a smaller grip for kiddie hands, I’ve had since I was twelve. I could hardly be called athletic and I wasn’t even remotely competitive. And yet, now, the feel of smacking a fuzzy ball over a net with as much force as I could muster seems as satisfying as eating a Reuben sandwich. (Yeah, that good!)

The “Demon” showed after work like clockwork. We’d walk the dog, get dinner ready, then head out, making sure to pick the court furthest away from the “pros.” No need to embarrass myself just yet. After only three nights, I noticed I was getting better. My backhand was tighter and my forehand improved considerably, especially after I asked Hubs how to hold it. (I mean, the racquet, ya pervs.) I was quicker on my feet, volleys got longer; I was even out of breath—“exercising,” I believe they call it. I felt a deep, if delusional kinship with Serena. I factored in how many games I could get in before the tennis courts closed in December. I mentally tallied up the cost of new shoes and winter workout gear. I checked for nearby indoor facilities.

And it wasn’t just the novelty of hitting a ball over a net. I felt plugged into something. I could see deep lessons in how I could control the ball instead of reacting to it, how my shots got weak when I lost focus, how I could move myself towards the most advantageous spot instead of letting the ball pass me by. I grew quiet and contemplative when I played. This is more than a sport, I thought, this a map to living. When I asked Hubs, “Do you notice that I hardly even talk when I’m playing tennis?,” he replied, “Why do you think I keeping heading out there with you every night?”

All day, err day

All day, err day

A week later, the night of my birthday, Hubs and I went out to dinner instead of hitting the court. No worries, I told myself as I checked the next day’s weather report and contemplated the mechanics of a “slice.” But at five o’clock the following morning, I awoke and felt a sharp pain in the ring finger of my right hand. In fact, the entire finger had become nearly immobile and curled up. I was half-asleep, but conscious enough to use my left hand to snap my finger straight. Within moments, mobility returned and the pain subsided, and, logically (my logic), I played tennis the next night. I was certain that my finger cramp and my tennis game were unrelated.

A visual approximation

A visual approximation of my finger cramp

The next few weeks were a succession of splints or wrapping my finger as I slept. My primary care doctor had no clue was what wrong and sent me a link on “tennis elbow.” My chiropractor prescribed hot water soaks. I eventually allowed a teeny-tiny possibility that tennis may have aggravated, if not caused, this condition and stayed off the court. I felt terribly impaired; I couldn’t even snap my fingers to order the Beast back into the house. The Demon grew surly and scattered. All the nuggets of wisdom I’d found on the court were suddenly lobbed out of the picture (bad tennis pun intended). When, after almost two courtless weeks, I awoke in the middle of the night with the same cramped and painful tendon flare up, I…well…I said, “Screw it! Let’s play!” and went back to playing tennis that night.

By now, I’d Googled enough symptoms and went to a specialist to confirm my worst fear: I have Trigger Finger. It’s a thing. An actual malady, not just something Yosemite Sam gets over protecting his gold. In short, the passageway for my finger’s tendons has narrowed due to inflammation, limiting dexterity. I’d first heard about the condition years ago, when a friend shared that her mother had it—only, her mother is from the Bronx, where it’s called “trigguh finguh.” It sounded terrible—okay, it sounded hilarious—and also like something I’d never, ever in my entire life want.

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While he couldn’t say with certainty what caused my trigger finger—the tennis only likely “triggered” the inevitable—the hand doctor told me that diabetics and the elderly are prone to getting it. I’m not diabetic…. He also told me there were two ways to fix it: An injection of cortisone and/or surgery. I worried, if that worst-case surgery scenario came to pass, I might never play the ukulele again. I got the shot and crossed my remaining functional fingers.

My boo-boo. Straight up.

My boo-boo. Straight up post-injection.

For now, my tennis career is on hold. “On the DL,” as they say, whoever “they” are. My season over (okay, the hand doc says I can play in a week). The Demon is, momentarily, too inconsolable to get worked up into a frenzy, tennis or otherwise. But, if experience tells me anything, it’s only a matter of time before the next obsession shows up. Watch this space.

