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jeanne-blasberg-simple-new-years-eve

New Year’s Books and Wishes

Welcome 2021! I know the trouble isn’t over and life will never be the same, but I am so glad to turn the page on the calendar. I greet the New Year, not with bubbly champagne at midnight, dressed in heels or a fancy dress, music playing in the background, but on this bright morning having gone to sleep early after a simple dinner on the sofa and Netflix, cuddled up in front of a fire with my husband and my dog.

jeanne-blasberg-simple-new-years-eveI gained enough wisdom in 2020 to know that is enough. More than enough, and how lucky I am. I learned to stop making plans out in the world, trotting the globe, and to look for solace in my inner life, reading and writing, thinking and listening to audiobooks and walking, just breathing. This year, I will leave the rose-colored glasses behind, the naïve, blind privilege that assumed all my tomorrows will play out as I want them to, of course they will, why wouldn’t they? There is definitely a sadder, subdued flavor to life now and what I foresee in the new year, but in a lot of ways it is truer, more real. The greater forces in the universe have imposed humility on a population that increasingly expected instant gratification and service at its fingertips. This time last year, John and I accepted a spontaneous invitation to celebrate New Year’s in the Dominican Republic, without a second thought. What a luxury to not have a second thought. Remember when we did what we wanted when we wanted, our choices seemingly without consequence? 

Sitting around on a boozy, moonlit night in the DR, I set an intention to practice more patience and to go to bed earlier in 2020. Ha. I ended up having no choice.  But instead of patience, what I think 2020 really taught me was acceptance. The Serenity Prayer embossed on a gold medallion I keep by my computer has never been more poignant – God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. There is such peace in acceptance, to end the struggle against what is.

Acceptance isn’t letting people step on you. Acceptance doesn’t mean I will take shit. Acceptance is finding joy in small things: the way the sun streams through a window and hits the floor at a particular angle, birdsong, the smell of a new bar of soap. I hope to carry an enduring ability to sit and observe into the future, along with a certainty that reading and listening is the best escapism, and, of course, an insuppressible desire to make art.  

jeanne-blasberg-new-year-beginI’m still just that little girl afraid of the dark, wanting one more book before bedtime to ward off the unknown, and the promise of a goodnight kiss. As a grown up, I’ve created my own rituals, both am and pm, which attract eye-rolls from my family. But in the New Year, I will embrace them openly. My morning routine, I know, is responsible for leading me step by step to my writing space for the past nine months, ushering me through the chaos and doubt of a resistant brain. 

Humans are creatures of routine, but we are also resilient. And just like plants turn toward the sun, we bask and grow in love. I have faith we will continue to care and to love. We will survive pestilence and divisiveness, the required muscles becoming stronger for the effort. So, I’m not wishing anyone fireworks or ecstatic pleasure in 2021, just a peaceful way, one on which we make steady progress, some forward motion each and every day. In 2021 let’s prioritize acceptance, courage, and serenity. That would be more than enough. 

PS – You can check out the Review section on my website to see what I’ve read recently, but in the spirit of looking forward here are the titles on my TBR pile:

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

The Best of Me by David Sedaris

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

The Mermaid from Jeju by Sumi Hahn

Dreamland by Sam Quinones

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante

 

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Reopening (Our Hearts) After COVID

This post was originally published on Medium.com.

 

My children are my best teachers. Having been in quarantine, in isolation, and cohabitating with them now for what is going on four months, I truly appreciate their perspective and ability to suspend judgment over what has been a very difficult period. My son was quick to evoke “The Parable of the Horse” early on and it has been a good reminder as we have moved forward, doing our best with what life is handing us.

The old Taoist story goes something like this:

An old farmer worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “Who knows what is good and what is bad,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed. “Who knows what is good and what is bad,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “Who knows what is good and what is bad,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “Who knows what is good and what is bad,” said the farmer.

The lesson is that assigning meaning to everything that happens to us just invites suffering. It’s better to suspend judgment until we know (that’s assuming we’ll ever really know) what there really is to be thankful for and what is inconsequential.

Sometime in March, while my sons were abandoning their apartments and offices and my daughter was leaving her college campus, I heard Bill Gates say that he believed there was a spiritual reason in the universe for why things unfold as they do. That made me pause. I wouldn’t have expected a statement like that to come from him…

 

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Patience and Purpose in Jury Duty

I had a feeling when I showed up on October 1st my number would get called. I had a pretty flexible week, no true hardship. I had no bias to claim, no obvious conflicts of interest. It did in fact take an interview of almost 90 potential jurors to select the 14 of us who would serve on the jury, and given the prior week’s bruises to our judicial system, I felt compelled to fulfill my responsibility as an American citizen.

I watched my psyche go from feeling like I might be selected, to wanting to be selected, to regretting being selected. From controlling and protecting my time to surrendering my time – and to an inefficient (in my opinion) calendar at that. I was forced to sit for hours with no distractions, just paying attention (wow).

