What Does A Year Feel Like?

Hour glass with sand

So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Psalm 90

Once upon a time, I taught first grade.

I remember a humorous incident one December day just before vacation. I helped the children cut out paper snowflakes and write a wish for the New Year. After dismissal, I noticed Daniel still at his desk, stuffing his backpack with his pencil case, books, and folders.

When I asked what he was doing, Daniel replied, “I don’t want to forget any of my stuff. Oh, and thanks for being my teacher. First grade was fun!”

Child as desk with crayon box

Time may flow in one direction. but how we experience its passage is more individual.

What does a year feel like?

During the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, people across the nation reported disorientation about time passing. Funny social media memes abound.

Pandemic Meme about time

Without our usual schedules, social activities, holiday celebrations, and other time markers, the days blurred together.  The heightened stress and fear only compounded this sensation.

Our memories got mushed.

I felt both comforted and validated hearing these reports. Now others might understand what I experienced after the traumatic loss of my father.

Grief and trauma distorts our sense of time.

Days stretch and bend. Past and present fuse. The months seem like moving parts. Memories shuffle like a deck of cards.

The future looms unreal. Waiting unbearable. 

I had not known before
    Forever was so long a word.
The slow stroke of the clock of time
    I had not heard.

Paul Laurence Dunbar

What does a year feel like?

A lifetime. Or a dream. A ballad or a song. A blink.

Calendar pages flipped through,

For some, this state-of-being is temporary. For others, it persists.

Your friend sends a Happy New Year wish and you’re still standing on the edge of June.

Time is a relentless trickster. It plays hide and seek on us. It sweeps by when we’re not looking. Pushes us forward whether we’re ready or not.

Lost time is never found.

Benjamin Franklin

Our brains are hard-wired to remember negative events better than positive ones. We recall rebuke more than praise, and rejection more than affection.

Remembering the good, especially during hard times, can help overcome this negativity bias.

So, I’ve begun making a list of all the good moments of 2022. Looking through photographs and my calendar helps.

Give it a try. You’ll get an instant lift.

Woman at desk with notebook writing a list.

Here are some highlights:

*A January sunset sail in Key West. 

*Hanging out with my family members in beautiful Sarasota.

*The joy of attending my daughter’s postponed 2020 college commencement.

*The fun of a family gathering in the Catskills.

*An incredible Writer’s Retreat in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

*Welcoming a new grandson and 2 additional members to our family tree.

*An unexpected birthday gift arrives in the mail.

Forever is composed of nows. by Emily Dickinson

There are joys to be found in the present.

A sunny writing room.

A surprise message from an old friend.

Hugs from your grown kids.

Breakfast prepared for you.

Gratitude gives light to the dark days. 

These past months have been very hard. I am grateful for those who stood by me.

Long winding road toward the sun

I am grateful to the organizations that supported my writing this year: Key West Literary Seminar, Tuscan Book Festival, Joyce Maynard Write by the Lake, and Story Studio Chicago.

And I’m grateful to you readers for sharing this journey through time. Wishing you all a light-filled New Year!

What’s on your best days of 2022 list?

Do You Like Sad Music? Here’s why…


“Bittersweetness is the hidden source of our moon shots, masterpieces, and loves stories.” ~Susan Cain

In her early twenties, author Susan Cain began wondering why she found sad music strangely uplifting. From Leonard Cohen to Albinoni’s Adagio, mournful songs seemed to open her heart and inspire a sense of connectedness.

She spent the next two decades exploring how humans have turned sorrow into creativity, transcendence, and love.

Her new book, Bittersweet: How Sorry and Longing Makes Us Whole, examines not just why we experience the state of yearning, but how transforming our heartaches can help us turn toward each other and bring meaning.

Penguin Random House

Do you have the bittersweet temperament? Cain offers a research-based quiz to see where you fall on the spectrum. Here are a few of the questions:

-Do you tear up easily at touching TV commercials?

-Are you especially moved by old photographs?

-Do you react intensely to music, art, or nature?

-Do you feel elevated by sad music?

-Do you seek out beauty in your everyday life?

My high score put me as a “true connoisseur of the place where light and dark meet.” Not surprising, at all. I was the kid who cried at Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” theme.

Bittersweet is a word we often toss around. Cain’s precise definition really resonates with me.

A tendency to states of longing, poignancy, and sorrow: an acute awareness of passing time; and a curiously piercing joy at the beauty of the world. The recognition that light and dark, birth and death—bitter and sweet—are forever paired.

Cain sees our pull toward sad music as intertwined with the sweet parts of life. It expresses our longing for a more beautiful and perfect world. She describes Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” as an expression of the yearning for transcendent love.

This active state of yearning, particularly for the unattainable, which she names “the great ache“, has always been part of our shared humanity. This universal longing is conjured into some of the world’s most beautiful music. 

