Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

Greet 2018 with optimism, and maybe also some hand sanitizer

Many people like to celebrate New Year’s Day with traditions, like eating black-eyed peas or taking a flying leap into frigid water. I kicked off 2018 with a time-honored tradition of my own: a travel delay, courtesy of United Airlines.

When I arrived at Charleston International Airport at 9 a.m. on January 1, ninety minutes early like you’re supposed to, I learned from the departures board that my flight was delayed an hour. Most airlines would have texted or emailed this news immediately, but not United because, really, who wants to find out while they’re still at the hotel that they could steal an extra hour on New Year’s Day? It’s not like most of us were sleep-deprived after staying up late the night before or anything. And who wouldn’t prefer to spend extra time in the airport rather than in Charleston itself? Forget Rainbow Row, the Battery, and Fort Sumter: give me Gate 2B.

As the delay continued, United communicated with passengers only through the departures board, which, as reliability goes, more closely resembled a ouija board. Ultimately we left three hours late, and I found myself repeating a familiar refrain when it comes to my travels with United: at least we left.

After landing at Dulles, I headed to the above-ground garage at my office, where I had parked my car four days earlier. Because the temperature, like Trump’s approval ratings, was plummeting with no bottom in sight, my car quite reasonably decided it didn’t feel like moving under these conditions. I called roadside assistance. An hour later, they arrived, revived my car, and sent me on my way. I got home at 6:30 p.m., six hours behind schedule.

My Italian ancestors –people who believed eating pork on New Year’s Day would bring you good luck –might have seen these mishaps as an inauspicious start to 2018, but I didn’t. (Though I did eat bacon at breakfast, because you shouldn’t leave some things to chance.) Overall, I felt quite lucky: while at the airport, I knocked out a tedious work project I’d been dreading. Roadside assistance came pretty fast, especially on a holiday, and I waited for them in the warmth of my office, with snacks on hand in the kitchen. And though the delays caused me to miss the traditional New Year’s Day dinner with Mom and Dad, I still got home faster than it would have taken me to drive the whole trip. In sum, a few things went wrong, but they went wrong in all the right ways, so I’ll call that a win.

Some of you might read the preceding sentence as proof that, if 2017 taught us anything, it taught us to lower our standards. You could be right, but that’s not what I took away from last year. Yes, I despaired with everyone else at our country’s polarization, at the surfacing of murderous racism in Charlottesville, at natural disaster in Puerto Rico and Houston, and at the potential for manmade disaster because the U.S. head of state is an impulse-fueled narcissist who really puts the “twit” in Twitter. But 2017 also reinforced a belief I have long held: the best way to counter what feels like large-scale negativity is through small-scale action and small-scale optimism.

I went into last year conscious of all that I had to look forward to on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Those sources of happy anticipation really delivered, and a few unexpected ones popped up, too.

I made three trips to New York: one in January with my dear friend LC, her mom and my mom, ostensibly to see the Roundabout Theater Company do “Holiday Inn,” but it also gave us a chance to check out One World Trade Center and have afternoon tea with champagne at the Plaza Hotel; a second in October with Mom and my brother to see Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden, something I’ve wanted to do for years; and the third in November with my sisters and parents, to see “Hamilton” and put a happy exclamation point on our celebration of Suzi’s 50th birthday.

I participated in the Women’s March in DC on January 21 with Mom, LC and my good friend Tricia. One of 2017’s most memorable phrases describes the march’s impact best: still, it persists.

In May I flew to Atlanta for my nephew’s fifth birthday and, with my brother’s help, surprised the birthday boy by popping out of an Amazon box. His younger brother will be in therapy for life as a result, but we all agree it was worth it.

My eldest nephew, J.J., graduated high school in June, which gave me an excuse to impart some words, or at least a word, of wisdom and to take him to Greece for two weeks, because that’s the kind of selfless aunt I am. We spent a week of our trip on Crete, where I became friends with someone who reignited my love for writing actual letters.

That trip was not all fun and games, mind you: it fell to me to teach the kid that you brush your teeth before you go to breakfast in public. Naturally, when December rolled around, J.J. got my name in the annual Yank Christmas gag gift exchange and got me a backup set of toothbrushes and toothpaste. Which I will absolutely pack when I take my nephew Casey on his graduation trip this year. (Destination: Iceland!)

Over the summer I started getting together with my friends Bud, who plays the guitar, and Vlada, who plays the violin, to collaborate on old jazz standards and some pop tunes. As much as I enjoy playing piano solo, nothing beats the joy of making music with friends, so I hope we get to do a whole lot more of it in 2018.

Our family celebrated my dad’s 75th birthday in August and gave Dad tickets to the Nats’ first playoff game, which I went to with him in September. We should’ve spent a little more and bought a victory, but Dad and I had a blast anyway.

And speaking of having a blast, in September, I took a trip with my boot camp pal Diane to see our friends and former boot-campers, Ted and Martha, who had moved to Durango, Colorado, a few months earlier. (Some people will do anything to get out of burpees.) Even if the altitude hadn’t left me breathless during our hikes, which it did, the gorgeous aspens and stunning vistas would have. I can’t wait to go back.

In November, electoral sanity returned to Virginia. (A bit of electoral insanity showed up in the Commonwealth this week when a tie in a House of Delegates race was settled by drawing names from a hat, but we won’t dwell on that.) And by way of teasers, something else really good happened in November that I might talk about on the podcast at some point.

In December, I got my parents’ console stereo fixed —one of my prize possessions –just in time for the voice of Johnny Mathis to make a Christmas cameo.

In sum, I experienced my fair share of joy in 2017, and I owe all of it to my friends and family. Those same people send me into 2018 with a healthy dose of optimism. And a flu shot, and Vitamin C, and copious hand sanitizer, because those things never hurt.

