Happy New Year, and Everything It Brings!

Happy New Year, and Everything It Brings!

I could sit here trying to come up with something profound and quote-worthy to say about 2020, but it would be a lie. It has not been, “the best of years” nor has it been, universally, “the worst of years.” Maybe it has been one of the most off-kilter of years. For some, the saddest and the scariest. For others, the most unjust and disappointing. For some, it has meant opportunities seized; for others, opportunities glimpsed, from under a warm blanket, as they went flying by. We have all been touched by the pandemic in some way, but the truth of it is, we’ve had different experiences of it — good, bad, and everything in between. “Where were you when the first lockdowns were announced?” will join “Where were you when the Challenger blew up?”

We’re all “in it together, separately.” And that’s okay. But I think enough’s been said about this year to leave it feeling like warm horseshit wrapped in chocolate with a glittering crust of way too much sugar. A nauseating and unnourishing lump of something  that’s been rolled downhill more times than a sturdy haggis, slammed into a sand trap by a carrot-topped golfer in dingy gray whites, and spit into the sea by an annoyed alligator stung on the ass by a murder hornet for good measure. And yet…and yet. It’s not been all bad, has it? Not if I’m here to write this and you’re here to read it.

Let’s move on, shall we?

To my friends on the other side of the planet, where it is already 2021, I say “Happy New Year! Treat 2021 kindly, or at least don’t piss it off before we get there to wish it well!” To my Australian friends, in particular: “Please, please, for the love of all that’s holy, don’t let the funnel web spiders get drunk and mate with the murder hornets, eh?”

To my friends on the east coast of the USA – look on the bright side: No need to brave slush, snow, and drizzle to join a crowd of a million people in Times Square, this year! Watch the festivities online, where it’s warm and safe. Zoom with friends, and share a toast. Frankly, I’m a little thankful for rain where I live. Not to be a wet blanket on the fireworks thing, but neighbors have been setting them off since Christmas and we could all use a break. Especially those folks on NextDoor who have pets, and the ones who aren’t quite sure whether it’s gunshots, fireworks, really loud champagne corks, domestic violence, or the start of World War III. Let’s let everyone have one good night’s sleep to “ring in the year.”

Please don’t drink and drive. Most hospitals are short-staffed, short on beds, and are doing triage, these days. Triage is where someone runs around a mass casualty and plays, “Duck, duck, go!” only it’s more like, “Right now, next week, dead!” You get your drunk self into an accident, you’ll be lucky if they patch you up in a Whataburger parking lot and post your idiot face on social media. Come to think of it, just don’t get drunk. It’s not going to be fun when the EMTs have to drag you out, feet first, from between the shower and the toilet to patch you up in a Whataburger parking lot before posting your idiot face on social media. Give your local hospitals and healthcare professionals a break, and celebrate responsibly.

No New Year’s Eve ever feels complete without ABBA singing, “Happy New Year.”

New Year’s Eve Aha! Moments

Responding to a comment by a friend, this morning – a friend who was complimenting my writing and calling it “occasionally edgy” – I wrote,

…when my mind’s in a really dark place, my writing isn’t really ‘edgy.’ It’s more like a pathetic little bathtub filled with quicksand, where you can almost imagine me wallowing around, trying to pretend my feet don’t touch the bottom. I get about two paragraphs in, start muttering, ‘Oh, FFS…’ and stop. Take a walk, take a nap, take two aspirin and call my Muse in the morning.


I can’t write drunk, either. I suspect those writers who are notorious for drugs and drink were battling other demons — and trying to silence them long enough to write, not the other way around as so many young writers imagine. I don’t like it when my Muse drinks and falls asleep on me. It’s just boring.


Now that I’ve retired, I’m starting to think that my best writing time is in the morning after a good night’s sleep — which is, frankly, a surprise to me, since mornings have so long been filled with cursing the alarm clock, fixing or eating breakfast, getting the kids ready for school, getting me ready for work, and then commuting to the office. Me, write in the morning? This does not compute! But there we have it — perhaps the only real epiphany of 2020, and it comes on the last day.

