How to stay (relatively) sane during #covid crisis.
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I am not a native to the PNW. I will never be a lifer. I came here from decades in sunny Scottsdale, AZ and sparkly, smoggy Los Angeles, CA. However, My roots are midwestern, born and raised in Chicago, IL.
This gives me a unique perspective on people, life, climate and geography. I grew up living through snow storms of monumental proportion. I learned to shovel, snow-blow and salt before I hit puberty. I know how to flawlessly navigate a vehicle in ice and sleet. I am not even a little afraid of weather.
Until now. For the past three winters, I have lived here in Bothell, WA. It has snowed, iced over, and shut down the entire region every single year. This year was obviously the longest and worst. But snow, panic and freaked out drivers are not a PNW anomaly.
Unless you ask anyone who is from here. “I don’t understand why they don’t plow the side streets,” I’ll often mention in local conversation. “If we cleared and salted the streets effectively, the busses could take the kids to school. And we could avoid the plethora of car wrecks we see year after year by drivers careening into other drivers due to the ice sheets that form across the entire transportation grid.” Invariably the answer I get is, “But it never snows here.”
Well, I beg to differ. As I mentioned above, it has snowed, closed the schools, created havoc in the streets, and shut down the airport every winter I have lived here. So in fact, it does snow here. And I would venture to guess that if you literally calculated the lost revenue this region experiences every time we all get snowed in, you would find that it would cost a whole lot less to invest in a few snow plows and some salting machines. They actually make snowplows that retrofit to garbage trucks for those of you who insist we don’t have the room to store fleets of snow removal machines. Really, this is a pretty simple fix.
But what gets me more than the incompetence of snow removal plans, process and personnel here is the blatant rudeness of my Bothell neighbors as we nearly froze to death in our crappy little rental house. First let me say that I have never lived anywhere else where power outages were as constant and irritating as they are here. Whether it’s rain, wind, snow, sleet, micro aggressions, the power outages here in the Puget Sound are frequent. I have also never lived anywhere that didn’t have access to heat via radiators, gas furnaces, or central heat and air.
So this past summer when the temperatures hit upwards of 105 degrees, we were more than a little uncomfortable. I did learn an important lesson, however. While residing in one of the most expensive real estate locales on the planet, dig deeper when presented with atypical affordability options for a rental lease.
Likewise, with all electric heat and power, when you have an outage for days on end, you will get hungry, cold and filled with a certain sense of panic. Welcome to my world. My children were out of school for two full weeks! We couldn’t buy a shovel or salt to save our lives. The supermarkets ran out of eggs, milk and bread. And my neighborly neighbors who all have generators, acknowledged what a bummer it must be for me, my kids and dogs who were holed up in a freezing bungalow as the temperatures fell to the low 20s.
Did anyone invite us over for vegan chilli, fair trade coffee, or a mere cup of filtered hot water? No, they did not. What? You don’t actually think this Seattle freeze thing is real, do you? My neighbors turned their backs and fled into their comfy, climate-controlled houses while I stood staring at them in the snowy street with utter disbelief.
This was truly disheartening. The reality is that a multitude of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances from Edmonds did open their homes, offer their beds, and welcome our popsicle pups for sleepovers. The problem is, we had no way to get there.
Our truck was crashed on the side of the road a few blocks away after hurtling across a plane of ice into a parked car. My little yellow Fiat did not have a prayer of escaping the garage (whose door was locked shut anyway due to the power outage.) And when the guys in the hood snortled about the last time the power was out for nine days, I was sincerely frightened for my kids’ and dogs’ safety and well being.
I know I could’ve broken down and asked any of my Edmonds’ pals to trek over in their trusty Subarus. But I’m a proud woman and I didn’t want people to laugh at me for being scared. I also felt like I’d bring shame to my midwestern heritage by crying uncle in two feet of snow.
So we burrowed under blankets, ate defrosted veggie lasagna and a whole lot of pretzels and Mini Wheats. And we survived. But not without a lot of sadness. It’s hard to find a community. It’s hard to feel alone. It’s hard not to live in Edmonds. Be grateful for your friends, your neighbors, and your amazing community. You are truly blessed.
Even God enjoys a good sitcom every now and then. I know this because, while I haven’t yet managed to syndicate my own “Debra Rich” tv show, I am a walking breathing sitcom that delights god every time he/she/they tune in. (And I’m making the conscious choice to end that sentence with a preposition.So deal.)
