Summer Without Camp… by Steve Safran

What all of us need this summer is a place for the kids to go where they can play, swim, and just be outdoors with their friends. A place with a lake, a baseball diamond, goofy songs and goofier crafts, paths through ancient pines… a place of their own.

They need summer camps. For parents trapped with school-aged kids, the need is bordering on desperation this year. And like so many of the things that could make any of this more bearable, they’re closed.

“Out of an abundance of love for everyone in our camp community, we cannot compromise the safety of our campers, teens, and staff … ” was written in a Camp Tel Noar email. Disappointed parents who had hoped their children would be able to trade Zoom screens for canoes in a few weeks opened similar messages. Tel Noar is a New Hampshire institution: a 75 year-old camp I attended as a kid from 1977-1981. It, along with Camp Tevya and Camp Pembroke are part of the Cohen Foundation camps, all three of which have announced they will be closed. This will leave them in serious financial trouble.

Summer camps don’t generally have endowments. Tel Noar (translation from Hebrew: “Youth Hill”) shared that they already “spent $3 million in facility maintenance, repairs, staff salaries, insurance (and) utilities.” At the same time they’re breaking the news that camp is canceled, they need to ask for donations to make up the shortfall. But, let’s face it, only a super-generous donor is going to mail the full tuition while their kids stay home. It won’t happen. Like some small colleges, a few of our beloved camps won’t survive.

However, summer camps are historically resilient, possibly because they are managed by people who provide a yearly respite from the worries of the world. Cape Cod Sea Camps in Brewster, MA is nearly 100 years old. It has seen its share of world-changing events: “Cape Cod Sea Camps has provided a camping experience every summer since 1922 and have held camp through the Great Depression, World War II, the polio epidemic and numerous other global events.”

But this year, even their cabins will be empty.

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Waterfronts are usually the hub of the summer camp experience 

In the overall scheme of world events that include a rising death toll of a global pandemic, canceling a season of camp isn’t at the top of the headlines. But it is heartbreaking for the thousands of children for whom camp life is an escape from their own world worries. It’s also a rite of passage, often the first time a kid tastes freedom and learns how to steer that privilege. Camp is where time does funny things, where the days go on forever, but it all ends too fast.

I had the joy of returning to Camp Frank A. Day in East Brookfield, MA last summer to teach podcasting, and it transported me right back to my counselor days in the mid-’80s. Everything was the same: the boathouse, the waterfront, the cabins, the dining hall– it was eternal and ruggedly beautiful. Teenage counselors haven’t changed, either, happily sharing the camp gossip once they realized I was one of “them.” I made new friends. Never before did grilled cheese and tomato soup evoke so many memories. Is there such a thing as “camp sandwich griddle grease” they order in bulk?

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Stevie teaching budding podcasters last summer

For the summer of 2020, Camp Day faced the same agonizing decision as their colleagues. The staff and its board debated, looked at the current environment, acted with the caution of the day, and emailed its community: ” …that there is too much uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 for us to confidently operate a safe and high-quality residential camp this summer.”

I still have friends from summer camp, friendships forged 40 years ago as we shared bunk beds and bug bites for only eight weeks of a handful of summers. Think about that. I’ve had co-workers whose names were forgotten after years in the same offices, if I ever knew them at all. But camp is different. It’s intense. Your bunkmates are your brothers. And the girls? So many firsts all crammed into the time it takes a ChiaPet to mature.

The first time I asked a girl to dance was at Camp Tel Noar. (It was followed shortly by the first time a girl rejected my offer to dance). The first “date” I had was at camp. I was nine. We had a field trip to Canobie Park and I asked Ellen G. if she would go with me. She was very nice. About halfway through our time there, I lost our ticket. It was a harbinger of dates to come.

Camp builds independence and the kind of self-confidence that emboldens a nine year old to ask a girl on a date. College shouldn’t be the first time a kid is really away, feels the pangs of homesickness, and learns to overcome that. Over the years, I became a happier kid at home from spending a summer in the woods.

All of these rites of passage and moments of joy and firsts are on hold. Camps that weathered wars and economic collapse have been felled by a virus. The waterfront will be still. The baseball diamond will remain pristine. The bunks, the dining hall, and the lake will be as still as they are in January.

Sound taps.

See you in 2021. I hope.

