2022: A Retrospective

In writing reflections on a past event – especially an entire year, especially on a digital platform – I struggle to find the right tone. Too bright, and it might feel fake, toxically positive, or even arrogant. Too somber, and it can come across as a slough of negativity.

I’ll do my best to steer between those two extremes. There were good things, hard things, sad things. I felt friendships shift and fade. I was ghosted (twice) and stood up (once). The relationship I was most excited about, a tantalizing multi-month series of dates during which I caught hope – and feelings – ended via a cold text. I experienced professional challenges that required every bit of my patience and discipline to navigate. Despite being drafted in Las Vegas, my fantasy football team did not make it to the playoffs. And for the last night of 2022, I attended a party where the highlight of the event was thumbing through a biography of the Brontës.

And yet. And yet. I am a stubborn optimist, and that isn’t all of the story.

  • At midlife, I took on spring break for the first time. It was hot and sunstruck and a little disorienting. In fact, it became just the adventure I needed.
  • In that vein, I decided that it was never too late to let a little rebellion into my life. Guitar playing, obviously. But there was also the winter night I laughed and listened to punk in my date’s pickup in a parking lot. Afternoons spent loitering in public parks like a delinquent. Numerous small trespasses against propriety: the flick of a lighter, the use of the f-bomb, a refusal to take up less space.
  • I finally watched Sleepless in Seattle. I devoured Ozark, which made me cry. And Bridgerton, which didn’t. Also both seasons of Sanditon just for the heck of it. (I have yet to see E.T. or any of the Rocky films.)
  • I went to the opera. Alone. (It was great.)
  • I swam 20,000 yards at the local pool. My tan was killer.
  • I emerged from comparative isolation and got busy re-building my social life. I took over a Meetup group, renamed it, and nearly tripled the membership. I went on 22 first dates*. I got new business cards. I attended book club discussions after having actually read the book.
  • I made a few new friends. In adulthood, that’s no small feat. We need people to laugh with. People to speak our truths to. To eat burritos with, go to for advice, share a hug. If anything, 2022 taught me not to take good connections for granted.
  • I got a new writing desk. In fact, that where I am typing this right now.
  • And I finally started to learn that my feelings are not liabilities I need to repress, but signals to pay attention to.

Of course, there are things that haven’t changed. I still miss my motorcycle. I still have my fascination with Eminem. There are still my wildling cats that make me laugh, and the books I turn to for comfort like a quilt.

As far as what’s ahead, I don’t have resolutions so much as intentions. I want to get back to Paris. I want to finally finish my damn novel. I want to get through all of “Tonight, Tonight” so that it sounds – and feels – like a song. Plus, the Les Paul guitar I’ve been eyeing.

And there’s this:

We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

Joseph Campbell

*Defined as 1:1 in-person, predesignated meetings. Video chats and random unassigned hangouts not included in total.

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More Than a Feeling

The future is a hard thing to imagine, especially when just managing day-to-day life in the present feels so unpredictable. And yet I’m letting myself go there. To explore possibility. To wonder what might yet be found.

My previous post, Feme Sole, was written from a retrospective mindset. Not gonna lie: 2021 was the hardest year of my life. Hands down. That may have been the case for a lot of people. And yet – and yet – this too shall pass. Perhaps even now we see light.

Which raises the question – what next?

Banff, Canada.

The pandemic, and even my life before the pandemic, taught me how capable I am. Responsible, reliable, conscientious. And those are great qualities to have. But when they are one-sided, its exhausting. I’ve found that in many relationships, for most of my life (this includes family, friendships, workplace, romantic interests), I’ve taken pains to be the most likeable, most competent, least demanding version of myself. When there is imbalance, it tends to work out swimmingly for the other party, and not so well for me.

In midlife, I am flipping the script. I have the audacity to hold expectations. And the presumption to voice them.

So much for the theory. What about the practice? What about real-life application? What about… dating?