For as long as I can remember, people have compared the odd characters and situations of my life to a well crafted sitcom. As a student of fine television comedy, I’ve often thought of my life in the genre of classic situational comedies like The Dick Van Dyke show and I Love Lucy. But I have to admit that much of my current chaos feels a lot like “My Crazy Ex Girlfriend,” minus the musical interludes. My soundtrack to my life isn’t a bunch of clever riffs on Broadway showtunes. It is instead an annoying, ever-looping, instrumental version of “Abba Dabba Dabba Said the Monkey to the Chimp.” (Longer explanation to follow…someday. Suffice to say, this song mysteriously plays everywhere I go every day of my life.)
Season 227 episode 11
I board a plane from Seattle to Phoenix where I am producing a big fundraiser gala and Cabaret for “Kid in the Corner,” the foundation to which my life has become dedicated.
I am traveling alone over New Years because I cannot take care of 25 performers, a full tech staff, and oversee this important event with children in tow. While my kids (14 and 18) are older and very responsible. I chose to leave them home in the hopes of avoiding awkward family drama and distracting everyday disfunction.
All seems well as I settle into my roomie Premium class window seat on, my now least favorite airline on the planet, Alaska Air. I watch as others board and clumsily hoist their carry ons in the newly constructed overhead compartments which continue to shrink with each economical redesign. Suddenly I notice two parents, about my age, overly happy and perhaps even a bit intoxicated. They are leading two young boys, nearly the ages of mine, behind them. I notice that the younger boy, maybe 11 years old, seems a bit anxious and out of sorts. The father, a boisterous, designer clad fellow who emits the air of a realtor or other sales related executive points the younger boy to the middle seat next to me. “But dad,” the kid stammers. “I don’t feel so…”
“You’re fine,” says Pops who then pushes the older boy down in the aisle seat of my row. “You and your brother can play on your Switch. It’s only a 2 and a half hour flight.” Then he and wifey, whom I assume is the mom, grab a couple of exit row premium seats a few rows back.
Full disclosure, this feels a bit off to me. I leave my kids at home in order to focus and perhaps even relax a bit. But I immediately find myself burdened with someone else’s even younger duo. I talk myself down though because I am not responsible for these two kids and this serendipitous situation provides me with a great chance to test out my new “not my problem” approach to life.
The flight attendant approaches shortly after take off and offers me a glass of ice water. As I reach for the refreshing liquid, young boy #1 projectile vomits all over himself, the seat, and me. Suddenly this has become my problem. We all seem immobilized as if we’ve been shot by some villainous time freezing weapon. After a few seconds, I snap out of my paralyzed state and call to the parents, three rows behind me, “Your kid is sick. He just threw up all over.”
When dad insists “No, he didn’t.” I sense that this is going to be a stressful trip. Flight attendant is still under the frozen time warp spell. I snap my fingers and yell, “He needs something to clean this up.”
She looks at me as if she has never encountered a nauseated traveler before. Then she reaches into the seat pocket in front of the boy and hands him a plastic, waterproof barf bag. He is perplexed but attempts to wipe up some of the copious vomit puddle in his lap and covering the seats and armrests.
I call again to the oblivious parents, “He needs help.” Then I suggest to the less than competent attendant that she get some rags or paper towels. Dad arrives in time to lambast the child for barfing on purpose as the rest of us glare at him in disbelief. Next mom appears in giggly apology, “It’s nothing,” she assures all of us, “he does this every time he flies.”
“NO HE DOESN’T,” snaps dad. “He’s never done this before.”
“What are you talking about, hon.” inquires mom, “He does this on every flight.”
At this point, I feel entitled to the rage, frustration and disbelief that are flooding my psyche. Kid gets cleaned up and mom replaces his soaked tee shirt. Other flight attendants have brought over more useless barf bags and a few cocktail napkins to clean up the remainder of the liquid. I excuse myself to go throw up in the lavatory because this is BEYOND GROSS!
There are of course no open seats anywhere on the plane. So I get to stay in the stench for two more hours. Evil dad forces older son to sit in disgusting vomit seat so he can occupy the aisle seat and barf boy ends up back with mom in a clean seat.
Again, I try to convince myself that suffering is a state of mind and that I am free to choose happiness and acceptance or struggle against the reality of my present circumstance. Noxious odor makes it more challenging to remain blissful in a tightly confined airbus with vomit dampened clothes, shoes and lap top case.