And if there is no such thing as “mere coincidence,” then there have been a few noticeable themes that keep popping up lately. To the same friend, who also complimented my artwork and claimed that she “didn’t have that same outlet,” I wrote:

I’m thinking that I am being called to mentor several of my women friends on letting go of other people’s unrealistic expectations and negative opinions of us (or, really, our perceptions of what their expectations and opinions are, since they’re much more likely to be caught on their own mental hamster wheels, worrying what we think of them than they are having any expectations or opinions at all, of us).


I hid my little drawings for the longest time. When I finally worked on some during Inktober, and did them in the living room while watching TV, then got the nerve to post them on Instagram, I was surprised at how many people liked them. I see amateurish efforts that fail to fully express what I “see” in my head. But my husband liked them, and my sister in law said she’d buy them before buying some $750 paintings we saw at an art exhibit, and people whose artwork I really admire followed me on Instagram! I still don’t think of myself as “an artist” in the way I do as a writer. But neither have I – nor likely will I – dedicate the time and effort in practicing art as seriously as I have writing – over decades! So why should I compare myself to those who have? I have no expectations of my artistic skills, nor does anyone else. I still struggle a little with disappointment when the thing on my paper is so far off the thing in my head, but then I remind myself that I have more than 1000 words with which to describe that thing to you, and even if my sketches are worth only a few words, they’re not my only means of self-expression. Just something different to play with.

New Year’s Resolutions

If they don’t work for you, and you don’t believe in making them, that’s fine. I’m hedging all the bets. New Year’s Day dinner will include pork shoulder, black-eyed peas, sauerkraut, fresh salad, and cornbread. The details of my resolutions are unimportant; what matters is that they are written down in my journal and are already in progress. If you make them, put some thought in them and don’t feel a need to share – but do write them down and commit to them. Make them specific and time-bound, and break them into steps. Make each milestone measurable – not “read more” but “read one book each week for 52 weeks.” Put them just slightly out of reach – make them challenging enough not to bore you into abandoning them, but not so challenging that they defeat you at the first setback. Hold yourself accountable, or ask a friend to do that with you. I have asked a couple of friends to hold me accountable for writing something to enter into a writing contest with the deadline of February 1. Last year, I “got busy” and let that slip past unnoticed.

Don’t let 2021 slide by unnoticed. All the things you were unhappy about in 2020? Make a list. Then break that down into “What can I do to FIX this?” or “How can I make sure this doesn’t happen again?” The answer may be “Not a whole hell of a lot,” or it may just feel that way at first. But sleep on it. Think about it. Get proactively involved – in your own life, your community, politics, volunteering, letter-writing, job-seeking, friend-making. Or let those things go that you can’t control – because they will just suck up all your time and steal your joy. Focus on what you already have the power to do, or figure out what you need to learn or do to have the power you need.

My #OneWord365 for 2021

My #OneWord365 for 2021

Do I dare?

I mean, it just feels like tempting fate, at this point. Resolutions – SMART goals – used to work well enough. Specific. Measurable. Aspirational. Reasonable. Time-bound. This #OneWord365 business, though? For several years, for all the good it’s done me to choose a word to serve as a guiding beacon to my intentions, I might as well choose Death, War, or Destruction. It would practically guarantee immortality, peace, and growth.

I’m not good at this. This year’s word? Oh, such a wonderful word, when I chose it in 2019. I even gave a Toastmasters speech about it.  Can’t remember, now, what I blathered on about. The word was #Observant. I suppose if we count #NavelGazing as observant, I have mastered it. I am ready to move on. In all seriousness, I suppose that I have been observant within the four walls of my home. I have observed my husband and the myriad ways he cares for me, for our family, and for our home. I could stand to be more active than observant.

Somewhere in my psyche, there is a disappointed child, pouting. That child got what it deserved, for rudely kicking 2019 as it headed out the door, I suppose. But for that child, 2020 was like Ralphie expecting the Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle and unwrapping the box to find soap and underwear and a little lump of coal. Unlike some people, the pandemic has not inspired me to learn six new languages, create and care for a sourdough starter, paint the walls (or anything else, for that matter). Like others, it has thrown me for a loop. I am not depressed; I’m just…on hold. Like a plane, circling O’Hare or JFK at Christmas.