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Stevie (far left in the shorty-shorts and Hawaiian shirt) and his bunk on his first tour as a counselor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And Hero is his name

The decade has seen us weather the toddler to teen years, from kindergarten to high school. Facebook memories from 2009 portray an exhausted mom who yearned for adult conversation and bubbly. A fairly big chunk of the 2010s included diagnosis, treatment, recovery, and the never-ending aftermath of breast cancer. The past few years, Lees agonized over standardized testing, essay writing, and the sleep-depriving anxiety that accompanies high school admissions. Stevie navigated divorce, dating, neuropathy, migraines, college application stress for three children, and got cancer. More recently (because God is good) he’s experienced the miracle of new love and marriage. Steve wrote about all of these moments candidly and with humor. More often, I just complained about cardio. Our shared bloggy pursuits even went viral twice this decade. As 2020 begins, there is more good than awful in the accounting, but we’ll take “boring” for the next 10 years, please.

Boring, it won’t be. In the dark days surrounding the solstice, the Lees felt keenly bereft of joy. The stress of the holidays piggybacking onto an overly long and expensive home renovation project and three (minor, but still) car accidents and midterm exams plus a brief but serious consideration of a new job and move was enough already. Taking a hard look at all of the hard work all of us were doing—board meetings, conference calls, Latin declensions, concussions and cross country meets, fundraising, editing, international meetings, and too much travel that did not include umbrella drinks– we realized there wasn’t a lot of FUN happening. And so in what appears like the Lee Family’s Most Impulsive Move, we got a dog.

Decidedly not boring.

After years of insisting that I “am allergic” and “refuse to pick up poop” and “will never budge,” we got a puppy. A tiny, sort of hypoallergenic (y’all are really overselling this notion), absolutely adorable mini Bernedoodle is sleeping at my feet right now. Is this just more work? Maybe. But with teenagers doing the lion’s share of puppy play and taking the night shift, so far it seems like we adopted a big dose of joy in the softest, cutest, littlest package. And Hero is his name.

My boys went back to school today. On the 2nd, because their school is totally finger horns metal when it comes to the calendar. When Brodie brought a whimpering puppy to me at 4:30am, asking me sweetly to take over, I did this happily… but I’m still drinking coffee in jammies and have been up for FIVE HOURS. Am I counting the minutes until they get home? Maybe. Is Hero checking couches for napping humans because so far that’s all he’s seen us do? Yup. But those of you who are likening this stage to having another baby never experienced Brodie as a baby. This is hardly the lonely and exhausting time suck that was stay at home parenting with a newborn. And I could probably take Hero with me to get a pedicure. Perspective.

It was thought- and conversation-provoking timing to get a tiny new family member as the decade closed on such a huge portion of my boys’ lives. Will it be so sad to leave Hero when they go to college? Will Hero be alive when they get married? What will life look and be like in 2030? For the first time since my boys began high school, and now a handful of their friends started college visits and dove deep into application stress, we’re looking at the future with more what if/what’s next optimism. As my boys focus less on have-to’s and more on could-be’s, Bernie and I are clearing the calendar of stuff that doesn’t really need to be on it. We have a sleepy, fun, soft, love me love me love me puppy to Instagram. Together. And that makes him a Hero, indeed.

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Please note my utter RESTRAINT in only posting one puppy pic

Smangry… by Steve Safran

How could he insult me, unprovoked, for the second time this year? He can’t really be this upset, I thought, reading a smug and angry (smangry?) comment to a joke I posted on Twitter. I mean, this isn’t some random troll—it’s my cousin. How did we get here? Why?

Because of Donald Trump, that’s why.

Since 2016 we’ve all read about family reunions stressed, friendships tested, and social media relationships obliterated because of the man who occupies the presidency. Today, I felt it keenly. I’ve only muted or “un-friended” two people in my entire social media history of 12+ years. One was a relative who made an outrageously homophobic slur. And today– my own cousin.

It hurts my heart that someone with whom I’ve shared genes and family dinners would set out to insult me. Publicly. But like too many people these days who react emotionally to opposing political views, the insult felt personal and on purpose. My cousin has become very sensitive to criticism of Trump. And on this historic day that the House impeached the president, I made a tame observational joke on Twitter:

“When history asks Tulsi Gubbard where she was when the House voted to impeach Trump, she will be able to say, loudly and clearly, “There!”

Not much of a joke, frankly. (WA-wa.) It had a shelf life of maybe 30 minutes. And note– it wasn’t even an attack on Trump. I don’t generally say a lot about the president on social media. It’s boring. There’s so much more interesting material to talk about. Like pants.