I find solace in fantasizing about stripping out of every disgusting item on my person, dumping them into a soapy sanitizing washing machine cycle, and showering off this hideous film of stranger scum. My form of relevant meditation. I breath in as I imagine the hot droplets of water careening over my scalp and body. Breath out as I envision myself covered in sudsy Pureology shampoo and body scrub.
As we begin our descent, I look back at the boy and feel true compassion for this horrifying experience. I smile at the mom and begin to say something as the kid’s face shifts from pink and rosy to pale and viridescent. And as he violently vomits across his mother and nearby seat mates, I acknowledge my success in creating another hilarious episode of God’s favorite sitcom which I’ve begun to recognize as my true purpose in life.
Here’s to being picked up next season!
“FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PLEASE TAKE ME OFF THIS THREAD ASAP. I CANNOT DO IT MYSELF AND NEED TO BE PERMANENTLY REMOVED. Thank you and happy new year.”
That is the first text I sent this year. It was 12:02am on January 1st, 2019. After receiving a flurry of ridiculous celebratory texts with exploding fireworks, streamers, and flashing metallic symbols, I simply snapped.
Texting can be useful. I am still young enough that I prefer to text than call via old fashioned cell phone. Texting is easier, less complicated, more to the point. I admit to being frustrated by folks who insist on a more “personal” approach and only respond to an actual voice a la old- timey Ma’ Bell telephone line. But come on, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
I joined my most recent group text because my good friend was undergoing back surgery in Phoenix and I wanted to be kept abreast of all surgery-related details. I fully understood how overwhelming it would be for her out-of-state brother to text all 35 of her BFFs with multiple and individual updates. I dutifully followed her as she prepped for surgery, went under the knife, and began her convalescence. That was two weeks ago.
I’ve been able to talk with her since, visit her in person, and gratefully acknowledge her slow and steady commencement towards recovery. So why am I still receiving 50 texts a day from her family and entourage? I know I sound mean. I sound selfish, nasty and uncaring. But I can’t take it.
I have a lot of people in my circle who require time, energy, attention, patience, bolstering, etc… I do my best to be there for those to whom I’ve promised those things. I also love meeting and inviting new people into my personal realm. But I did not choose all 35 of these newcomers and I don’t need to know how much “love and healing energy” every one of them is sending twelve times a day. I really don’t. Nor do I need to know who is making the CVS run at 2pm, who is “not really stepping up,” or who looks best in their NYE sparkle.
Plus I’m fairly annoyed by technology in general these days. 1. It works for everyone except me and only works for me when I don’t actually need it. This serves to piss me off on an hourly basis. 2. Nothing technological is intuitive to me. For a time-saving, revolutionary mode of communication, it takes me an absurd amount of time to accomplish the simplest tasks. The other day I spent 3 hours (literally) trying to figure out how to post a blog on my new website. (Luckily my 14 year old son heard me sobbing in a corner of my closet and accomplished this nearly impossible feat within seconds.) 3. Apple is evil.
I have a love/hate relationship with Apple. I love my MacBook pro, my iPhone 10, my awesome camera and video capabilities, and the ease of editing on iMovie. I hate that every few months all of my charger cords stop working, you constantly need to upgrade hardware and software with the newest and shiniest stuff, not because it offers you any improvement in performance whatsoever, but because the almighty Apple stock holders and executives need access to ever- growing revenue streams. Finally, I hate Apple because I cannot stop iTunes from randomly playing “Abba Dabba Dabba Said the Monkey to the Chimp.” every time I put my Fiat 500 into reverse. It’s weird. And creepy.
But now I have truly discovered their sick, twisted plot to drive us all insane. There is no way out of group texts! Oh sure you can find easy-to-follow instructions on line. They tell you to simply click here and here, then hit “leave this conversation,” and you’re free. But that only works if everyone on the flippin’ list is using iMessage. If there’s even one Android user, you’re screwed. I am not making this up! If it’s not a “pure race” of apple users, the best you can do is mute the ever-constant notification bings. But you can NEVER fully escape!
I am not a big “regulate the internet” advocate. I actually dig the whole wild west spirit of bold risk leading to bold rewards. But somehow we need to protect those of us who made the mistake of gently joining a thread of well meaning do-gooders, only to learn that they are eternally and inextricably bound to this gaggle of arbitrary strangers until death do us part.
