Thursday, December 31, 2015

Fifteen things I observed in 2015

This is not a picture of Gus. It
is the last sunrise of 2015.
Knowing a writer is like hugging a pickpocket, someone once said.

I grew rich in 2015.

As a writer, I spend a lot of time watching people and thinking about what they do and, of course, eavesdropping in restaurants. If you've read this blog before, you know about my field trips to the supermarket, where connections between people are always on sale.

In 2015, I walked into a bar where my husband and I go for dinner now and then. A regular, about fifty and a dead ringer for Neil Young, squinted at me for several moments before he pointed at me with his glass. "I think I know you," he said. "You a townie?" I said, "Define townie." He slid a chair up, and in a half hour, we were arguing over which was the best Rolling Stones song ever.    

In 2015, I had a conversation with a man on a plane that started when he unplugged from his iPod, folded his arms, stared out the window for several minutes, then looked at me and said, "So what takes you to Cleveland?" Before the plane landed, I knew where he'd spent childhood summers, the siblings he was closest to, and the massive struggle each were facing as the first Christmas since his mother's recent and sudden death loomed.  "We got together last night to decide who would make her favorite dishes," he said. "It was pretty rough."

In 2015, I published two of the most honest essays I'm capable of. In one case, the piece connected me to others on an emotional level that astounded me. It brought multiple comments of appreciation and expressions of deep love. In another, I hit a nerve in readers who were not inspired, but eager to be vicious. One took a swing and the rest piled on.

Gentle essayist that I try to be, I was suddenly Piggy in Lord of the Flies.

But I learned something I will never forget. People, all people, will find and cluster around those who identify with their deepest feelings, the good, bad and ugly. They may be too blinded by their relief at belonging to know or care how they affect others. But if they can belong, they will actually take part in killing Piggy.

On the surface, we want to be like some, and try hard to be as different as possible from others. But when people are honest, and when they are asked with sincerity, and when they know their deepest feelings won't be held against them, it is stunning to realize that we crave commonality enough to find it in a conversation with a stranger.

Connection is that important.

For some, happiness is elusive and for others, impossible. I believe however, that for most, happiness is within reach. But it's not free. It takes real connection with another that is void of judgement, and heavy with truth and acceptance and curiosity about what is in the heart and mind of someone else. It takes trust, something I believe people hold onto like their biggest, private secret.

With that, I give you my unscientific, but honest impressions of how we get along, how we don't, and how we should, in 2016.

1. We need to recognize when someone's reaching out to us and respond. We're more important to people than we realize.

2. People are as loving as they feel loved. Judgmental, critical people show how little love exists in their own lives, and it goes the other way; loved, happier people are more open and accepting and tend to forgive their own mistakes more easily.

3. We should think about our words and why we must say them, but we should think hard about how another will hear them, which may not be at all the way we intended.

4. Solutions to other people's problems that seem obvious to us may not be easy, or even possible for them to carry out. Rarely are we the experts on another's true life that we think we are.

5. If there's a right thing to do, and for some reason we won't, our rationale will not look the same way, years from now. Even if it takes a long time, people should do the right thing. Even if it's complicated. Even if it hurts.

6. Pessimists are generally unhappy people, but they weren't born that way. It only takes a little heartbreak for people to believe that bad things are inevitable and good things are accidental. We should feel for them. We won't catch anything.

7. When we wrong someone unintentionally, and we've said we're sorry, and tried to show that we really are, and they still wish to hold it against us, it's time to realize they can't forgive because they don't want to. Sometimes, apology only moves one of us closer to the middle. 

8. It is not loving someone to tolerate who they are. Loving someone means wanting them to be nothing less than their truest, real self and changing your ideas of them accordingly.

9. We should not share personal, private things about our kids, and we should never tell people what they make. 

10. Some people who are stupid about what to say, would die before they'd hurt you on purpose.

11. We speak in headlines too often. We should have real points of view that mean something to us and let other people think the way they must.

12. If others insist on seeing us as we were, and not as we are, give them time.  You didn't change overnight.

THIS is a picture of Gus.
13. Those moments when you are doing something and think you should be doing something else are your mind's way of telling you it needs to play.