But my tweet raised some hackles. I will not reprint his reply, as I would never do so without permission, and I ain’t asking for permission. In short, he defended Tulsi and insulted the Democratic leadership with not particularly clever, off-color nicknames.

Mute.

This is disappointing and upsetting because I love debate. I think back to life at Trinity College in the ‘80s and the great debates that happened in classes, and likely less great but just as entertaining back-and forths late at night with friends. I especially remember one debate where, after a good half hour, an exasperated challenger finally said “YOU CAN’T POSSIBLY BELIEVE THAT!” and I responded, “Of course I don’t.”

The debate was the point.

Debate is to civics as testing is to the scientific method. Positions need to be examined for logic and merit, and public discourse is the “bench research” that generates data that lead to solid conclusions. Testing works well in a lab because the conditions are controlled (and because lab rats don’t ask you who you voted for). However, we have lost any attempt at control, or the ability to debate properly. Instead, debate has become argument. People are throwing lab rats against the wall and insisting rodents can fly.

Insults and arguments are the enemy of debate. True debate leaves both parties smarter. I may not agree with your position at the end but, dammit, I hope I learned more than when we started. Even if no new facts were uncovered, I now know something about you and your worldview. And that enriches me. Debate is at the core of this country. The great Enlightenment thinkers’ debates led to our founding documents. They didn’t sit around calling each other “Wacky John Locke” and “Fathead Thomas Hobbes.” Then again, they didn’t have Twitter.

I hope the children and young adults are learning the art of debate in schools and on college campuses. I hope they are engaging in better exchanges than what is being demonstrated on cable news channels and in Facebook comment threads. We have to learn how to disagree respectfully. We cannot continue divided, launching “smangry” comments into the ether, and harming our relationships with each other. To do so is to declare failure on the American Experiment. And that is the most important theory being tested right now. Insults and party-line adherence at all costs will only speed our failure.

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Reconciling October

When I get overwhelmed with posttraumatic cancer reminders (e.g., beloved family and friends newly diagnosed, an unfamiliar bony ache, the entire month of October), I text Stevie. He gets it. I hope all of us touched with the terror of unbridled mitosis have at least one killer cancer buddy. My Shitty Sorority friends and I have a legion lingering only a few keystrokes away, armed with sympathetic emojis to ease our Pinktober ennui. I was warned that the initial October after diagnosis and treatment would be… a lot. And for me, the first time I was aware of all of the awareness, it was in the aftermath, when I had already acquired implants and more than an inch of hair. Still, I probably became a bit of an asshole.

After a few years, I mellowed and even championed my own boys’ desire to Walk for the Cure. Ever supportive April expensively sponsored swanky evenings at the BCRF Hot Pink Party, where she grabbed my hand with love during the patient stories, and then again later to drag me to the dance floor. A good friend knows you need hand holding for both. Especially in the beginning. Those fancy nights were the only times I felt anything close to accomplishment? pride? relief? Or some mix of those that bolder women must feel when they say they “beat” this disease. I’ll never have that much bravado, no matter how many champagne flutes I’ve drained. The only way we’re ever going to “beat” breast cancer is with research for metastatic disease, and the BCRF is probably the best place for your donations to support scientists actually working (not walking) for answers.

Nearly eight years later, cancer could/should be very much in the rear view mirror. And it would be if there weren’t devastating daily reminders from scars, Tamoxifen… and the entire month of October. Even so, more often text exchanges with Stevie are about marriage, must-see Netflix shows, and why there should be a law mandating teenage boys sit to pee. With two of them in the house alongside a rotating cadre of handymen, electricians, and roofers, I’m occasionally one Chlorox wipe away from losing my trademark sunny disposition. So when the canister reminds me I’m also cleaning for the cure, it’s hard not to get grumpy. It all becomes… a lot. Especially in October.

Next week I’m flying to the Midwest to support one of my favorite people as she starts this journey from diagnosis to healing. My phone is full of hundreds of texts from friends, friends of friends, cousins of friends, dry cleaner’s sister-in-law, babysitter’s bridesmaid, and women of ever-further degrees of separation that become obliterated when I’m asked to be their point person as a breast cancer veteran. Dear friend Emily called it my Cancer Concierge Service, and mostly I am happy to pay forward the support I received years ago from Lisa and Kelli and Hester. There is a call/text at any hour level of intimacy between those of us in the Shitty Sorority. However, this will be the first time I’ll be offering a week-long fluff-your-pillows-and-strip-your-drains on call service.

