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In the End, 2021 Was Like a Bridge to Nowhere

31 Dec

This year was supposed to go a bit differently.

After 2020, when so many of us were home-bound, frustrated by the government’s divisive and unhelpful response to the pandemic, in and out of work, and alone, 2021 was supposed to be the year things got back on track. We had a new President, vaccines were becoming available, and change was coming. Better days were ahead. “Normal” was going to make a comeback.

So I always looked at 2021 like a “bridge year,” one that would take us from the doom and gloom of the pandemic to the new new normal. This year was all about crossing that bridge to get to the other side. Accepting things for now because I knew they’d be temporary. That things would be better and more desirable on the other side, by the end of the year.

In 2021, I had so much I wanted to do. I was going to make up for lost time with friends and family. I was going to work with other people face-to-face again on a regular basis, maybe even (hopefully) in an office. I was going to put my feet back in the dating pool. I was going to go on vacation. I was going to be spontaneous. In short: I was going to live a normal life without having to worry all the time about an easily transmissible airborne virus getting into my body.

And yet, here we are on December 31, and it feels in many ways like we’re back to where we were a year ago. In spite of multiple safe and effective vaccines being widely available, Covid case numbers are not only up again, they are higher than they’ve ever been. We’re being asked to scale back our social lives again and keep taking precautions to keep ourselves and each other safe — even if we’re “fully vaccinated.” And, as if we need a reminder, nearly a year after the attack on the Capitol, our political climate is more divided than ever.

If 2021 was a bridge year, it feels like it was a bridge that just kept on going and going, with no end in sight, kind of year. 

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My 2021 Soundtrack Reflects the Times (and Music) I Want to Remember

13 Dec

When directors make movies, they work with a music supervisor and a composer to create a soundscape for the film that will deliberately help drive the narrative, boost the desired emotional impact, and leave a distinct impression in the minds of viewers. When done well, hearing a particular song or musical motif included in the movie may trigger memories of that work.

In real life, the process happens somewhat in reverse: The “narrative” of our lives moves forward organically, and the music that triggers memories of certain times and events is not necessarily planned. And, rather than the music itself telling a story, it’s up to us to look at the collection of songs and pick out the themes from the soundtrack in hindsight. In this way, music serves to remind us of the times we’ve lived through, and the music that was playing while we lived — with this caveat: The soundtrack often reflects the times we want to remember. More importantly, it’s made up of the music we want to remember.

I listened to a lot of music in 2021, and my “Now” playlist was everchanging. But as noted, the soundtrack of my year — a.k.a. my 2021 Time Capsule Playlist — largely reflects what was good about these last 12 months.

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Reflecting on What I’m Most Thankful for This Year

24 Nov
Sunset reflection at Chestnut Hill Reservoir

It happens every year: Labor Day comes, and the pace of the year speeds up.

We get to Halloween, and it speeds up even more.

So one thing I enjoy about Thanksgiving — in addition to the time off from work and the turkey and gravy — is that it’s an occasion to pause and reflect on what we’re grateful for at that moment, before we all get swept up in the frenzy of the December holidays.

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Today Is My Birthday, and to Celebrate, I Am Reclaiming My Time

7 Jun

Today is my birthday, and I have a confession to make: I’m not 100% sure of how old I am.

No, that’s not some Peter Pan–ish form of denial. And it’s not an indication that I’m so old I’ve started to forget basic things.

It’s just that, over the last year or so, I’ve had to remind myself multiple times of what year it was and how old I was. Really.

We all experienced that to some degree over the last 16 months or so, didn’t we? The pandemic year warped our sense of time, causing days to blend into each other, and leading us to forget just when we were experiencing things, or when we had experienced them. Things we thought we did “this year” were actually done “last year.” Many predictable or scheduled events were either postponed or canceled outright. And a few milestones that should have been a bigger deal took place during the pandemic without as much as a whimper, leading some to think they didn’t even happen.

Birthdays, for example. I know I had one in 2020, but since the celebration was so muted (by necessity, and because of everything else that was happening around that time), did I really turn another year older?

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Remembering When the Lights First Went Up on Lin-Manuel Miranda

3 Jun

It was March of 2008. Barack Obama had not yet been elected President. No Country for Old Men had just won Best Picture at the Oscars. Among the most popular songs were “Low” by Flo Rida and T-Pain, “Love in This Club” by Usher, and “Love Song” by Sara Bareilles. And around the country, many Americans were unable to identify the Founding Father whose name and face were on the $10 bills they used every day.

That month, after a successful and Drama Desk Award–winning run Off-Broadway, a new show moved uptown to the Great White Way, carrying with it the hopes of producers and investors that it would bring new, younger, and more diverse audiences to Broadway and fill the void left when Rent closed later that year. As successful as this production was, though, no one could have predicted that over the course of the next decade, its creator and star would break boundaries and revolutionize Broadway.

That show, of course, was In the Heights, and its creator and star was a young up-and-comer named Lin-Manuel Miranda — who, as if you need to be reminded, would go on to write the pop-culture phenomenon known as Hamilton.

In March 2008, Miranda was just 28 years old and still largely unknown. He’d traveled the world and performed as part of Freestyle Love Supreme, the hip-hop improv group he co-founded, but Miranda surely wasn’t a household name yet. Nor was he the social media influencer he is today — though, at the time, he did have an amusing YouTube channel where he shared home-video clips of his younger self lip-syncing to songs like “King of Wishful Thinking” and freestyle-rapping about the heat with his friends.

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In Spite of Everything, I’m Ending 2020 Feeling Very Lucky

30 Dec
Sunset over Chestnut Hill Reservoir

By nearly every measure, 2020 was not a good year. The reasons — many of them stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, the contentious election (and politics just in general), and the multiple cases of racial injustice — have been well documented, so I don’t need to spend a lot of time rehashing them here. We’ve all lived through this year, and we know how bad it was.

