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Musings for the new year

2022 was a year. Not only in global politics but in my life. It was not all bad, but it was intense. I have grown to wonder if this is the new normal. The intensity, though, generates a certain honesty.

There were some work annoyances. My typical efforts to cheerfully plow through felt increasingly hollow. First, I got grouchy. And then, much later than many, I discovered boundaries. I don’t need to be a part of activities that feel hollow. I can just do something else. I don’t even need to be grouchy to do that. I can cheerfully decline, even protest. I can be the pro-social person I want to be and stand my ground at the same time. Silly to discover that at 63, I know, but better late than never?

There were some travel opportunities. An ISA conference in Crete? Yah, I am in. And there I was at a meeting of the International Interdisciplinary Studies Section. Such an interesting crowd, few of whom I had ever met even though my work has always drawn from different disciplines. We had a terrific panel and it spoke not to the cheerleaders and already converted, but to a whole new group. Tim tagged along and we added a few personal days on the island where we were both struck by its “shabby chic” qualities. Things were a bit kludged together but in a charming way that worked. Could this be a model for muddling through our increasingly dystopian world? Find something that works and make it charming?

Then there were the postponed trips from the before times. First, the Tour du Mt Blanc. I have written about that already. An amazing trek, really. And made more amazing not only by the openness I felt, but also that of my fellow trekkers. We had different paces and hiking experience, we got sick, it could have been a disaster. But it wasn’t. We were honest about what we needed. We assumed the best about each other. We were all considerate and caring toward each other. It was not the trek any of us would have had on our own. But buy sharing it, openly and honestly, we learned from one another and had something that, for me at least, was even better.

Second, a week in Abruzzo. I have not written about that as this is (literally) the first day since I returned in October that I have had a chance to really reflect on it. The trip was organized by some restaurant-owner friends of ours (Elliot and Cindhu at Spuntino). On it were two other couples we barely knew and one other we didn’t know at all. It was clear we all liked to eat and were interested in wine. But also different people, different interests. And yet, once again, honesty and forbearance (and an amazing setting) worked to generate a trip that was magical. For me, part of that was Abruzzo itself. The pagan past still visible, the connection with the land, the young man that told me they had been practicing a circular economy for over 3,000 years, the old man whose whole vegetarian restaurant (which sat 12 max) was a tribute to the love he and his wife shared and their appreciation of the land that made it possible. There were elements of the shabby chic I saw in Crete and it reminded me again of how many people are making things work in this world.

And there was my family. My Christmas present to my parents last year was three visits in the first 6 months of the year. My mom was increasingly nervous about driving long distances and I thought I could help. I took them to visit friends in Palm Desert in February, to visit my uncle in Temecula in April. But things were more tenuous than I thought and I needed to go out more often than that. We hired a care manager and got them help a couple of days a week. Things seemed to stabilize. We even got them to fly to Santa Fe in August.

But then, my mom began to spiral down – pneumonia, blood pressure issues, and hard to know what else sent her to four ER visits between August and November. On November 1, she was carrying laundry down the stairs (?!?!) and fell. Broken hip, broken pelvis, surgery. She is still waiting to be able to put any weight on her right leg. In the midst of all of this disruption, dad’s dementia has worsened. While I was surprised at how much they needed at the beginning of 2022, by the end I was amazed by what they had been able to do then. Things can go down fast when you are in your 80s.

Other family stuff. Arthur Wilson Herbst, “Ari” was born on October 5. Aside from arriving on the day we arrived in Italy for a 10-day trip, he is perfect. Such a joy to be around. And it is easy to be around him as Brandon and Becca live just a mile away. Families, and family histories, are often complicated – something I was reminded of in early December. As unsettling as that reminder was, it also made me want to embrace it all. All of my life, in all of its complexity. I am who I am because of it. Rather than hiding the uncomfortable parts, maybe the secret is to embrace the shabby chic. Find what works and make it charming.

I increasingly wonder whether the same is true of social science. Our efforts to get things right, to clarify and nail things down, repress the human spirit that animates social interactions – but I will say more about that at a different time.

For now, the intensity of the year, whether it is the wonders of traveling again or the difficulty of my parents’ struggles, has helped me be more honest. This is my life. There are no do-overs. How do I want to live it? How do I want to show up for others? The world sometimes seems like a bit of a dumpster fire. But the intensity can also make us more willing to appreciate the small stuff. Those shabby chic moments. It can make us open to learning in ways we are not when things are easier.

Two days in to 2023, I feel a bit of calm. I am appreciating my newfound capacity to set boundaries, committed to showing up for others in a sustainable way, and resolved not to measure up to some external standard, but to do more of what I love and appreciate more of what I do.

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