Maybe because I just came home from Bible study, or because I love to tie these essays up with a bow, I find a bit of grace in having the time to give and a familiarity with this exact disease to help someone I’ve known and admired my entire life. To hold her hand through this. To be her killer cancer buddy. Though I have the personal and surgical experience to be helpful, I’ll be referencing the lessons I learned from those of you who amused, supported, and loved me eight years ago. In this long, dark month when so many essays will instruct us on what not to do or say or expect from our cancer-ed friends, I’m thinking about all of the hilarious, generous, and awesome things done for me. And I’m asking for your best prayers/juju/vibes once again.

This time, for Diane.

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Dreaming of a day we won’t need a breast cancer themed month and can focus on rebranding October to support parents of teenage boys everywhere

Social Mourning… by Steve Safran

This past month, one of my childhood idols died. He was my camp counselor during the late ‘70s at Camp Tel Noar (CTN) in Hampstead, NH. Steve Levy  was everyone’s favorite: smart, funny, and oh-so-cool. I learned a lot from Steve. He brought his music collection to camp and played Led Zep, The Who, The Stones and music otherwise inaccessible to nine year-olds. He taught drama and was one of my first directors, witnessing my transformation into the role of “theater kid” that lasted through college. He would also sneak us leftover Chinese contraband, waking us at midnight for a bull session and cold noodles.

Steve wore a signature necklace. This was no Jewish Star of David or Chai symbol. It was a wrench. When I asked him about it, his four-word reply was a more profound insight into the human condition than any after school special was offering:

“We are all tools.”

Other counselors caught on, and naturally, started wearing wrench necklaces, too. Now they were all tools.

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Steve Levy left CTN and began a professional career in standup comedy and acting. I followed his career with enthusiasm. It’s always a thrill to see someone you know on TV, and better still when it’s your childhood idol. When he had a cameo on “The West Wing,” I nearly lost it.

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From the West Wing: Steve and associate trying to convince Josh Lyman of something or other. 

He was on “Ray Donavan” and “JAG,” too. And then, Steve died of a particularly vicious form of cancer that first took his nose (a legendary nose at that), when he was just 58. You should read his amazingly touching, funny account of his life with nose cancer.

Now. We’ll wait.

I’d been in touch with him, the way you can in the era of emails and social media. But in the past 40 years, I never saw him. Steve lived in LA, and I never made the time. I regret that.

There are many of us who share camp memories of him or were genuine fans outside of the world of CTN, and it made me start to wonder about our collective mourning on line. People may share sad news tragically close to home on Facebook, but more often you’ll see a nostalgia thread after their favorite pop star passes. Something about social media makes us share the fact that we saw David Bowie on the Glass Spider tour… and also that one time at Whole Foods. That’s not necessarily deliberate; social media asks, “What are you thinking?” If you’re upset about something, that’s what you’re thinking. It’s a new kind of grief: Social Mourning.

Steve’s death reminds me of another loss that still stings– the murder of my friend Stu Meltzer on 9/11. If you follow me on social media, you’ve seen my yearly tributes. I want to share the karaoke-style tapes we made in 1990. I want keep his memory alive. I still miss him. But every year I also wonder if I am making this about me. Am I benefitting from unwarranted sympathy every September 11th? It’s Stu’s family that mourns most deeply. Does my public display of bereavement, however genuine, take a piece of that? Who am I to write about loss when they lost so much more? I’m simply one of the hundreds of people who mourn for Stu. Or… maybe our Social Mourning allows all of us to feel that closeness in our grief, even for just a moment as we blow on our morning coffees and scroll through our screens.

I’m going to surprise the heck out of Churchy Girl Britt now and turn to Judaism for a moment. I do this because I genuinely appreciate the Jewish rules on mourning. Among the most important is the concept of Yahrtzeit. Literally, it means “time of year” but really it means “time of one year.” Jews are instructed to recognize these sad anniversaries. There is even a candle involved, though I have yet to light one outside of the rare blackout.

(My Jewish friends may fault my Yahrtzeit candle usage, but I figure the Almighty’s cool with it, since His first act was to create light.)

In addition to the candlelit remembrances, it’s also standard protocol to go to Sabbath services the week of the Yahrzeit. I have never done this with any frequency, and I really loved my grandparents. But I will post about Stu every year, and write a blog remembering my favorite camp counselor. Is social media the new Yahrzeit

What are our intentions when we share our grief on line? What are we saying when we lament the loss of someone we only ever saw at Whole Foods? Or mourn someone we haven’t seen (in person) in more than 40 years? Are we pulling focus to ourselves to share our grief? Or are we compelled to tell the crowd “Look! I’m sad David Bowie’s dead, too!” for fear someone will take you to task for not posting “Heroes?”