Here’s the deal: If we go out, I will show up. I’ll be polite and punctual and most likely send a text while I’m parking. I’ll have makeup on, and possibly be wearing hiking boots, or maybe the cute shoes I bought in Paris, depending on the activity.

I’ll laugh at your jokes. I’ll maintain eye contact. I will stay off my phone and hope – please – you do the same.

Midway through I’ll excuse myself, grab my purse, and take off to the ladies’ room where I will either text my sister or a friend to let them know how things are going. And to assure them I’m not dead. I’ll do the same once I get home.

When the bill comes and if I have a chance to jump in, I’ll offer to split it and mean it. (I don’t need your money.) In reality, a lot of external markers mean very little to me. I don’t make decisions about someone based solely on the occupation they hold, the salary they earn, the height they are. (Although, it would be nice if you’re taller so that I can wear heels and not feel weird on the 3 occasions a year when I’m in the mood to do so.)

I have a career and a title and a salary. I don’t need to borrow your prestige. I don’t need to borrow any toughness, either. I have that on my own, too. (With the ink and the scars to prove it. Also the facts that I was laid off, got divorced, found a new job, wrote a novel, and bought a house on my own during the pandemic. Say what you will, I get sh*t done.)

What I want is this: to not be asked to make myself smaller. Not to have the price of our connection be contingent on my being less than what I am. In time, to come to trust you enough so that I don’t have to be so self-reliant. To sit on the couch, or on a mountainside, or at the beach and genuinely relax, not because I’ve decided to stop being “so uptight” but because you have created a space where, for a time, you’ve taken care of everything and I don’t have to.  

To not be behind or in front of me, but beside. And to say – truthfully – “We’ve got this.”

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Tabula Rasa

Fact: I have too much stuff. I’ve known this since well before Marie Kondo and tidying up became a cultural phenomenon. Since before “edit” became an activity no longer reserved simply for manuscripts or films, but now has haute connotations applied to everything from cosmetics to jewelry to home furnishings.

My stuff, on the whole, is neither fashionable nor glamourous. Much of it I’ve been boxing up and carrying around with me for years. Decades, even. Handwritten letters from overseas penpals and junior high classmates. Theater tickets, bookmarks, notebooks from college courses long since completed. 

All of it marking an intersection of memory and material object that – somehow – I can’t yet bear to part with.

Urban art. South Side Flats, Pittsburgh PA. July 2021.

Even if these things no longer serve a practical purpose in my day-to-day, they are proof of who I was. All the selves I’ve been, every milestone or throwaway moment of my life marked. The bright orange t-shirt from a 5K race on a crisp October morning. Yes, a relatively short distance, but for me, momentous. It was the first race I completed after tearing my MCL and spending the better part of a year with orthopedists and physical therapists, fearing I’d never be able to run again.

The postcards from France showing colorful vintage illustrations of the Cote d’Azur. Invoices from dental treatments to reconstruct bone and tissue in my jaw. Family albums. The eulogy I wrote for my marriage, and then burned (but not before snapping a photo of the text).

If these things go, what evidence do I have – save memory, which is surely fallible – that I ever was that girl, that woman?

But I can’t take it with me, as the line from the Pulitzer Prize-winning play goes. At the end of the month, I am leaving this house forever. What better time for tidying up and cutting loose? What more apt juncture to consciously release what is no longer needed? When better to intentionally choose what comes with me?

These past weeks, I’ve been setting myself to brush off the dust and survey the goods. There are the documents and papers and clutter that will go. Ill-fitting shoes that I never liked. Superfluous kitchenware. And my beloved motorcycle. Perhaps not for forever. But I’ve taken what I needed from the Harley and I carry a scar and story to prove it. For now, I’m at peace with parting. There’s the hope of meeting again. 

Earlier this spring, I was determined to erase everything. Job, lifestyle, relationships. Then shred the remains and throw them into a dustbin. I looked at houses in the rural environs of Western Pennsylvania where I spent my childhood. I dreamed of acreage and horses. I wanted nothing more than to be away, away from the city and the feints and deflections inherent in many of my daily interactions. I wanted, I think, to disappear into some chrysalis of my own making. And to re-emerge in some other place, as some other self.