14. Don't lie to people who know who you really are and love you.  They'll know you're doing it, and they won't say so.

15. And finally, after a year of field trips to stores and banks and restaurants and doctor's offices, after months of observing people – all people – who are most real when they don't know someone is watching, I offer two essential rules to getting along with others:

First, let people come out before you go in. And second, don't block the intersection.

In 2016, be honest, be kind and may your happiest connections grow stronger.



  1. Great thoughts here! Happy New Year!

  2. I guess most writers study people and for sure our friends are included in our writings. Sometimes even mentioned by name or description! I can't help but make up stories about the history of strangers or a particular building I pass on the road. I've never really thought it as studying life, yet you're right.
    I really enjoyed your observations and your imagination here. Excellently done.
    And Gus 🐱💙

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Thank you, Jo, and I do the same thing. I can give a person a whole life by the time the light changes. Happy New Year to one of my oldest writer-friends.

  3. I love this list so so much. I forget, often, about what I find easy others would find hard. Thank you for the reminder. I'm sharing this for sure! So so good.

    1. Thank you, Jacqueline. Truth is, I had to do most of these things myself before I realized how much better everything is - mostly relationships - when you're more mindful.

  4. Thanks for sharing your insights / observations. You have a tender heart, and you do a lot of emotional processing for other people. Bless you for sharing those gifts, particularly because you make yourself so vulnerable by doing so. Have a delightful 2016!

    1. Great observation, Karen, she does do a lot of the heavy lifting emotional processing, making our lives all that much easier.

    2. Thank you Karen. I have wished before that my heart was a bit tougher. I don't think so anymore. There's a downside to emotional processing (like that a lot) but a tremendous upside that feels more natural.

  5. Fabulous, Susan, I couldn't share it fast enough. Happy New Year, dollface!

    1. And yes, I would like a link to the slug-fest blog I missed!

    2. Thank you, Hollis. Now move up here so we can write this stuff down together.

  6. I love all of your observations, especially #4 and #7. Here's to the next trip around the sun!

    1. Thank you, Karen. I'm readier than ready for 2016. I hope yours is great.

  7. Had a rather hurt-filled and most harassed Holiday season. Thank you for bringing it back to the basics! ^_^ Happy New Year to you!

    1. Hope, I'm sorry and I hope the start of the new year is brighter. I can't tell you how much it means to think I've offered any perspective, and I thank you for letting me know.

  8. Oh my gosh, Susan, this is incredible stuff. And that's even before your list began.

    So jealous of this line: "you know about my field trips to the supermarket, where connections between people are always on sale." I bet Neil Young wished he'd thrown that into one of his tunes. Keep 'em coming, glad I found this.

    1. My own blog turned on me again and deleted my reply to you John, but thank you so much for stopping by and for a comment that really made me smile. For sure, in 2016, I'll still be stalking strangers and taking notes :)

  9. My sister-in-law is a truly loved wife, of 31 years. My brother speaks of her with tender enthusiasm, lights up when he sees her and rushes to praise (and defend her, if need be.)
    He's no wuss. He built and ran a biotech empire and they are rich, healthy and bonded.
    She's a gossip. Can be cutting.
    No unloved creature, she is close to siblings, loved her dad till his 94th year and sat by his bedside at the end. Her mom passed when she was in college, they were close.
    When she unleashes a diss on someone, I don't think "oh my, you are venting a lack of love and kindness." I cringe and think "you're a rich healthy lady living out the best marriage I know of. Cool your jets on this {hapless tutor, cleaning lady, overweight chemo pt.}
    Not trying to nitpick you or play gotcha games. Many sourpuss people probably are (or feel) under-loved, under-noticed and so on.
    But there are others who are...a puzzle. Who have a lot, as these things can be measured, and yet shoot thunderbolts outward that seem a bit...much.
    FWIW - SIL one of four sisters who bond via gossip. So it's her modus operandi, from what I can tell.
    Mean folks and bullies find no quarter with me. Kind of surprised this doesn't grate on my very kind brother, who has no snark mode.
    My 2-cents. Another perspective, do what you will with it.