I don’t know.

I’m a tool.

News Without Noise…by Steve Safran

Remember what it was like to get the daily news back before it was terrifying or held in your very hand? Before the wrong combination of likes or dislikes or posts or comments could brand you as UNCLEAN for billions to mock or deride, even though you might have only accidentally landed on cut/paste/post while searching for car keys or spare change? Remember when an essay masking as “news” couldn’t be immediately discounted by snopes.com, or when journalism itself was a noble profession assumed to be grounded in a search for truth?

This is my life right now, and I completely enjoy it.

There’s very little I like about Life Without Screens, mind you. My DVR is bloated with episodes I’ve missed, and is now groaning with repeats of shows gone by. My fault. I never envisioned a two-month hiatus from must-see TV. But I am actually improving: up to about an hour of screen time a day now, nearly as much allotted to a well behaved first grader. While moving video will still hurl me into dizzy fits and land me back in my bedroom cave, to Britt’s enormous relief, I’m not sending badly-typed copy either.

I broke my typewriter. And this wasn’t in a fit of frustration. I really meant well, and threaded a c.1930s style ribbon quite expertly, I thought. But maybe not so expertly since all of the keys to the left of “V” now strike the paper in concert, sticking there like so many commuters stopped at a locked turnstile. I may be excellent at fixing electronics, but I’m a hopeless handyman.

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What I have discovered in my forced vacation from screens is the news. A journalist discovering news? Yes. The news that lured me into this field in 1992 is back, at least the way I consume it. I have an Amazon Echo (“Alexa? What’s the news?”) which gives me frequent national and local updates from NPR and WBUR. I read honest to God newspapers when I can tolerate the light. I discuss current events with Kim and kind friends who have been coming by to visit. It’s 1989 up in here.

I’m a digital media guy, and I wouldn’t like to live this way forever. I’d prefer to get news from a variety of sources around the world. Due respect to our city’s newspapers, but I prefer many different points of view. And I’ve always been the social media guru, traveling from station to station to lecture the importance of a strong social media presence. Photophobia kept me, until this past Sunday, from more than a minute in the light without severe pain. But one glance at a simple news story after a two week break, and I was reminded why I don’t read Facebook comment threads anymore.

News has become, in large measure, a kernel of truth surrounded by outer shells of noise. The networks are all the same:

CNN: TRUMP SAYS A THING, COULD END HIS PRESIDENCY

FOX NEWS: TRUMP SAYS A THING, HILLARY STILL NOT IN JAIL

MSNBC: TRUMP SAYS A THING, HERE’S A MEANDERING HOUR THAT WILL NOT MAKE IT ANY CLEARER IF IT’S A THING AT ALL

I love digital media. But I have to tell you, it’s like I’ve been chasing a runaway ticker tape for 20 years, and I finally just get to linger over some clean copy in Courier. Take my advice. This summer, even for a few days or a whole week, do this:

Go dark.

 

In the Dark… by Steve Safran

For the past two weeks, I have been living in a Hell that feels especially designed for me. The staff at Dante’s Fitting Punishments were inspired when they green-lit this one for Stevie: I can’t look at a screen without getting sick. Yes, your faithful computer-addicted correspondent, status updater, and occasional blogger is writing this on a 1936 Royal Portable typewriter, fitted with an ancient ribbon that makes this draft a bit of a challenge to read, and more than a pain in the ass for Britt to transcribe.

A fortnight without screens has been—forgive me, for “fortnight” and this pun—an eye-opener. Make no mistake, this isn’t one of those Author Unplugs and Discovers Life essays. No, I’m way behind on a lot of important work. Among other pressing tasks like taxes, kid graduation, and wedding planning, there is a softball team to organize. Not that there’s any danger we’ll ever play, with incessant nor-easters making fools of our Opening Day.

I have, however, rediscovered books—the bound and print kind!

Side note, on the 1936 Royal Portable, typing that exclamation point required period, backspace, apostrophe. With an economy of keys, a capital “I” subs in for a number one. And though this trusty, 30lb “word processor” inside of its carrying case was the war correspondent laptop of its day, it would easily topple a tippy Starbucks table. If I want to write, I’m stuck right here at home.