But following through on creating my blank slate includes letting go of even the belief that such extreme measures were necessary for preservation, for authenticity.

I am moving, but the distance isn’t far. I don’t need it to be; what I want next is closer than I thought. As for what I’m letting go of, there may be empty spaces, but not a void. And in those spaces, the promise of things hoped for, but not yet seen.

P.S. I played Essie Carmichael in my high school’s production of You Can’t Take it With You. I’m sure I have a few playbills inside a drawer somewhere around here.

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Beyond Binary: The Aftermath

Photo by Vlada Karpovich from Pexels

2020, the year of disruption. It took a global pandemic, the most bitter social and political fragmentation I’ve ever witnessed in American culture, and a painful end to my marriage, but I’m at last shaking free of the pursuit of something that just maybe, I should not have been chasing in the first place. I’ve given up looking for normal.

“Normal” is a loaded word these days. Some of us want to “get back to normal” or “adjust to the new normal.” Others believe that the establishment, in any form, is not to be trusted and that we’d be a lot better off crying foul on the status quo. In the days and weeks following the 2020 presidential election, I’ve been thinking a lot about normal. Is it what is comfortable? Familiar? Routine?

And if, but its very definition, normal is so unexceptional, why do we yearn for it so badly?

I’m beginning to think that in 2020, it wasn’t normality that was shattered. Instead, our habits and our complacency and our worldview were threatened at an existential level. There is no longer a common set of undisputed facts on which to base a shared understanding of reality. The world is tilted and off-center.  We’re in a space that we can’t predict, and with a set of unknowns we can’t control. 

And as a species, when the necessity to adapt forces itself upon us, we tend to resent it. Any behavioral economist will tell you that human beings are creatures of emotion, not logic. Just because we know better doesn’t mean we do better.

But we should. Maybe it’s not logical to expect “normal,” if normal means a return to what was before. How could it be? These are strange and often frightening times. 

Much of life as we remember it is past. Perhaps, ultimately, we may find parts of it are not worth going back for. Yet things remain that are worth holding on to, and those have little to do with whether or not our local gym is open, or if we’re required to wear a mask, or if a curfew has gone into effect.

Human behavior is often highly contextual. But there is almost always a choice. And I will not give up on the big picture. I will not give up on decency, civility, or kindness. I will not give up on the expectation that my elected leaders will follow established precedents for conduct befitting their office. And I won’t give up on America, or on my fellow Americans, although I’ve felt more grief and anger and disappointment in these past 12 months than I believed possible. 

For as Winston Churchill is alleged, but not proven, to have remarked, “Americans can always be trusted to do the right thing, once all other possibilities have been exhausted.”

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Doorways to Gratitude

It seems that more than ever, the world is in need of optimism. There are many things to worry about. Conflict. Our warming planet. Politics. The economy. Enemies, foreign and domestic. Not to mention, our own health, our commutes, our families, our bank accounts, the headaches with the utility company or the Internet service provider or the grocery store that just stopped carrying our favorite brand of coffee.

Stress is endemic. It’s serious enough that it has been recognized as a public health issue by the former U.S. Surgeon General. But this post isn’t about stress. Nor is about forced optimism, an insistence on finding the good in every situation, in calling the glass half full when all evidence points to the contrary.

But I am going to write about gratitude. And I’m going to write about the strangers, friends, and little moments of grace that allow me to feel this. Many of these people changed my life. Sometimes for an afternoon. Sometimes for years.

For example, my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Beason who taught me to read. My college English professor who, upon my graduation, presented me with a book inscribed “Remember to be yourself” – advice which I am still trying to follow.  

There is my former co-worker Charlotte who first talked me into running. With her prompting, I completed my first 5K, and went on to run longer, harder, more challenging races for the next several years. There are the wonderful and witty writers I crossed paths with two summers ago, one of whom collected a couple of us into her red convertible one afternoon to tool around the Hamptons. (Like I was going to say no.) And the women whose names I cannot recall, but under whose tutelage I learned how to ride a motorcycle. 