But, while the pandemic may have taken a lot from us, including plans, people, and the passage of time, it did not take away perspective. In fact, the darkness of this year only made the light shine brighter.

To that end, there were also plenty of good or fun things that happened, and things that were worth smiling about. These things should be remembered, too. We should be grateful for all the doctors and healthcare workers, the public health officials, the teachers, the supermarket employees, and many other “essential workers” who went above and beyond to keep us safe, healthy, well fed, educated, stocked, and supplied this year. And of course, we should applaud the millions of people around the world who rightfully took to the streets to affirm that Black lives do, in fact, matter, and to demand that others said the same and acted accordingly.

To be clear, I’d never say I had a good year in 2020. I spent much of it alone in my small apartment, I was often confused or angry or frustrated (or all three), I lost my job over the summer, I couldn’t travel or go to the movies or experience concerts or do other in-person things I enjoy, and there’s been a nagging sense that life is passing me by while I social distance. As the Lone Bellow sang in their song “Dust Settles,” “I’ve been missing from the land of the living.” 

And yet, amazingly, in spite of everything, I actually found something to be happy about every single day this year. That’s just one reason why I’m ending 2020 feeling incredibly lucky.

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In Spite of Everything, There Was a Lot to Celebrate in 2019

31 Dec

December sunsetI’ve gotta be honest: 2019 was a very good year.

Sure, in many ways, it was not. There was the toxic state of U.S. politics polluting our mindsets each and every day. The Mueller Report. Impeachment. The tweets. Ugh. There were many mass shootings and hate crimes. Rampant anti-Semitism. Hurricane Dorian and wildfires in the Amazon and California left destruction in their wake. Friends and family members battled cancer and had other health challenges. The Notre Dame fire was a historic tragedy. Multiple people I know lost their jobs and are still looking for work months later. We said goodbye to folks like Luke Perry, Pete Frates, Cokie Roberts, and Bill Buckner. And, much closer to home, I said goodbye to my aunt Leslie just a couple weeks ago.

Indeed, every day seemed to have its share of challenges.

But in spite of all that, and at the risk of being myopic or selfish or narrow-minded, when I look back on the past 12 months, I actually have a lot to be happy about. For example … Continue reading

A Souvenir of My Year So Far, Before the Memories Fade Away

1 Jul

1H 2019 highlightsIn Billy Joel’s 1974 song “Souvenir,” the Piano Man sings about how “every year’s a souvenir that slowly fades away,” suggesting that we should do all we can to savor our time before it’s gone. He cites postcards, folded ticket stubs, play programs, and vacation photographs as the little things we all save to keep alive the memories of our good times.

At just two minutes long, “Souvenir” is a nice, short song. Definitely a lesser-known gem in Billy’s catalog. And he’s right — though I do take issue with the idea of time “slowly” fading away. Maybe time moved more slowly in the mid-’70s, because here at the end of the 20teens (or whatever this decade is called), it’s more of a blur. I mean, it’s only July 1, and yet it feels like an entire year has gone by since New Year’s Day. Hell, it feels like an entire year has gone by since last week!

But all kidding aside, here we are at the halfway point of yet another year that’s moving a bit too quickly. If you’re anything like me — and Billy Joel, apparently — you’re a collector of memories. Continue reading

The 2019 Happiness Project

2 Jan

Photo credit: Jessica Noel/fabcocktail.com

In November 2017, a live-entertainment producer named Jared Paul opened a venue in Chicago called the Happy Place. Dubbed “the most Instagrammable pop-up in America” by Urban Daddy, the bright, colorful, and yes, photogenic playspace was “a themed immersive experience designed to help you escape for a very short time and immerse yourself in happiness,” Paul explained.

The Happy Place sounds like it was a lot of fun. I mean, who wouldn’t love an interactive “exhibit” filled with balloons and gumballs and confetti and rubber duckies and rainbow grilled cheese sandwiches? I was in Chicago twice last July, and I’m sorry I didn’t know about it then. Otherwise, I surely would have checked it out. (Following its nine-month engagement in Chicago, the Happy Place opened in Toronto in November 2018. It has also been in Los Angeles.)

Of course, actual happiness is a bit more elusive. I mean, it’s not exactly a subtle metaphor that Paul’s pop-up is just temporary; I suspect the high from experiencing it is also short-lived. Further, as researchers often point out, the more you try to be happy, the less happy you’ll actually be. In fact, as a recent study revealed, a constant pursuit of happiness can actually increase feelings of loneliness and disconnection. And you can’t really study how to be happy — though apparently, a class does exist (at Yale University, of all places).

On the other hand, there are small things you can do to boost the hormones that lead to happiness, that have a legit, longer-lasting effect on your well-being. One of the most oft-cited by some of those same researchers is regular expressions of gratitude — in a “gratitude journal,” for example. Continue reading

Here’s to My Future. But First, Here’s to My Yesterday!

31 Dec

I have no idea where the time went, but as the calendar reminds us, December 31 means we’ve come to the end of another year.

Americans can’t seem to see eye-to-eye about much these days, but suffice it to say, 2018 was … a year. It was 12 months long. (Those are facts we can all agree on, right?) And as with any year, a lot of good stuff and bad stuff happened, locally and nationally. There’s no need to rehash it all; we all lived through it.

I’m excited for 2019, and all that the next 12 months will (hopefully) bring with it. But, as the Imagine Dragons lyric says, “No tomorrow without a yesterday.” So in that spirit, I’m going to use this last blog post of 2018 to take another look at some of my yesterdays. Specifically, some of my favorite highlights from the past 12 months. Continue reading

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