Luckily, I can tolerate sound and I’m searching through the free audio plays at archive.com, though I need to have my faithful fiancée or son Simon queue up “Henry V” for me. Any more than a quick glance at a screen makes me dizzy and initiates instant, blinding headaches. I can only use them briefly, in the dark, with the “Night Shift” setting that takes out the blue light.

Part of the reason I’m sharing (typing) this is to query others about similar experiences. This is scary. I’m worried. The doctors I’ve consulted have ruled out the terrifying possibilities I might find on WebMD if I could look at a damn screen, but they have no diagnosis yet. Until they do, I feel like an outcast, alone in the dark, bumbling through a non-screen life in an all-screen world. And as much as I love my loyal 1936 Royal Portable, I really miss my Mac.

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My “laptop,” the I936 Royal Portable

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fifty and Fine with It… by Steve Safran

I’m 50.

This will mean very little to you. Your Facebook feed is full of people who can’t believe how old they are, how old their kids are, and how time flies. You can’t believe you’re older? He can’t believe his daughter’s starting kindergarten. Apparently, none of us get how time works.

But believe me, it has happened. I’m 50.

Here’s a summary of my forties: Divorced, cancer, failing eyesight, impaired hearing, relentless back and nerve pain, job losses, and I shut down my own company.

But here’s another summary of my forties: Two kids in college, employed, healthy family, great summers, travel, and… I’m engaged.

A friend emailed and asked me “What have you learned?” Well, plenty. I’m comfortable telling you: the older I get, the less I know. Honestly, that’s a great feeling.

When you’re a teenager, you have an answer for everything. At least, that’s what the adults told me. “You have an answer for everything!” they yelled. I thought that was a good thing. Shouldn’t you have an answer? But as I’ve gotten older, I realize I don’t have the answers. My previous answers were, in fact, bullshit. I was bullshitting people and was damn good at it. I am quick enough to hold court on any topic for about 30 seconds, and simultaneously afraid people will find out I have no idea what I’m talking about. Dad still thinks I should have gone into law, but history has proven this quality was perfect for many years spent working in TV.

Now, at the ripe age of 50, I don’t bullshit. If I don’t know the answer, I say, “I don’t know.” It’s liberating. I also don’t care that I don’t know. Scratch that– I love when I don’t know, especially if it’s an interesting question. It gives me the opportunity to do a little Google research and learn something new. We live in a time I’m calling “The Great Overconfidence.” Everyone has an answer for everything. But they’re bullshitting, too. When the Supreme Court lays out its decision, suddenly everyone is a legal scholar. When scientists make a discovery, everyone with a Twitter account has a Ph.D. in Science-y Things. Too many people are sure they have the hot take on everything from broth diets to Oprah’s Presidential fitness. Me? I’m happy to learn from experts.

At 50, I’m confident and comfortable enough to say “no.” That peer pressure thing? We’re done. Guilt trips for no-shows or last-minute cancellations are for your 30s and 40s. If I don’t want to do something, I don’t do it. And I love that my friends are all of the same mind. Can’t make it to the party? Fine. Just don’t feel like coming? You don’t need an excuse. We’ll catch you at the next one.

It’s not all “I don’t know” and “no,” though. I’m a (slightly) less cynical middle-ager; I just know what I like. But these days, I’m more inclined to try new experiences. Fiancée Kim will come up with a “pop-up vacation” idea, and we just go. The kids are older now, so we have that flexibility—another perk of this aging thing. Seeing my three kids mature into young adults is an absolute joy. I raised them all the same, but they’re three distinctly different personalities. I love that about them. At 50, I appreciate them even more for being the unique beings they’ve become.

Perhaps the biggest secret is that I’m a squishy sentimentalist. As I age, I get squishier. The truth is, I really hated being a kid. I wasn’t good at it. I was one of those “old for his years” kids. I’ve been 50 for a long time. It’s just that the calendar finally caught up with me.

Funny to think now that I dreaded turning 40, when I’m really looking forward to my fifties. I’m getting married in July. The next few years are filled with graduations and other great milestones. Eventually, because time insists upon marching on, even Britt will turn 50 and that will be fantastic. (For her friends, I mean, because there will be a Prosecco party, for sure.)  I may even become a grandparent in the next 10 years. (No pressure, kids.) By 2028, I fully expect to look back on my fifties with pride.

Not that I’m rushing to get there. Those things are really far away, and also right around the corner. Seriously, I can’t believe I’ll be turning 60 in 10 years…

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Stevie, in his “old for his years” suit.