And sometimes, it is being ourselves, by ourselves, that opens this doorway. The moments we encounter accidentally, but are somehow just the right place, just the right time. Getting up early, resentful of the dark and cold, and then looking up to see the sky cast in a lavender dawn. Walking in the woods and catching sight of two kestrels circling each other, the white feathers of their bellies catching the sunlight. Hearing the wind as it pushes through brown leaves and dry grass.

Because life is improv. We never get the same day twice. Sometimes – maybe most days – we may feel like imposters. But when we find those with whom we may be our authentic selves – and the moments where our authentic selves feel closest –  it is cause for gratitude indeed.

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When to Get a Cat

As I write this, there is a cat on my lap.

Of course, not all people are cat people. But a lot of us are, judging from the number of views of cat videos on the Internet.

Some days, I’m convinced that cat videos are among the best things that the Internet has done for humanity.

Cat videos bring joy. They unite us, even if only for a few minutes. And they’re often downright hilarious.

2018 was a challenging year. But – lest you’re getting worried – this is not a political piece. My last piece of political writing was in 2016, shortly after the election that ushered in the 45th President of the United States.

This is a piece about cats. Yes, they bring chaos, and perhaps there are a few analogies that can be drawn between a household with cats and the current political climate. But while cats create chaos like no other domestic creature I know, they are also irresistible. And unlike politicians, prone to purring on your lap.

So when the going gets tough, the tough get a cat. Or in my case, a second cat. My original feline companion is a cool cat named Hendrix, adopted from a litter of barn kittens in 2014. The farmers assured my husband and I that our new pet was female. Fast forward two weeks later to our first vet visit, and we discovered that kitty is a boy.

Still, Hendrix is a delightful, handsome fellow who enjoys cuddling up to watch period dramas and snuggling in bed on chilly nights. He’s a great editor, as cats are naturally contemptuous of anything superfluous. I love Hendrix. He’s a fantastic cat.

Hendrix critiquing a manuscript.

But when an opportunity came last fall to see another litter of farm kittens in need of homes, I couldn’t say no. And Abby, the most adorable 3-pound tyrant the world has ever seen entered our lives.

Hendrix hated her.

Following the advice of cat blogs, I determined to keep the two cats separated until Hendrix grew more tolerant. Abby had a private establishment in the family room, complete with a bed, food and water, a litter box, toys, and a large window overlooking a bird feeder.

She hated it. And she made her displeasure known. First she screamed. (Yes, kittens can scream.) Then she battered the door with her tiny body as if she meant to break through by force. After a few days of this we relented and gave Abby the run of the house. Gradually – very gradually – Hendrix came to a grudging acceptance. He still steals her food at every opportunity, but I have caught them napping in the same room and sometimes even in the same bed.

Abby is crazy, of course. She’s imperious and demanding and very, very loud.

Beneath her kitten adorableness lies the soul of a despot.


But I love her. And having her in our lives makes me happy.

So when I say get a cat, what I mean is do something that makes you happy. Do something that fills a void. Do something that makes the world, at least for a little while, a gentler place.

Unless you’re allergic. In which case, get a fish? And be sure to post some funny fish videos.

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Why Your Life Needs Rituals

Blue and white porcelain teacup and saucerLast summer I had the pleasure of visiting Hillwood Museum and Gardens in Washington, DC. The museum consists of the former home of Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress, businesswoman, and art collector extraordinaire. I spent the afternoon gazing at priceless porcelain and dazzling jewels and wandering gardens filled with too many varieties of flower to name under a perfect blue sky.

Yes, the collection was remarkable, the setting splendid, and the home itself opulent. And yet what I came away most impressed by the recognition that seizing beauty isn’t something to postpone.

At the end of my visit I lingered in the gift shop. After seeing Marjorie’s fabulous collection, I wanted something beautiful of my own. I dithered and fretted, balking at the price of a Russian porcelain teacup.

“Just get it,” my friend Ali said.