Please, write to your senator or something. Or at least remove people from your thread efficiently, kindly and respectfully.
I get depressed…often. I hate it. But it is my reality. I used to feel totally alone in this state of dismay. But since I’ve committed to shattering the stigma around mental illness, and have been increasingly vocal about my depression, I’ve discovered how frightfully communal this dark state of being actually is.
So I started pressing people for specifics about their particular depressions. “Is it purely a chemical imbalance?” I would ask. “Or angst over a particular hurdle in life? Painful family situation? Lack of social network?” The answers have been fascinating. But one in particular continues to stand out to me.
“I just feel like I’m missing all this joy,” one of my interview subjects proclaimed. As we talked further, I surmised that her feelings had a lot to do with envy. “It just seems like everyone else is so happy and connected and out there enjoying life.” And suddenly it hit me, this is about Facebook. OK, not just Facebook, but social media in general.
Social media is destroying our happiness. Now this isn’t a new concept.There are lots of studies that prove that the more you’re engaged in social media, the higher your likelihood of suffering from depression. Plus the numbers don’t lie.
We have teens killing themselves in epic proportions. The teen suicide rate has increased more than 70% over the last decade. Our median age of death in this country has decreased for the past two years in a row to 78.7, which now falls below Canada, Germany, Mexico, France, Japan, and the U.K. Consensus is that both suicide and substance abuse account for the decrease in life expectancy in this country.
But if we look a tad deeper, I say we are depressed, suicidal and self medicating because we are constantly being bombarded with images of everyone we have ever known looking ecstatic, loved, successful and sexy at every moment.
So I have the solution to all of this! It’s my new social media platform called Koob Cafe! It’s the opposite, well almost the exact opposite, of Face Book (Think anagram, sort of). It’s the dark platform where everyone tells the bitter, jealous, angry truths about their lives. You can only post hideous pictures of yourself and anyone you know. The ones where your husband is picking his nose or your kid’s eyes are crossed. Or the ones where you’re like, “Seriously, do not fucking take this picture!”
We plan to closely monitor the site for anything that resembles positive personal PR, hyperbolic happiness, or polished photoshopped images. Koob Cafe is 100% bleak. You tell the truth no matter what. Your fucking husband left you because you got old and fat and you’re tired of pretending it was a mutual decision that’s “best for both of you.” You’re 28 year old son is in rehab…again. And the good news? He’s moving back in with you if he ever gets clean.
You’re addicted to pain meds.You’re broke because you keep spending every last dime on Botox and Restalyne injections. Your sister is having an affair with your husband. Your lawn is dead and the HOA wants you to move the hell out of the neighborhood. Your neighbor threw a dead raccoon on your porch because he thinks your non-organic fertilizer killed his beloved Western Larch tree.
JUST TELL THE FUCKING TRUTH! Then we can all get back to living our stupid, empty lives without feeling like we’re missing out constantly on every good time party, love affair, family event, or travel expedition.
It may sound negative. I get that we’re supposed to project positivity, visualize the dreams we have for ourselves, fake it till we make it. But enough is enough.
Examples of acceptable posts:
This is what I look like when I wake up in the morning.
My kid told me he hates me more than life itself before he slammed the door and drove off in my BMW because I suck as a parent.
My house looks like it was hit by a natural disaster. But this is how it always looks!
If we start owning up to the reality of our lives, maybe we wont all feel like we’re always missing the happiness mark. Life is not easy. And it’s not perfect. But it is what we make it. So find your bliss in the inconsequential successes of your son taking out the garbage without being asked, or your spouse remembering to text you that they’ll be home late, or appreciate the five minutes of sun that shone in the Seattle sky today. It’s really that simple.
And please stop comparing your life to the best moments of everyone else’s
I heard something interesting on the radio the other day about happiness. Happiness, the philosophical talk show host explained, was different depending on your stage of life. He went on to say that when you are young, happiness comes mostly from thinking about your future. Then, in middle age, it comes largely from being in the moment and living life, often quite hectically, in the present. Old age finally, finds happiness predominately from memories of the past.