I hope 2018 brings you more than your fair share of joy. And may anything that goes wrong for you this year go wrong in all the right ways.

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Go ahead, make 2017 a year of forward-looking statements

I feel kinda sorry for 2017. Two thousand sixteen is a tough act to follow, and I don’t mean that in a good way. In a year when the proverbial stage desperately needed some Shakespeare, it got Charlie Sheen’s one-man show instead. This disappointing, laborious spectacle left audiences so hostile, exhausted and disgusted that no year in its right mind would want to take the stage after that. But 2017 is here, so we in the crowd might as well do what we can to help the newcomer succeed. How do we do it? The answer is simple: we give ourselves something to look forward to, every day, every week and every month.

Psychologists have long viewed the anticipation of a positive experience as a key to happiness. That’s great news, because we can choose to create positive anticipation, and that in turn means maintaining some control over our happiness no matter what presidencies, er, events are happening around us. Anyone who’s ever planned a vacation knows intuitively that looking forward to it gives you a boost long before you pack your bags. And, as a 2014 New York Times article points out, anticipating something great, and savoring that anticipation, not only increases the chances that the experience itself will be good but helps counteract any negativity that ensues if it doesn’t live up to the hype.

So let’s start off 2017 in a way that Wall Street would hate: by making tons of forward-looking statements. Here’s what I’m already looking forward to this year…

… by the day:

  • Sweating: I make a point of exercising nearly every day. Swimming, running, and going to boot camp not only make me feel good physically but also do wonders for my mental health, creativity, and overall outlook. That makes it pretty easy to get out of bed in the morning.
  • Reading a book: I wind down every day by reading at least a few pages of a book. It settles my mind and helps my writing. And if I wake up for long stretches in the middle of the night, as I am wont to do, reading eases my frustration.
  • My neighbors: I live in a great ‘hood, on a great street, where we all know each other, look out for each other – these unbelievable people shoveled me out from Snowzilla when I sprained my wrist last year – and enjoy the occasional front lawn happy hour. I see at least one of my neighbors pretty much every day, sometimes for only a moment as I drive past, but even just the exchange of a friendly wave makes me smile.
  • My family: Not a day goes by without one or more members of Team Yank calling, texting or emailing to say “hi,” send a photo or share a hilarious story. Many of their communications do all three.
  • My friends: My pals are fun, interesting, talented people who enrich my life every day in some way, including by sweating next to me, introducing me to cool places like Costa Rica, or keeping me apprised of such crucial current events as the dates of Barry Manilow’s farewell tour.
  • Music: I always find joy in music, whether I’m making it or just listening to it.

…by the week:

  • The podcast: it’s one of the most fun things I do, hands-down. The combination of hanging out with Philippa and talking about dating adds up to a whole lot of laughter.
  • Writing: not always one of the most fun things I do, but it makes me more engaged in my world, and that’s a great thing. Besides, I’m close to having a first draft of my second book, and I want to cross that finish line.
  • Walks with friends: my pal Bud and I do our best to take weekly walks together, even when it’s cold. I love the exercise, the camaraderie and the laughter.
  • Tuesdays with Larry: my comedy partner and I get together pretty much every week to throw around new material. Sometimes we get absolutely nothing done, but even those fails are successes, because we’re always laughing.
  • More meet-ups: My hike with the Capital Area Hiking Club was a rousing success, so I’m gonna try to do more meet-ups. It’s a great way to try new things, or to meet new people while doing stuff I already enjoy.

…by the month (presented in fragments because these aren’t yet fully formed):

  • January: Going to see Wicked with Mom, Lynne and Emily; taking a trip to NYC with my great friend, LC, and both of our moms; the Women’s March; taking Dad to lose a bunch of money at the new casino at National Harbor; resuming standup comedy stints.
  • February: L.J.‘s birthday; trip to Atlanta to see him, my sister-in-law, and the kiddos. More standup.
  • March: A Joe Bonamassa concert with two people I adore; UVA basketball and March Madness; the official arrival of Spring; the National Cherry Blossom Festival, and maybe even actual cherry blossoms!
  • April: Mom’s birthday; my parents’ anniversary; cherry blossoms! (And maybe the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler?) another chance to reprise my role as the neighborhood Easter Bunny; Opening Day for Major League Baseball!
  • May: Mother’s Day; Memorial Day = cookouts, outdoor swimming, front lawn happy hours, outdoor concerts, etc.
  • June: Father’s Day; a landmark birthday for my sister Suzi; my nephew J.J.’s graduation, followed by a two-week graduation trip with JJ to celebrate said graduation (the burden I carry as his aunt).
  • July: Celebratory graduation trip, cont’d!
  • August: The Yank family reunion; Lynne’s birthday; Dad’s birthday.
  • September: Steve Martin and Martin Short at Wolf Trap. (ALERT: I bought two tickets, so those who are interested in being my plus-one should start lobbying now!)
  • October: Hikes to enjoy the fall foliage; another chance to judge the neighborhood Halloween costume contest.
  • November: YANKSGIVING!!!!!
  • December: Star Wars Episode VIII! I don’t know how I’ll top 2016’s “I’ve gone further for less” Rogue One experience, but if I have to go to Hawaii to see Episode VIII, so be it.

Whaddya know, the same things that make me happy every day – family, friends, exercise, outdoors, laughter, and music – pop up regularly in my weekly and monthly lists, too. Another cool thing? I know the list will only grow.

Try making your own list and I bet you’ll not only make the same discoveries but find that the simple act of making the list sets a perfect stage for 2017. Happy New Year, everyone!