Our oldest problem is the pain of separation; our deepest dream is the desire for reunion.

The author cites research that demonstrates how melancholy melodies help modulate our emotions and physiology. Kind of like having a good cry. Some of us enjoy this emotional arousal and catharsis.

She quotes a musicologist from the 19th century who describes the key of C minor as the “longing of the lovesick soul“. 

Darya Tryvanava

Sad music can elicit “exalted states of communion and awe.” The song lyrics, as well, can make us feel less alone, as if someone else out there understands our pain. This music can offer space to reflect upon and process sad events.

Paradoxically, research shows that, for some, listening to sad music can mend a broken heart.

Cain explores other related questions in this book:

Why do we long for the perfect? How should we cope with lost love? How can we live and work authentically in a “tyranny of positivity”? How should we live, knowing that we and everyone we love will die?

Paul Klee, “Strong Dream”, 1929

Bittersweet is a fascinating mixture of memoir, philosophy, psychology, and storytelling.

Upbeat music makes us want to dance around the kitchen and invite friends to dinner. Sad music makes us want to touch the sky.

Do you find listening to melancholy music healing? Here’s one of my favorites.

What’s on your sad song list?


Strange Encounters On A Sidewalk.

In the department of random encounters, I experienced another one on a recent trip to Chicago. I’m still thinking about it. 

I take a cab from the airport to my hotel. The driver misses the hotel entrance by half a block. “This is fine,” I say.

I step out into the sunshine. Just as I begin pulling my luggage across the quiet, treelined street, I see–or think I see–a startling sight.

A elderly man, well-dressed. On his hands and knees. On the sidewalk.

I run over to him. “Are you okay?”

“No”, he says, his voice shaking. “I fell.” Blood drips from his face onto the cement.

I drop my bags, crouch beside him. “Should I call an ambulance?”

His arms are shaking. “Just need help getting up. I’ve been trying…”

I ask his name. “Okay, Harold. I’ll try lifting you.”

I stand behind him, bend down, and wrap my arms around his chest. “One, two…” After some struggle, I manage to get him standing.

Harold grabs onto my arm, steadying himself. “What are you, my guardian angel?”

I smile at this term I often use, then introduce myself. “Are you sure I can’t call for help?  Maybe your doctor?”

He says he happens to have an appointment tomorrow. “Lucky thing, huh?” Harold puts a finger to his dripping nose. “How bad is it?”

 I look closely at his wounds, trying to figure if they need stitching. I reach in my bag for a tissue, carefully dab at the cuts. He winces. “Your forehead has a gash. Looks like you smashed your nose.”

“Well there goes my movie contract.”

His joke calms my nerves. I try to clean up the dripping blood.

I retrieve his cane. “Where do you live? Can I call you a cab home?

He names a nearby suburb, 15 minutes away. His car is parked down the block and around the corner. Can I walk with him? he asks

Trepidation. Not sure I can manage that. What if he falls again? “Harold, do you think you can drive?”

“I’ll see how it goes once I get to my car.”

Then, as if on cue, a strong-looking man exits a nearby building. His eyes widen when he sees the two of us. “Need some help?”

Relief.

Harold says, “This nice woman came to my rescue.”

I explain the situation and my uncertainty about Harold’s condition. The man nods as if to say, Don’t worry, I got this.

Harold thanks me, shakes my hand. I wish him good luck.

* * *

Not until I am in my hotel room, do I notice the blood on my arms.

I scrub at the sink. Surprise tears come. Don’t know why. My brain is still processing what just happened, how I, once again, found myself in the “right place at the right time” to aid a stranger

I take deep breaths.

A buried memory surfaces. My elderly father walking alone to synagogue on a Saturday morning. He trips and falls face first on the sidewalk.

 A stranger comes over to help, waits with him for the EMT to arrive.

When I later hear about this, I picture my father in his suit lying on the sidewalk. I imagine his indignity, the pain, his bruised face. But Dad’s sense of humor puts me at ease. “I’ll just tell everyone I got into a brawl,” he says over the phone. “Good conversation starter at my age.”

* * *

I recently had the pleasure of watching my granddaughter take her first steps. Then fall down. Her father gave her a hand, and she tried again, happily toddling across the floor.

Photo: Jordan Christian

In the midst of this joyful moment, the image of Harold on his hands and knees flashes in my mind. I remember every detail: his thin voice, the feel of his grey sweater vest, blood on his white shirt collar, his dress shoes straining against the sidewalk. His watery blue eyes.

My thumping heart.

I consider the strange timing of the incident, and that, oddly, no one had passed by to help him before I arrived on the scene.

Fall. Just think about how often we use that verb.

Fall from grace. Fall under the influence. Fall off the wagon. Fall into despair. Fall on hard times. Fall for the joke. Fall into a trance. Fall asleep. Fall behind. Fall apart.