I am at least as functional as a snarky coffee mug, and compassionate enough to admit it to my fellow dishware and say that maybe we should just rejoice that we’re still able to hold onto our coffee.
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I am at least as functional as a snarky coffee mug, and compassionate enough to admit it to my fellow dishware and say that maybe we should just rejoice that we’re still able to hold onto our coffee. A sturdy mug needs do no more. It is enough to stand, stalwart among the others, confident that it will be plucked from the shelf, filled to the brim, and warmed to its core – if only it weathers the settling dust, the occasional waterboarding in the dishwasher, the mockery from newer crockery. We don’t need to be glazed over; we need to tell the stories hinted at by our crazing, tiny lines, and cracks.

If #Observant is a way of seeing, I’ve written more poetry this year than I have in a decade, and a few readers seemed to enjoy it – even egged me on to write more of it. I have written or recycled 170+ stories on Medium. That’s paid only slightly better than child labor wages in a third-world country, but this “gamification” of writing has kept me writing. At about a dollar a day, it has paid for the web hosting of this blog that I have, ironically, neglected in favor of it.

As I was cleaning up for the holidays, I ran across the dusty optimism of Writers’ Market 2020, purchased in 2019 – its price now a penance, like an unused gym membership. But it is still there. Are the publishers who are listed in it? Are they still there? I wonder. 2020 has been hard on everyone. We’re not “all in it together,” but there is a common thread that that connects us all, in some way, isn’t there? I run a very small writers group on Slack, for writer-friends, where we can escape the din of rancorous politics and the staticky noise of social media to focus on writing, helping one another out, and keeping each other accountable – if that’s requested – for our stated goals.

I’m grateful for teachers and editors who taught me not to fear the red pen, and for mentor-managers who instilled in me a work ethic and the ability to detach from the product when it came to writing that has spilled over even into blogging and self-publishing. Do your best, be grateful for the editors who keep you from looking stupid in public, and when everyone misses that glaring error and it’s there in print to haunt you forever – let it go. Let it serve as a reminder that perfection is unobtainable. “Better” is a good goal. And “good enough” is truly good enough – for today. The ability to practice observe-and-release, in life, is a gift. It helps break us out of holding patterns, lets us land, so we can take off for new destinations.

To answer the question I posed at the start: Of course I dare.

I am dragging that recalcitrant, pouting child out into the sunshine. “Hello, Brat. Talk to me. Or run across that open field and play. Get out of the corner, stop reading about microbiology and economics – you’re boring yourself to death over there – and stop acting as if the world’s stopped turning, because you know it hasn’t. You’d have flown off its surface, bumped into the gnarly branches of your favorite tree, and had all the oxygen sucked from your lungs while you freeze-dried yourself and shattered into a million sparkling shards, only to melt in your next encounter with a star. So get up and throw yourself down the rabbit holes.”

Rekindling the magic of imagination doesn’t happen with a cutesy spark of inspiration, clearly. My Muse, such as it is, requires reaching in with both hands, rooting around in the brain for it, wherever it’s sulking, then grabbing hold with a determined snarl and giving it a yank.

My #OneWord365? IMAGINE.

Imagine that.

4 Things 2020 Taught Me

4 Things 2020 Taught Me

There’s very little that 2020 truly taught me, though it may have driven a few untested lessons home like a pile-driver, and I’d give myself a “C” at best, for most of them. Among the things that 2020 has taught me is that life’s too short for superficial platitudes, so I’m not going to give you any – even if a few of them ring true.

Solitude is Only Sweet When It’s By Choice

The first revelation, though, is that empathetic introverts suffer anxiety when the extroverts around them are climbing the walls. And then, we begin not to revel in our solitude as much as we otherwise might. It becomes obvious that choice is key to the difference between solitude and house arrest, and I began to see that there has always been a flaw to my logic – that if I were ever to commit a crime, I’d pray for solitary confinement. Instead, I think I’ll recommit to living a good and honest life, because there is no happy in between – and I’m not cut out for gen pop or solitary.