Anyone ever have trigger finger? Itchy or otherwise? Or maybe a different absurd—not necessarily stomach-churning—malady you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments, and get well soon!

Unfriending Facebook

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“Facebook is down and everyone is freaking out about it on Twitter,” said Hubs the other day. I smiled and shrugged. I had no idea. You see, I hadn’t been on Facebook in weeks. Any news I got about the world–the GOP debates, the Pope, the fires out West, Joaquin–had come from, well, the news

It wasn’t my first Facebreak. A few years ago, I abstained for an entire weekend and patted myself on the back as though I’d finished a marathon. But any feelings of moral superiority were short-lived as I dove back into the time-sucking abyss of food pics, political rants and cat memes. Sure, Facebook has been great for keeping in touch with faraway friends and long-ago pals. And I’ve been able to entertain people with pics of the Beast. But FB has something to annoy everyone. Don’t believe me? Then I have a bridge in Farmville I can sell you.

This time, it wasn’t so much a lark as a necessity. I’m not saying I was an addict, but my borderline-obsessive Facebook scrolling had left me a resentful mess. I was spent from the absent-minded checking and rechecking of notifications. I was numb to the jumble of posts–ranging from joy to rage–that clogged my newsfeed. I was aching for connections that went beyond clicking “like.” I wanted something real. And it’s not just me. A 2013 study from the University of Michigan found that “rather than enhance well-being . . . Facebook use predicts the opposite result–it undermines it.”

The Facebreak Plan

My Man’s motto is, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” It wasn’t enough to just drop a bad (Facebook) habit cold turkey. I needed a to pick up a good habit to replace it, lest I get itchy and say “Well, just this one time” before finding myself posting my opinion on kale (IMO, it’s like Fenway Park: I like it, but I can’t stand the fans). I decided I would call a friend any time I got the itch*. To my amusement, a few friends were a little thrown when my number showed up on their caller I.D.

[*For you young folks, that’s using your smartphone to actually voice-speak to another person, preferably someone you like who is not trying to sell you a time-share.]

The second plan was to have a Facebreak buddy. My plans for logging off were met with countless responses of “I need to do that!” but only my BFF in Cali decided she would join me, which helped immensely. We checked in with each other most every day–like normal–to keep the “itch” at bay. “I’m having sweet tea and ribs and you’re the only one who knows! LOL,” I texted her. “At the beach and nobody but you is aware of that!” she’d reply.

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Lastly, I made sure to tell people I was going away for a little bit. It may seem a little presumptuous on my part, but I didn’t want my FB friends to worry that something bad had happened to the Beast. Let’s face it, the majority of them enjoy pictures of him the most. I’m completely fine with that.

The Digital Detox

The first week, I had a major case of “Facebrain”the neurological impulse to condense my life into pithy phrases, like “If you rearrange the letters in ‘Post Office,’ it spells ‘Hellmouth’,” or “Can we stop pretending that quinoa tastes good?” Still, though, I called a different friend everyday and began to find the connection I was looking for. The second week marked an uptick in my Instagram use–making the excuse is that it unleashed my “creative” side (yeah, right!). Then by week three, I was suddenly overcome with feelings of disconnection. My phone wasn’t ringing and the only emails I got were bikini wax Groupons. Thankfully, a text from a friend inviting me to lunch pre-empted a pity party. “How about tomorrow?” I responded, a little too eagerly, but grateful. As week four began, I noticed that my hunger to be in-the-know, validated, or “liked” had subsided considerably. Plus, I found I had all this free non-scrolling time to:

  • Start putting together a jigsaw puzzle IMG_20150830_180641
  • Paint a room
  • Repaint the room after realizing I didn’t like the color
  • Read Paolo Coehlo’s “The Alchemist”
  • Enjoy music on the lawn at Tanglewood
  • Browse a bona fied bookstore
  • Blog
  • Abandon the uncompleted jigsaw puzzle
  • Finish Brene Brown’s “Daring Greatly.”
  • Play dress-up with the dog IMG_20151001_174233
  • Clear out overgrown weeds from the backyard
  • Unpack boxes from last year’s move
  • Go to museums and look at art
  • Rearrange the guestroom
  • Do absolutely nothing
  • Try meditating
  • Try meditating again
  • Write in my journal nearly every day
  • Read all the “too long:didn’t read” articles I never seemed to have time for
  • Get my DVR down to 58% from 90%
  • Join a community clean-up 
  • Nap
  • Watch the sun set into the bay 20150923_184824

It’s Not FB, It’s Me

It’s been five weeks and I’m seriously debating whether or not it’s a good idea for me to go back. (Obviously, I think about Facebook way more than Facebook thinks of me–though, it thinks about me a little: I received a lot of “while you were away” emails and the FB Communications Manager followed me on Twitter.) If I do log on, things will have to change. Mostly, my expectations. I can’t get lazy again with my friendships, thinking FB will do all the legwork. Maybe you know exactly what I’m talking about. So, go do it. Pick up a phone and call a friend. Freak them out. And notice how good you feel when you hang up. And, remember, that any bridge to any real connection others with others doesn’t involve a password.

What are your thoughts on Facebook? What are your thoughts on connection in today’s digital world?

Old Dogs, New Tricks

I just learned how to tie my shoes.

Okay, okay, it’s not like I’ve been tripping over my laces for most of my life; I’ve known how to tie my shoes ever since I was five and figured out how to loop the bunny ears into each other (it would take another year before I learned my go-to, “the wrap-around”). But recently, I stumbled upon the TED Talk in which scientist Terry Moore demonstrates, in less than three minutes, the proper way to tie a shoe to ensure that it remains tied. And straight.

I’ve done it. It works. My shoes stay tied. They look straighter and, if I do say so, cuter. And if anyone was bothering to look down at my feet (they’re not), they’d probably notice a little more pep in my step.

All too often, I’ve believed there’s only one way to do a thing. One solution. My single-mindedness even extends to what I order at a restaurant—if one of my favorite local joints makes something other than a skirt steak sandwich with gorgonzola, arugula, and garlic mayo I am completely unaware of it.

I’m predictable. Maybe you are, too. There’s a comfort in “one way” thinking. We figured out the one way to tie our shoes, bake a soufflé, do our job, raise a kid, get across Midtown during rush hour. It can feel affirming. Or it’s an exercise in sheer stubbornness, borne out of the binary belief that there is only one right way to do something. Anything else is either wrong or dead-wrong.

Looking down at my shoes, I felt the door on my belief system crack open a little. What else needs a second look? Soon, I saw a video of an Eastern European circus where at least a dozen French Mastiffs were performing tricks—laying down, hurdling over each other, rolling over in unison, all on command. Their faces and bodies were near identical to the Beast, though their energy, readiness, and follow-thru might have made them an entirely different species from him. Sure, the Beast knows words like “sit,” “shake,” and “excuse me,” but sees them as optional requests rather than commands. He’s 130-pounds of one-way stubborn.

I grabbed a handful of doggie snacks and headed outside with the intention of teaching him to bark on command–it is an impressive bark. A curious Beast followed closely behind. Once there, I turned around, held up a treat and said “sit.”

He sat.

I said “paw.”

He raised his paw.

I said “speak.”

He tilted his head.

“Speak!” I repeated, dangling the cookie above him.

Again, no response.

“Woof!” I barked. “Woof! Woof!” I figured a demonstration would help him understand exactly what I was asking him. Soon, I was barking as ferociously as if an intruder had just entered my backyard. The Beast stayed quiet, eyeing the treat just inches from his face.

Then he jumped up and grabbed it from my fingers.

Clearly, there was another way to look at this situation. Beast had figured this out and was now happily munching away at the treat.