Fall head over heels in love.

This can also wound.

Whether metaphorically or physically, we all fall at some point. Let’s hope someone will be around to lend a hand. 

Staying Strong In Times of Transition

When working with my private writing students, I show them how to use transitions to establish logical connections in their essays.

Transitions are words, phrases, and sentences that signal relationships between ideas. Once you get the hang of using them, they make your writing flow.

Grammarly

If only the transitions in our lives were as simple and clearly defined.

I’m writing this post on September 22, the beginning of the autumnal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere.

The Sun will shine directly on the equator and there will be nearly equal amounts of day and night throughout the world.

According to the astronomical calendar, my favorite season–summer–has officially ended.

Another transition.

As glorious as the early fall days are in New England, the shortening of the daylight begins to weigh on me. Increased work demands detract from my creative endeavors.

Bittersweet fall anniversaries arrive.

The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, is a transition to a time of reflection and renewal. The holiday begins on the eve of September 25 and coincides with the New Moon.

During this lunar phase, the Moon is located on same side of the Earth as the Sun. The moon won’t be visible in the night sky.

The missing moonlight, however, makes for a better time to observe galaxies and star clusters. Bonus!

This idea got me thinking….

When someone is missing in our lives, we live under a dark shadow. It’s hard to see past the loss.

Yet, perhaps, like during the New Moon, this period of darkness offers us an opportunity to see more clearly.

For only when the moonlight “hides” can the faint objects come into full view.

Like following the stars of a constellation, you begin to “connect the dots”.

Maybe you’ll have a eureka moment, like a meteoric flash, that transforms the horizon.

If it is still possible for your loved one to return, then you may reconnect with greater understanding. You can share the insights observed in your night sky.

And if there is no chance for return, then hopefully the clarity and awareness gained from their absence can help you transition to a new phase.

What does the transition to autumn mean to you?

Dear Reader, Thanks For Writing!

Writers appreciate hearing from their readers.

M. Weidenhoff

Writing can be a lonely business. You spend hours in your head, talking to yourself, hanging out with imaginary people.

You sit at a desk trying to spin chaos into order.

Some days, the jumble of words magically align, like a string of pearls to polish and present.  

But where these words land, who sees them, and how they are received is not always apparent.

That’s why it is so gratifying to hear from a reader–whether in-person, through email, or online comment. (I occasionally get a phone call but only from those I know personally.)

Many of you prefer communicating via the Contact Evelyn page rather than leaving a public comment. Some readers ask for writing advice.

Through my website, I’ve heard from men I once dated and friends from years back. Occasionally, I get a creepy letter or comment. That’s when the BLOCK option comes in handy.

My blog stats range far and near: Israel, India, Denmark, New Zealand, Romania. I hear from kindred spirits across the country. I feel fortunate to have met, in Real Life, two of my blog readers and was enriched by the experience.

My July 2022 post Is It Ever Too Late To Find Love? generated a lot of mail. (Including one marriage proposal!) You had lots to say on this topic and wanted to share your tales of both woe and joy in love.

Loui Juver

Because I write frequently about grief, I receive letters from readers sharing their personal loss. These are the hardest letters to read, but also the ones that most touch my heart.

A distraught woman who had just lost a close family member in a fiery car crash wrote to me a couple months ago. She read an essay I’d recently published in Chicken Soup for the Soul. Her letter was detailed, heartfelt, and, I admit, triggering for me.

Still, I took the time to answer the best I could, knowing that she was in the hardest part of her grief journey.

A.M Zilberman

Ten years ago, I published an essay in Tablet Magazine about feeling ambivalent toward my 20 year old daughter’s impending marriage. This story continues to circulate, probably around wedding season, and I receive emails from mothers and fathers in a similar predicament. Fortunately, I have gained wisdom since then to share, along with a happy ending.

I receive fewer letters about my short fiction, though some readers have questioned whether I was writing about them. Answer: No.

One of the most memorable letters came from a Montana reader of my YA novel, One Is Not A Lonely Number.

“I’m the only Jewish girl in my school. Reading your book made me feel less alone. Getting to know Talia and her friends meant so much to me. I loved the way you showed how they were religious but also regular girls who get into fights and mess up like everyone else...”

Whether a debut or seasoned author, such personal letters often mean more to the writer than a book review or promotional tweet (which, of course, are also appreciated!)

I like to pay the kudos forward.

After reading a book or story that impacted me, I will take a moment to find the author’s contact info and let him/her know. This practice has led to enjoyable correspondence for me as well.

We creative souls write for many reasons: to make sense of the world, understand ourselves, explore obsessions, persuade, provoke, illuminate, entertain, and inspire.

Many of us write to connect with others.

So, thank you dear reader for writing!

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