Life Can Be a Journey or a Series of Holding Patterns

Some people learned to bake sourdough bread. Others learned a new language. I learned to make an easy Dutch oven bread and I bought a lifetime subscription to Rosetta Stone I haven’t used, yet. Does that count? Was that my one nod to hope – to assume that I would actually have a lifetime beyond 2020, in order to make that purchase worthwhile?

Maybe it was just too much of a sad reminder of ruined travel plans, but had hope really been more than a half-glowing ember with a patina of gray ash, I might have started learning Portuguese. But it’s still there – I at least kept my options open. I have saved concert tickets rescheduled from last September to next. I have plans for a year from now, and if that’s not “hope,” what is? I always said that a pessimist is just an optimist who can’t take disappointment. So, if ever I seem pessimistic, remember that. It’s not negativity – it’s keeping the fluttering butterflies of hope under the net till it’s time to fly. That’s all.

Tomorrow May Never Come

Reach out and let old friends know you’re thinking of them. A friend died, over the summer. I hadn’t seen her since March or talked to her in nearly a month before she died. She died alone, and was found four days later. She’d be the first to remind me that the phone worked both ways and not to beat myself up over that, and she’d be right. It was a bittersweet chance for me to get to know her cousin better, and to touch base with mutual friends and former colleagues I hadn’t talked to in 10-20 years. We think we have all the time in the world, but none of us do.

Isn’t it funny how, as we grow older, the news that some celebrity has died “aged 97” or so, no longer elicits a casual, “Good for them – that was a good long life!” Yeah, and so would 100 have been. But having said that, I don’t think I’d choose immortality. The world needs young people with new ideas. Not young people reinventing the wheel for no particularly good reason, but fresh ideas and innovations. To the young people out there: That’s not just another app for tracking Instagram followers, you hear me? That’s cybersecurity, peace, affordable healthcare and housing for all, eliminating hunger, mitigating the effects of climate change…

2020 and 2019 Were Friends

Remember when we toasted to the start of 2020, a brand new decade, yelling at 2019 not to let the door hit it on the way out?

I’m convinced that they were friends. Just as those high school nerds might have been friends with your secret crush, 2019 was friends with 2020. And 2020 saw how we treated 2019. Maybe we forgot to stop and appreciate the things that went well. Surely, there were a few? Maybe we were just too eager to get it over with, and rushed through life with blinders on. Well, 2020 sure showed us, didn’t it?

So I suggest that, this New Year’s Eve, we toast to a strange and sometimes tragic year, but make an effort to remember whatever good things it brought, and bless it on its way out, even as we welcome 2021. Just in case they’re still on speaking terms.


57 Things I’m Grateful For in 2020

57 Things I’m Grateful For in 2020

I was going to pass this one by. I mean, it’s too tempting just to say, “I’m grateful for everything that didn’t suck in 2020” and have done with it. And I don’t want to sound like I’m giving some Academy Award speech – “Cram it into two minutes, be sure you don’t forget anyone or anything important, then shut up and get off the stage when you hear the music playing” – but I really would hate to leave anyone or anything out. This is why people keep “Gratitude Journals,” isn’t it? So they’re not left stressing over their sins of omission in December?

All right, here goes – not an exhaustive or prioritized list, by any means, but I am not older than Methuselah and this is supposed to be “one for every year you’ve been alive.” Or, to catch up – “Holly’s Hindsight 57.”  I am thankful for:

  1. My husband: I married well and wisely, 36 years ago – and that the man is still taking care of me and putting up with my nonsense to this day. Mostly with a sense of humor.
  2. My daughter and my son: healthy young adults that I am exceedingly proud of; I am grateful that I got to be their mom.
  3. My grandson: our whole family is so lucky to have him in it.
  4. My dad and my mother in law: that they are still active, healthy, happy, independent, and make growing older look not-so-scary after all.
  5. My extended family: two brothers, a sister, and cousins – some by birth and most by marriage, but it just seems too wordy to keep tacking on “in law” after all these years – they are “by choice” and “in heart.”
  6. Early retirement: despite the pandemic screwing up most of my grand plans, it has been fun – and I do try hard to remember how annoying it was, when I was still working, and my dad would say things like, “Every day is Saturday!” I try. I don’t always succeed.
  7. Good health: something we should all appreciate with heightened awareness, in 2020.
  8. People who care about strangers enough to sacrifice their own comfort and freedoms – e.g., wearing masks, sharing/donating to non-profits, continuing to work to keep essential services going). Postal workers, trash collectors, grocery store workers, and cleaning services are high on this list.
  9. Healthcare workers – from the doctors and nurses on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, to the medical equipment repair people, the housekeeping and administrative staffers, everyone in the supply chain, and researchers who’ve worked overtime to bring us accurate diagnostic tests and the hope of a vaccine in record time.
  10. Ample food and fresh drinking water.
  11. Toilet paper (and my husband’s foresight in stocking up on things before a pandemic, not during!)
  12. Soap.
  13. People who sew.
  14. Good, escapist fiction. And the fact that, once you make reading it a regular routine, the habit quickly returns. So, surprisingly, do dreams. Not daydreams – but real dreams that liven up a good night’s sleep.
  15. Technology that has kept us in touch with each other: (even, @#$%) Facebook and Twitter; (especially) Zoom; Slack; email; messaging apps.
  16. PeoplesHost: my web hosting company, for being supportive, affordable, easy to negotiate with (and working hard NOT to claim the rights to my writing). Also, for not only providing support but for explaining what they did so that (if possible) I can do it myself next time – IF I want to. If you’re looking for excellent web hosting, click the name – it’s an affiliate link, but doesn’t cost you extra. I highly recommend PeoplesHost.
  17. Medium.com: writing here has provided me a creative outlet and even though I only earn about $1/day writing there, it has been fun and has covered the expenses of running this website. Since last December, I have written 170 stories, articles, and poems over there.
  18. Amazon and Kindle: I never have to venture out to shop or find something good to read. Even as I am grateful, I feel guilty – support local small businesses and independent bookstores!
  19. Toastmasters and the organization’s flexibility: When the pandemic hit, Toastmasters.org, District 56 (Houston area), and the local clubs I belong to (Cy-Fair Super Speakers and bToasty) pivoted on a dime to implement remote meetings, contests, and conferences, and to adapt to not only helping members develop their public speaking skills, but also help those who were new to remote working, learning, and socializing get comfortable with their technology and become more effective online presenters. Use the Find a Club feature to locate a Toastmasters club near you (or drop in one one that’s currently meeting online – maybe half a world away – if you’ve missed out on traveling, this year). It’s free to guests, so feel free to attend and see if it’s something you’d enjoy.
  20. Baking and cooking “therapy.”
  21. Loose-fitting lounge pants and not having to wear anything dressier!
  22. Resilient restaurants and food-delivery services: “date night” didn’t have to be canceled once, during lockdowns! (Always be sure to tip your driver as well or better than you would your waiter!)
  23. Readers who rate and review the books they read.
  24. Readers who leave conversational comments on blogs!
  25. Readers.
  26. Good handwriting. I need to use it more.
  27. Affordable hardware and software that meet my needs, and access to the Internet and mobile service. So many of us take this for granted, yet so many are without these things that are truly essential during a pandemic.
  28. Access to public parks and walking trails.
  29. A comfortable home.
  30. Good climate. Yeah, we all gripe about Houston heat and humidity, but it beats the ovens of Arizona and the biting chill of Alaska, and I can’t think of too many places I’m desperate to trade it for.
