Looking forward to it.

It’s officially Winter Break for me as of 4 p.m. today, and this is an unusual Winter Break, as I’m sure it is for others. Winter Break in the past tended to fill up quickly with lunches and dinners with family, friends, and former students. There were typically no fewer than seven movies I’d go see in theaters. And of course, Christmas Eve services and Christmas Day celebrations were a highlight.

None of that is happening this year. And maybe it’s not happening for you, either. So at the risk of sounding preachy, I wanted to offer unsolicited advice about how to manage extended breaks mostly alone. Because even though my Winter Breaks could be busy, I’m a natural homebody and actually spend quite a bit of my breaks from school alone.

I was thinking today about how to best manage the next 18 days (!) of break, and it really boils down to two things: planning, and giving myself things to look forward to.

I started with that tonight–I’d found a recipe for Zuppa Toscano a couple of weeks ago that’s been haunting my dreams. So I decided earlier this week that after musical call backs ended and my break officially started, I would gather the ingredients and make a batch (and boy does it make A BATCH). I looked forward to this all week, and I really think it helped me manage my mood and my stress.

It has kale and garbanzo beans in it, therefore it is healthy.

After I ate a bowl of the Zuppa Toscano (with a side of Italian crusty bread), I started making a list of what I could look forward to, what I could plan, what I could structure my days around.

I have movies to watch and books to read (or listen to) and projects to work on and goodies to bake and basketball games to watch and new recipes to try. But the lists alone are not enough–the trick is to actually plan when to do these things, to capture that element of looking forward to something.

For example, I am already looking forward to Christmas morning, when I can watch Wonder Woman 84. Tomorrow and Sunday, I’ll plan out how to spend my days, making sure I have a good balance of rest, productivity, and entertainment. I’m sure there will be Zoom calls or FaceTime with people who matter, and those will be mostly spontaneous fun.

But don’t underestimate the fun that can be planned. Like in 30 minutes, I’m going to get ready for bed and watch Parks and Rec until I fall asleep. And then I’ll sleep tomorrow until I wake up, no alarm.

I’m looking forward to it.

Advent 2020

Now that I’m done with NaNoWriMo (50,002 words, thankyouverymuch), I can write a little more over here.

This week, I spent a lot of time decluttering and organizing my apartment. One of the long-overdue areas that needed attention was my music. Over the years, I have collected a lot of sheet music, and a lot of it is Christmas music, mostly accompaniments I played for church Christmas programs and for school choir concerts.

December used to be an incredibly stressful time for me when it came to music. I remember one year, sobbing in a church foyer to a choir director because I couldn’t possibly learn one more set of music, all to be performed prior to December 20. Honestly, I resented my piano skills and I resented—RESENTED—the entire holiday season for what it did to my brain, hands, arms, back, and schedule.

Last Christmas I played nary a note of music in public, and I don’t recall attending any Christmas programs. I was so sick on Christmas Eve that I had to skip attending services that night, so it’s been two years now since I attended any Christmas religious services.

As I organized all this accumulated Christmas music, I was wistful. Not for the stress of being overcommitted, but for being part of something offered to others. I’ve never been able to articulate how performing as part of a group makes me feel, but it is restorative, inspiring, healing, and joyous.

Today is the first day of Advent, and I joined a short service on Instagram, listened to a beautiful sermon about hope. I started a daily Advent book that two of my friends are also reading; we will meet over Zoom this month and discuss our insights. And as I write this, I am munching on cinnamon toast while listening to one of my favorite Christmas CDs—a collection of choral arrangements from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. I looked all over Spotify and Amazon and Apple Music for digital version so I could share it, and cannot find it. It’s not even illegally uploaded to YouTube! How very on brand for 2020, no?

But I did find the CD cover in case you want to see if your local library has it.

Anyway. I actually decorated for Christmas this year, and my place feels cozy and I am looking forward to a December with zero social expectations. One where I can give Advent the attention it deserves without feeling like it’s just one more thing to check off my holiday to-do list.

Whatever you need to do this holiday season to feel restored, inspired, healed, or joyful, I hope you are able to find it. And if you just can’t begin to think that any of those emotions are possible, even for a moment, please let me know. I’m happy to virtually sit with you wherever your emotions happen to be.

Easter Weekend

April 11

So much I could do
So much I should do
So much I want to do
(I think)

But the isolation withdraws daily
From my motivation reserves
And the isolation deposits daily
Irrational scenarios into my thoughts

So instead of doing
I escape
Into books
Into films
Into television shows

Maybe soon I will adapt into the new normal
And complete all the awaiting projects
But maybe not.

April 12

Easter Weekend in quarantine
I spend time with my Jewish roots
Watching “Unorthodox” on Netflix
And a celebrity Seder on Facebook.

What is it about Easter that sends me away from Christianity?
Is it the violence of the Easter story?
(Not that Passover is without violence–especially that final plague)

A friend taught me this week about genetic memory
And this explanation makes sense
Friday and Saturday, my DNA craves connection to my forgotten Jewish roots
Sunday morning my upbringing draws me
To videos of Johnny Cash singing “Were You There”
And a reminder of what my Christian faith has given me.

I return to Whitman:
I contain multitudes.

Good Friday

April 9

Good Friday, the calendar tells me,
But it feels anything but good.
I try to make it good
By chatting with dear friends
By generously tipping my grocery delivery man
By savoring Easter candy
By watching the Good Friday service on Facebook Live

Yet I am still sorrowful
My heart patching up cracks
My brain fighting with itself
And I think
Maybe this is exactly how I should feel
On Good Friday.

January is more than half over, or how to get past New Year Failures

As many people do at the beginning of the year, I reflected a bit on what I wanted to accomplish in 2020. I’ve been listening to Kate Hanley’s podcast and her New Year’s episodes offered such a different approach to goal setting as a year starts that I decided to try it.

One suggestion Hanley offered in an episode was to routinely check in with what plans you make on Jan. 1. That doesn’t seem like an extraordinary task, but it’s one that I haven’t really employed, well, ever. So I set an event in my calendar to check in every Sunday night. The first Sunday, I was proud of my dedication.

This Sunday, not so much. So I did something fairly revolutionary, and something I think Hanley would approve of (not that I need her approval, but you know what I mean): I reassessed.

I took a good 30 minutes and read everything I wrote those first days of January. I reflected as to whether they were truly sustainable actions. I felt pretty good about two actionable tasks, less good about the others. I thought, what do I really *need* in order to have a more peaceful life? Because at the end of the day, that’s what I want 2020 to be about.

I narrowed down to three things I need to do daily. But then I realized that keeping those three things in my phone or in my journal won’t help me when I come home from rehearsal, completely wiped out, or from school, completed brain dead.

So I did something uncharacteristic: I used fancy post-it notes that I reserve for other people, and used them for me. I put them in places I’ll see when I get home, and thanks to the fabulous Emily McDowell, I also get a nice little positive message at the top of each note.

So if, like me, you woke up this morning and realized that January is nearly over and you’ve already given up on something you set out to accomplish Jan. 1, let me offer this gentle advice: reassess. Don’t berate yourself, and don’t give up. Adjust. And if you can, make yourself concrete reminders, instead of leaving those plans languishing in your Notes app or a journal. Whether it’s Jan. 1 or 20 or the end of September, you can always reassess and adjust.

Punctuation matters…notice how the connotation changes based on the punctuation. #GrammarNerd