Mine was seat number 5 and looking around the jury box, we were a cross section of society for sure. We listened to seven days of testimony and observed evidence on a topic that was frighteningly close to one of my biggest fears. Colonoscopy. More and more I became certain the universe ordained my selection because I was intended to learn something there. It was like a mini medical school on the topic with one of the country’s leading practitioners serving as an expert witness. I now know enough about the complications of colonoscopy to be scared to death of my next procedure. (I have been on a 3-year testing cycle since age 40 due to a family history of colon cancer.) Great.

Besides the anatomy education I received, and accepting the inability to control my schedule, the experience of serving on a jury boosted my faith in the system. My verdict was coming out pretty clearly in one direction as the evidence was unfolding…. And each evening I would wonder if my fellow jurors felt the same. However, we were not allowed to discuss anything until the very end of the trial when it was time to deliberate. Anyway, even though I was feeling certain, I wondered if the others were as convinced as I was. How often in life can 14 people absolutely agree? We were different genders, ages, races, had varying levels of education and economic backgrounds. We were from all parts of the city. I was expecting a healthy debate when it came time to render a unanimous decision.

After the closing arguments were made and the judge gave us his instructions, we returned to the jury room to discuss. After thirty minutes of expressing our impressions and discussing the relevant points, it seemed like we were all on the same page. A vote proved it to be so.

The defendant breathed a big sigh of relief as our decision was read. A trial by a jury of his peers was his right as a citizen of the United States of America. We had his professional future in our hands. Next time you get called to jury duty, don’t look for an excuse.

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Sea Worthy

Our boat was loaded down with golf clubs, hostess gifts, costumes for a Saturday night party, bedding, clothing, and cheese and crackers. The dog was at the sitter’s and the sun was high in the sky. Our plan was to stop first at the gas dock in Avondale before starting our journey north along the Rhode Island coast, through Buzzards Bay to Marion, MA. We wanted to  arrive in time for dinner.

When John went to start the engines, however, it became clear there was a problem. Everyone knows that heart-sinking feeling: plans are laid and the forecast is perfect, but technical difficulties arise. “Ugh,” I moaned.

I took a deep breath, preparing myself for the likelihood we’d be transferring everything from the boat into our car and making the trip by land. Not as fun, not nearly as fun. Fortunately, Mike from Frank Hall’s boatyard met us at the gas dock and walked us through the cause of the problem (one of our batteries was failing) and helped us decide whether or not it was safe to make the trip.

It’s been said that the most dangerous thing to have on a boat is a schedule. One must be willing to surrender to the inevitability of things breaking down, and weather and sea conditions stirring up. Time on a boat is meant to be at a different pace than on land and serves to remind us that we are never in control even though we pretend to be.

This time, we decided to carry on, assured the running engine would do its part to replenish the charge of one of our batteries. We’d make it to Marion, Cuttyhunk, Hadley Harbor, Falmouth, and Edgartown before returning to Watch Hill four days later. And don’t you know every time those engines turned over and purred, I said a prayer of gratitude.

In addition to some anxiety over the battery, we’d also heard a lot about how tricky the channel through Woods Hole can be, with ferries and currents and lots of boat traffic. However, by the time the weekend was over we had made a huge deposit in the bank of experience and navigated it three times.

There is something very satisfying about being tested on the water and rising to the occasion, taking the opportunity to strengthen the resiliency muscle. Yes, our destinations were beautiful and so were our friends and the weather, but this particular trip felt more like an opportunity to learn and gain confidence. It was our first time through Buzzards Bay and our proximity to the Cape Cod Canal sparked my interest in cruising even further north. I love to push our boundaries…. stay tuned.

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On Golfing and Writing

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If I look back at the woman I was twenty years ago…

I never thought I’d love golf. I also never thought about the day I’d be staring into my sixth decade on the planet. When you are in your thirties, it’s hard to find joy in a slower tempo. In the same way yoga didn’t appeal to me at that age, neither did a four-hour activity mired with frustration.

It’s only been in the last ten years I’ve come to appreciate the compassion and brain health that comes from a beginner’s mentality. It is so much easier to stick with what we are good at, but there is no growth in that. No matter how much golf I play, I’m always filled with humility and the sense that I have so much to learn. As a writer, reading great books evokes the same feeling. German classes and years of bridge lessons have also put me in the shoes of a beginner, but those practices didn’t stick the way golf has.

That’s because I also love being outdoors. I’ve come to crave the green grass and fresh air, the camaraderie walking the course, my heart rate slowing with the measured, even, pace of the game. A four-hour walk with good friends and no phones: such a luxury in today’s world. Golf teaches me that success comes from taking time and studying my options. Ever try to putt quickly without reading the green? I am a type A personality who multi-tasks and juggles multiple projects at once. Golf has taught me something about concentration and clarity. It has taught me to value precision over power.

Golf benefits my squash and my writing in the same way yoga or meditation does. I like to think of a golf outing as an extended practice in even breathing and intentional thinking. It begins with gratitude for just having the time and the access to play the game. Then, every swing, every new hole is an opportunity to put the past behind and visualize greatness and use positive self-talk. It’s taken me many decades to face down the critic in my head, but rounds of golf have given me millions of opportunities to tell her to go away!

I never thought I’d love golf, I never understood what people liked about it. I can’t believe I’m at an age where I feel this way, but I really do love golf.