  31. Salt: I could sooner live without sugar. You know how deer need salt licks? It’s like that. But don’t call me “Dear.”
  32. Chocolate. And not having to choose between sugar and salt. Diversity in all things is a good thing.
  33. Friends who “get” me, and can tell when I’m being flippant and playful (and play along) and when I’m being serious (and take me seriously). It’s a gift. Introvert that I am, I call most of them “astute readers.”
  34. Music. Though according to Spotify, I really need to build some new playlists soon, or at least randomly shuffle the songs on them. I think my ears were in a rut, just like the rest of the world in 2020.
  35. William Ian Millar for not telling me to “bugger off” all the times I begged him to sing me The Unicorn, and for playing The Orange and The Green for me during one of his Facebook Live performances!
  36. No cavities, no cancer, and no corneal erosions!
  37. Security cameras that mostly just get to function as wildlife cameras, and the entertaining squirrels, possum, cats, spiders, and anoles who star on them!
  38. A car that works. With a new battery that works. Shutdown plays hell on your car battery. Go drive your car around a while – gas is cheap and a new car battery is not.
  39. Flu shots (much as I despise needles) and Brenda, at the local CVS, who manages to give them painlessly.
  40. COVID vaccines hastening across the country and the world. I’m not sure life will ever quite get back to “normal” but that’s okay. This will help.
  41. Biden-Harris, and supremely qualified cabinet nominees.
  42. A Supreme Court that, despite our worst fears, did not forget all they’d ever learned in Constitutional Law.
  43. A revitalized Space exploration program.
  44. My fellow writers – especially the ones who manage to stay engaged, productive, supportive, and encouraging while also being well-rounded humans and allowing me to be the same. That is, we do other things besides write, and care that the others are succeeding at those as well, or at least muddling through this strange year with hearts, brains, and body intact.
  45. Ample art supplies.
  46. Spicy peppers.
  47. The fact that I have managed to keep (most of) the plants in my gardens – both indoors and out – alive. This is kind of a big deal for me.
  48. Having had our shower remodeled last year, so that I can stand under a hot cascade of water and pretend that I am at a swanky resort spa. For glass blocks that let in sparkling sunlight but shield me from the neighbors’ gaze (I’m sure they’re grateful to have their gaze shielded from my nekkid body, too!)
  49. Moderators on social media who do their job well, despite criticism and abuse. Granted, there are far too few and I don’t know many personally, but they are out there – and they are much needed.
  50. Cybersecurity experts and law enforcement that swiftly shuts down fraud and other malicious bad actors on the Internet.
  51. Empathetic, competent humans who work in customer support, anywhere in the world. You are a rare and underappreciated breed, and don’t get thanked half as much as you get bitched at – but I am thankful for you.
  52. Companies that use IVR call-back “keep your place in line” systems and don’t make me talk to a f***ing machine.
  53. Principled investigators, lawyers, and judges who do their jobs with enthusiasm, diligence, and strong ethics. May your efforts at rooting out corruption and defeating monopolistic corporate endeavors be successful and just.
  54. Anti-racists. Not colorblind people, but people who are committed to ending discriminatory nonsense in whatever forms they find it, wherever it exists.
  55. Rainbows. Especially wide, iridescent, shimmering displays of color in a lightning-streaked sky at dusk, and full double-rainbows in sunshine. And that indescribable change of light that indicates I’m right in the midst of a rainbow. This is the “gold” at the end of the rainbow, and if you’ve ever experienced it, you sense that fleeting, precious moment.
  56. Teachers and daycare workers who have figured out how best to serve students and juggle the needs of their own families on a moment’s notice, and the working parents who have figured out how to partner with their children’s teachers while juggling their own jobs, responsibilities, and worries. These children are our future. They can catch up on the learning, but only if they and their parents and their teachers survive the pandemic.
  57. Hope. Near the start of the pandemic, I used a COVID app – not a contact tracing app, but one that tracked symptoms. They added a “mood tracker,” and I realized my moods had all but flatlined. I felt nothing. Not anxiety, not worry, not sadness, not depression – but not joy, optimism, or most frighteningly, hope, either. I even Googled “loss of affect” and worried, briefly, that I might have early onset Alzheimer’s. Disturbingly, I didn’t care. But hope has slowly, quietly crept back in. And I am grateful for that.