I haven’t been able to shake this concept. I find it sad and disturbing. Mostly because I think it’s true. I don’t want this part of my life, where I’m caught busily racing from present moment to present moment, to ever end. I am happy where I am. Yes, I’m stressed out, overwhelmed and run ragged 98% of the time. But I love my kids, my family, my husband, my work, my creative time. I’d like life to go on like this indefinitely. The thing is, I know it wont. I feel the present slipping away from me with each tick of the clock. Honestly, it’s a curse to be so hyper aware of time’s passage. My ardent attempts to suck every bit of marrow out of each passing moment often feels more like a futile attempt to build a lasting sand castle right in the middle of high tide. Try as I may, failure is inevitable.
I remember at the very end of my paternal grandfather’s life, we were all sitting around his bedside celebrating his birthday. He was very old and frail by then, a mere shell of his former self. As the cake emerged with a scattering of representative candles, my maternal grandmother, the only other elder remaining in our clan, posed this question defeatedly to my grandpa. “Oh, Irwin,” she sighed, “Where have all the good years gone?” He smiled weakly, looked around at his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. and with the same sparkle we’d seen in his younger eyes said, “They’ve been replaced by better ones.”
I will never forget that moment. Somehow, my grandfather had managed to keep his consciousness focused on the beauty of what was right in front of him. He had escaped the trap of only living in the glory of the past. As we age, we can lose sight of the good that stands before us and idealize earlier times when we’d been untouched by loss, pain and trauma.
The truth is, there will always be moments of joy, beauty and wonder, no matter what our age. We just can’t ever stop looking for them.
You know those moments when you’re suddenly, and painfully, aware of how old you are? Well, they’re coming more frequently these days and let me say, they suck! My most recent realization came Sunday night at the Jack Johnson concert at Cricket Pavilion. I know, it’s just asking for embarrassment to go to a rock concert as a middle aged mother of two. But we really like Jack Johnson. So we forged ahead, certain that there would be a healthy representation of baby boomers and gen-xers mixed into the youthful audience melange.
We’ve actually gone to several concerts this year. We saw Big Bad Voodoo Daddy in Prescott this winter. It was part of their Arts Center season and we were by far the youngest in the audience. Then we went to Vegas to see Garth Brooks. Yes, I admit it. I LOVE HIM! But there too, there was a plentiful number of, shall we say, mature audience members.
Last night I felt like that old brown banana in the fruit bowl, you know the one nobody will eat because it’s too mushy. It just sits there forever, until you bring home a new bunch of hard green ones from the store and finally decide to toss it or use it as compost.
It started when we got there a bit before 7. Well, that’s what time our tickets said the concert began. Can you say “out of touch?” We actually told our sitter that we’d be home around 10 thinking three hours was more than enough time for a thorough sampling of Jack’s greatest hits. We were a bit surprised by the plethora of empty seats surrounding us. Finally, after 2 hours of warm up bands, we remembered that stars like Jack Johnson don’t open their own shows. The wise youngsters in the house arrived a few moments before 9:30 when Jack finally stepped onto the stage. We seriously contemplated going home before he even began. Life is definitely more limiting when you wake up between 4 and 5 a.m. every morning.
We were happy we stayed. The concert was amazing. We even spotted a few families with young kids in the pit. That helped soften the sight of thousands of college coeds spreading out in all directions. And I guess we should be happy that not a single one asked us to buy them an adult libation, an act I remember performing on several occasions when I was a mere underage student looking for an alcohol buzz.
But my question is this: why does life have to stop when you hit middle age? Why weren’t there more people in our age bracket at this concert? His music is mostly mellow, has a great message, is beautifully arranged and artistically impressive. Why don’t middle aged people go to concerts? They’re fun. You get to dance and sing and let go for a few hours. That’s got to be healthy. I feel like we all run around tied up in knots, worrying about our work, our kids, our finances. It gets old, and so do we. We need to have more fun.
That’s it. I’m starting a red hat club for middle agers. Only we’re gonna wear togas, one of our generation’s most identifiable party icons, as an homage to John Belushi and “Animal House.” We will stop feeling out of place at nightclubs, poetry slams and concert venues. We will eat at “beautiful people” restaurants, and buy our way into VIP back rooms at all of the hottest clubs in town. We will play frisbee on the beach, drink more than we ought to, and gulp down a few Red Bulls to get through the work days after our wild and exotic nights of debauchery. We will make-out in public, show our bellies, pierce our noses. Middle agers of America, join with me in taking back fun. After all, we invented it in the first place, didn’t we?