I raised my arm, holding another treat high above. “Up!” I shouted instead. I’m sure you can guess how the rest of this goes. Beast happily gulped his snacks and, if only for a moment, I entertained the idea of one day having my own Eastern European dog circus.

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It’s comforting to think we got it right, that with structure comes productivity. We tie ourselves (sometimes literally) to what is known. But there are times when it’s refreshing—and even necessary—to break our patterns and upend our limited thinking. It’s more than tying our shoes or teaching an old dog new tricks. It’s stepping outside our comfort zone, opening ourselves to things we never even considered, letting go of our excuses to make way for possibility. When we dump the “can’t,” we suddenly can.

What discovery did you make that changed your thinking?

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To the left, my old way. On the right, another way.

Look Back…But Don’t Stare

Nostalgia is my dominant gene. I can’t recall a time in my life when I wasn’t nostalgic—the moment I was born, I’m certain I immediately longed for the warmth of my old womb complete with room service. I’ve so romanticized days gone by for most of my days that I have a great deal of catching up to do if I ever hope to get to the present:

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In the 1980s, I yearned for my View-Master and life before Kindergarten. By the 1990s, I missed roller skating birthday parties and Saturday morning cartoons. The 2000s have found me wishing boot cut jeans and Lilith Fair would make comebacks. God, I miss landlines.

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Do yourself a favor: Go to YouTube and see when Stevie Wonder visited Sesame Street: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ul7X5js1vE

I’ve done this with people, too. I have a whole mental photo album (remember photo albums?) of faces I used to know—some departed forever, some who simply faded from my life. In my lonesome moments, I open this book in my mind and retrace the paths that lead me to—or away from—them. I miss a lot of people a lot of the time.

I’m not alone, either. Who among us hasn’t Googled an ex or considered Iran-Contra to be “simpler times?” The recent Star Wars trailer sent us all down memory lane at warp-speed. Between John Williams’s iconic score and the recognizable silhouette of an Imperial Star Destroyer nose-down in the desert sand, my neural pathways lit up like Christmas and I, like Chewbacca, felt as if I was “home.”

I often wonder if my forebears lamented the advent of the remote control or miniskirts or power-steering. My Grandma Dewing regularly started her conversations with “When I was a little girl…,” causing my cousin and me to roll our eyes. My eight-year-old self couldn’t understand why she would prefer a Clark Gable flick over “E.T. The Extraterrestrial.” I mean, she grew up during the Depression—wouldn’t anything be better? And yet, she got just as lost in her reverie of Victory Gardens as I do about Schoolhouse Rock. I’m sure today’s kids will fondly reflect on One Direction and Snapchat, though I, like Grandma Dewing, will find that baffling.

Little Grandma Dewing

Grandma Dewing before she ever saw “E.T.”

Is all this wistfulness healthy for the soul? Billy Joel reminds us, “The good ol’ days weren’t always good.” Hindsight is 20/20—I believe the Latin term is “if-I-knew-then-what-I-know-now-amus.” I conveniently forget the foolishness of my “good ol’ days” in which I sometimes broke hearts and dishes. I have to remember, too, that “way back when” wasn’t always so great because groups of people were marginalized and women only made 70-cents on the dol—oh, wait, nevermind.

Recently, I learned the word Weltschmerz, which Merriam-Webster defines as “a mood of sentimental sadness” and “mental depression or apathy caused by comparison of the actual state of the world with an ideal state.” Leave it to the Germans to come up with the perfect word to describe my strain of nostalgia. The helplessness I feel over society’s injustices and inanity is enough to make me reach for my blankie and binge-watch Star Trek, in which the future–without war or poverty–looks hopeful, and we get over ourselves and get about the business of exploration, cooperation, and the Prime Directive. Also, Tribbles.

Hubs does not suffer as I do (does he ever?). Rather, he follows the Gospel of Dr. Seuss, which says “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” If anything, this bittersweet longing reminds me that I’ve had a great many things in my life to smile about. I must have faith that there will be many more smiles to come.

tribbles

What sends you on a trip down memory lane?