 

Luceo non uro

My middle name is Mewhinney. I’ve always loved it. No one is named Mewhinney. Except me. I’m @mewhinney! And of my dearest, closest, oldest friends, I’m still Mewhinney. I was named after Laura May Mewhinney, who Stockton family lore touts as tiny, adorable, and beloved. Growing up, I assumed all sorts of other stuff about her. Mewhinney is definitely a gal who winks. She’ll slip you candy from a stash in her handbag (and definitely calls it her handbag); she embroiders, drinks gin, and wears dresses with tiny floral patterns. Mewhinney gets all freckly in the sun and never leaves the house without a treat for the neighborhood dogs. Is any of this true? No idea. But this is where my mind goes: always to the pretty stuff.

There’s plenty of ugly stuff in the world right now. Possibly in response, Bernie and I recently left the TV off, turned on Corey Hart Radio on Pandora (highly recommend), shared a bottle of Fume Blanc, and appreciated the genius of Richard Marx. It was restorative. At our respective laptops, Bernie edited research papers and I traded song lyrics with Facebook buddies. The kids were in and out of the room wrestling and giggling and farting and being that awesome mix of adorable/irritating/lovable/gross that is The Teenage Boy. They know all the words to Take on Me and Teddy’s don’t… don’t you want me, well, it’s a parenting perk for sure.

I still unabashedly like Facebook, but I’ve seen at least a dozen friends (threaten to or actually) delete their accounts this week. The incessant onslaught of political HEY-DID-YOU-SEE-THIS posts– what David Brooks aptly describes as “the hyperventilating media”– are literally “trumping” funny quips about toddlers, car repair woes, and check-ins at Shake Shack in our timelines. If you’re like me, you’re sort of jonesing for the good ole days of Throwback Thursday bar mitzvah Polaroids and family-in-ponchos at Niagara Falls. I know it seems like the end of days, but I honestly miss discussions about Tooth Fairy handouts and your latest excuses for drinking on a school night.

But being apolitical is a political stance!

I read this on Twitter every day. Those folks aren’t closing up shop on social media and actually seem to be plowing forward with an increasing number of no, really, I, really, really, really hate him sentiments with funny/angry/poignant/unrelenting tweets. Certainly there are legitimate fears about our political leaders, but is social media hand wringing– or worse, trolling and fighting—is that activism? I’m not sure. Sharing info on how to contact your representatives and where to meet to march, that’s valuable politicking. But me? I’d still rather read your date night yelp review of the new movie theater. I’m Mewhinney!

Trump might be the Death of Facebook as we bore each other to tears with shared outrage. Brodie asked, “Is everyone going to pissed off all of the time for the next four years?” God, I hope not. The children are watching, indeed.

Here’s what I am noticing.

Out in the real world where we stand at deli counters and tip the delivery guy and chat up the waiter—out there, face to face, I feel like we are being nicer to each other. Have you found yourself smiling at a stranger over the lemons and limes, letting the Prius merge into your lane with a you-first wave, or making a more deliberate attempt to exchange even short pleasantries with your fellow line-standers? Are you trying to make fewer assumptions, or better ones, about the people around you… by talking to them? Have you paid for a coffee behind you, or thrown an extra quarter in an overdue meter just ‘cuz? These are the things I have seen.

Internet sleuthing led me to a Mewhinney family crest emblazoned with luceo non uro. Shine, not burn. I love that. Few things other than cardio or cut-and-paste-if-you-care cancer memes can tempt me to write angrily. I also don’t trust most reposted articles, preferring to read the opinions of smart lawyers who have a sober handle on precedent, our men and women of the cloth (of all ilk) who devote their lives to assuaging fears of earthly things, and Steve. But when I’m existentially and emotionally exhausted with world news, it’s a fun breather to scroll through the selfie stick snaps of your high school reunion. More than ever we need the silly things, the pretty things, and I hope that sort of sharing doesn’t die because our President is profoundly (and daily) uncouth. Even so, I guess there’s always Richard Marx, right there, waiting for me.

Luceo non uro. Share the good things, the pretty things, too. The children are watching.

moaenyso

Go ahead. Try to resist the uro gaze of Richard Marx.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO STEVIE… by Britt

When Kim suggested we fete Stevie for an unexpected 49th birthday surprise, I was ALL IN. I bet most of us are double booked for any Saturday during the holi-daze, but this is one of the few things I actually wanted to do. Can’t think of many better things than joining a gaggle of Lovers of Steve to raise a glass in his honor.