I took her at her word, and she was a good sport as I spent the next 15 minutes deliberating which design I needed to bring home.

I’m now the proud owner of a teacup and saucer that cost more than some of my college textbooks. But self-indulgence wasn’t the point, not really. It was about giving myself permission to go after beauty and allow it into my everyday life. It was about permission to pause, to create a ritual that allowed moments to be savored.

In a world where we move from activity to activity seemingly second by second, we may need rituals more than ever.

Rituals anchor us. They provide focus in days that are often unpredictable. They offer time that is our own, to shape as we choose.

Rituals calm us. They offer comfort. They offer a moment to look forward to. They create space that allows mind and body to be still.

And powerfully, and perhaps counter to what we may often imagine in the creative process, rituals provide stability. Stability promotes routine, routine promotes consistency, and consistency means things get done.

Do you have a favorite ritual that has helped to foster your creativity? Drop a line in the comments!

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Lipstick Before a Protest

candles in hands
Photo by Teresa Casale.

Dear Readers –

My political commentary generally relates to events two centuries ago, and in other countries. However, this week’s events have compelled me to break with precedent and write something about the 2016 presidential election.

My parents grew up in the 1960s. They were college students in Ohio during the Kent State shootings; they had classmates who went to Vietnam and never came home. I asked my mother once what she thought of the social protests, if she had ever joined the marches for civil rights, for women’s rights, for peace. She said no. She kept her head down and stayed out of it. She was afraid of being expelled from school. I remember being disappointed in her answer, ashamed of her fear.

Forty-six years later, I can’t sit this one out.

Let me start by saying that I wish our president-elect the best of success. Ready or not, he must lead. I hope that he is able to step up to that great responsibility and lead well. Though I have – often – disagreed with the policies of presidents of both parties, I have always respected the office.

His job will not be an easy one. There are many Americas. We are a fractured country – and have been fracturing in ways visible and not-so-visible for a long time. In 2010 I spent nearly a month driving through the America those on the coasts call the “fly-over states.” Even then I saw towns all but abandoned, empty store after empty store along empty streets. I come from an Appalachian state with pockets of deep and documented poverty, poverty that is mocked and misunderstood, poverty that the people living there can’t simply drive through.

For some, like the 1 in 6 American men who are not working, the economic recovery has been something that other people experienced, and not them. There is a colossal distrust of the American political establishment. In the summer of 2016, Congressional approval ratings dropped to unprecedented lows as constituents expressed disappointment not only with Congress overall but with their own representatives’ performance.

But these trends only show statistics, and this election was won on emotion. Anger, fear, hope, uncertainty. The voting block with more anger than hope spoke, and though they do not speak for all Americans, they decided for all of us who the next president will be.

Some of their anger, I understand. These are the people I come from, and like the author of Hillybilly Elegy J.D. Vance, I’ve moved away but I cannot forget. And yet not all poverty is treated as innocent poverty, and whites may disproportionately use it as an extenuating circumstance for other ills. As an op-ed piece in the Globe and Mail noted, “You may have noticed that, the story goes, white people are on drugs because they have no jobs, but black people have no jobs because they are on drugs.”

Economics is a factor but it is not the only factor. Gender is a factor but it is not the only factor. Race is a factor but it is not the only factor. We desperately want an explanation for the unexplainable, but seizing on a simple one only places more blinders around truths that we struggle to acknowledge.

This election, perhaps more than any presidential election in recent memory, is at the intersection of the personal and the political. Now we are all reckoning with the aftermath. Some are feeling joyful and affirmed, others are mourning. We are coming to terms with this new America in our different ways, some with vigils and protests, some by writing, some by carrying signs, some by seeking solidarity. Some methods take us out of ourselves, and others drive us inward.

I hope that none drive us to hate. I confess that this America is a country that I struggle to recognize. I woke up on the morning of November 9 feeling as if I’d been hit with a very ugly family secret. I had believed that the American people had learned from our past mistakes, that we could do better than our institutions, which I will be among the first to admit are flawed.