That event prompted me to go back—way back—through hundreds of Facebook messages where Stevie and I became buddies. Reading these silly essays over the past five (FIVE!) years, one might assume Stevie and I have been besties since the ‘80s. But we weren’t. Back in college, I was only loosely connected to Steve. He was the popular older boy, wickedly smart and funny, a writer for Trinity Tripod, and “in” with all of the pretty, talented people. I’m sure I hardly registered on his radar in the ‘90s. I was a younger, dorky Biology major with Sally Jesse Raphael frames and no fake ID. I would never be game show cool.

remote-control

Remember Remote Control? Stevie was on it, and won.

But by 2008, I was a stay at home Brookline mommy with 3- and 4-year old boys. One day my gorgeous, Swedish babysitter set up a Facebook account to message her for gigs. Email was for, like, old people, Ingrid said. Within months, the Facebook algorithm matched Stevie with me, and once we learned we sort of knew each other, lived only a few miles apart, and had similarly inappropriate things to say to each other on line, it was instant friendship.

Three years later our text messaging and occasional in person catch-ups became something deeper. I got breast cancer. Stevie was divorcing and then… dating. There was much to discuss. Reading through those old Facebook exchanges I can feel the comedic relief Steve was sending me through the interspaces. Surrounded by stifling, helpful, baffling, wonderful, and hilarious Asian relatives, I maintained sanity trading short messages with Steve that still make me giggle. I swear he suffered through at least one date with a crazy woman merely to provide stories for my amusement. Bald, poisoned, mutilated, and badgered by relatives insisting I eat papaya soup, I retreated to my bedroom and laptop to laugh with Stevie. This little exchange was about a woman we nicknamed “Chinatown.” That thread is too racy for even this crowd… but here’s a sample.

SS:  Black leather jacket or peacoat?











BL:  It’s fucking cold and leather is trying too hard.











SS: Agreed











BL:  And you don’t want her to think you’re one of those guys that is always hot and sweating. Wear a jaunty scarf. We like those, too.




 We, meaning me. And it’s optional.











SS:  I don’t like this online thing– I’d much rather a reference from you: “He’s a little hairy and out of shape, but worth it.”









 I don’t do jaunty scarfs. Do I need to get one? What color/style?

BL:  Forget the scarf. I’ll get it for you.




 She is welcome to message me any time on Friday. I have no biopsies planned. And I will totally vouch for your worthiness.




 And who wouldn’t take to heart the words of a hot, dying girl?










 SS: “My friend and shiksa goddess Britt has cancer, but is more focused on me. As it should be.”











 BL: Too much? I’m not dying. Really. But you can use it to get into Chinatown.











 
SS:  I can work up a tear. You would have wanted it that way.











BL:  But if my Komen fight can get you laid, then you’re coming to Church with me on Sunday.











SS:  If I can get laid after LUNCH, I am accepting Jesus as my Lord, Savior and King.

We didn’t realize this was the start of our back and forth blogging at the time, but I quickly recognized Steve’s appearances in my comments were just as popular as my on line posts. So did he. This message preceded one of our first shared writing ventures that was featured by WordPress and continues to be circulated.

SS:  The blog keeps getting better. I think you should invite guest bloggers. I think I should be one. Because I always try to make things about me. And I’m pretty fucking funny.

I agreed heartily. Still do.

Last year, in a devastating show of solidarity and commitment to the blog and our friendship, Stevie got cancer. The mutilating surgery, go bald kind. Seriously, Stevie… this was above and beyond. As a veteran, I had an arsenal of right things to say. I had experience, expertise, and empathy. But I was angry and sad and scared and terrified. Fuck cancer and the rogue cells and fates that choose its victims. To date Steve has written funny and poignant essays about love, loss, life, death… and, you know, marshmallow fluff.

And now our friendship is the stuff of books and movies and really something that we are too lazy to actually capitalize on. We’ll tackle that in 2017. But tonight, celebrating the eve of his 50th year on the planet, knowing he is marinating in love and friendship, I want to tell the world (or at least our limited readership) that I love him dearly and think somehow ours is the most special friendship. And I’ll bet many of us feel exactly like this—that we have a particularly funny and fantastic friendship with Steve that is unmatched. Thank you for making me feel special by inviting me to be a part of your weird and wonderful world.

Happy Birthday, Stevie.

xoxo