The path to creating a more perfect union is not merely feeling, but acting. Voting is a small act, but it is a powerful one. Why else would those who had it put in decades of efforts and intimidation and brutality to keep it out of the hands of minorities and out of the hands of women? For many the opportunity to vote was won the hard way. Though it is your right to abstain, please don’t. Too many people sat out this election. We as a nation lost their voices.

Last night I was at the vigil-turned-march in downtown Washington, DC. I left the house with a warm coat and a fresh coat of lipstick. Someone handed me a safety pin and I pinned it onto my jacket. Though some commentators have derided this action, I disagree. Wearing a safety pin doesn’t make me feel better. It makes me feel worse. It reminds me that too many of my fellow citizens cannot feel safe in the country that they call their own, that they have as much of a right to as I do.

Wearing a safety pin reminds me that I should be prepared to keep the promise that the pin signifies. My world has many kinds of people in it, and some may need my help. Mr. Trump has made vicious comments about women, people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQ community members, people of non-Christian faiths, veterans. Those comments have emboldened an ideology that I cannot and will not ever tolerate.  I cannot ever think that this is not my battle. I’m reminded of the Muslim photographer who made me laugh during three days of long photoshoots in DC, of the woman at my gym who works out in a headscarf. Of my sister and her wife. Of my husband, born overseas, and a naturalized citizen who gave over a decade of service to the United Stated Navy.

I think of the time I was on my way to meet a black friend after work and one of my car tires blew out. Someone stopped almost immediately to help – but if our places have been reversed, would someone have stopped for her? Would the helpfulness I encountered in the Midwest have extended to me had my face been a different color?

I don’t know and I cannot know the answer to these questions. I can only try to let the America that I grew up believing in not slip away, and I can only be humble, to not think that by trying to do the right thing that I am righteous.

And I can hope. I can hope America will indeed be great again, but not in the way that Mr. Trump imagines.

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Travelers Tales from Edinburgh

Pub in Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland.

This week find me at World Travelers Today. This is a very exciting new travel site that not only features stories of wanderlust from around the world, but tips for travel safety and security plus behind-the-scenes features on local food and drink. I’m personally looking forward to the “Bartenders’ Best!”

I’m very pleased to have the honor of writing a guest post about my travels in Scotland – what a trip down memory lane! Find out why Edinburgh is a UNESCO City of Literature, and learn where to lunch like J.K. Rowling. 

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How to Shovel Snow

Yes, snowfall can be gorgeous. If you like to ski, snowboard, or snowshoe, fresh snow also means winter fun. But for those of us without a snowblower and with a driveway, the winter of 2013/2014 has been epic in terms of the amount of snow shoveling many of us have had to do. I am gearing up for a second round of shoveling this afternoon, and before I head out, am taking a brief break to write a post on

How to Shovel Snow

  1. Dress warmly! Layers are preferable, so you can take off a layer if you get to warm. Shoveling is exercise, and you may find yourself heating up. Be sure to wear a warm hat, gloves, and a face covering if temperatures are extremely cold. You want to protect your exposed skin from possible frostbite.
  2. Go slowly and take breaks. Shoveling is not a race. Work at a pace that feels comfortable for you. Make sure you stay properly hydrating by drinking water periodically. In the cold, you may not feel thirsty but your body is working hard and water is essential.
  3. Invest in a snow shovel. 
  4. Don’t overload your shovel! Wet snow is heavy, and can be unwieldy. Only scoop as much snow onto your shovel as you can comfortably throw or knock off.
  5. Use your legs to help you lift the shovel. Make sure you aren’t over-extending your lower back by leaning over too far, or trying to lift all of the weight with your arms. Again, breaks are important.  
  6. Chances are, it may be windy while you are shoveling. It is easiest if you shovel with the wind at your back. When you toss the snow off of your shovel, the wind will blow it away from you instead of back into your face.
  7. Make sure you warm up afterwards, and drink plenty of liquids.

Weather.com, Popular Mechanics, and Web MD have even more tips and advice. 

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