Monday, December 31, 2012

Word of the Year

My word of the year for 2011 was "Nurture."

It turned out to be the perfect choice, though not for the reasons I'd intended. I'd written that I hoped to nurture "people, animals, ideas, projects, tomatoes, and also myself." But the year was so chaotic - multiple break-ups and attempts to cling to a doomed relationship, numerous moves before settling down, much trauma and heartbreak, and far too many tears.

My overwhelming memory of that year is of the tears. Instead of my nurturing others, I am still so immensely overwhelmed by the generosity and love and kindness of those who nurtured me. It wasn't what I'd planned. But it was still the operative word for the year. As much as I'm loathe to quote the Rolling Stones, I have to say that "you can't always get what you want, but ... you just might find you get what you need."

Restored, though still frail and fragile, I was ready to "Reach" in 2012:

"Reach out to friends, to keep them close.
Reach out to new people, to broaden and enrich my family.
Reach out to those in need.
Reach beyond my comfort zone.
Reach for new opportunities, both personal and professional.
Reach beyond my limitations, not letting them inhibit me.
Reach my potential ... reach for the proverbial stars."

I reached new audiences when invited to write each month for the Washtenaw Jewish News in addition to my regular posts for, and with an article about The Molly Goldberg Cookbook for Repast, the quarterly newsletter of The Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor. (I'm thrilled to have been asked to contribute an essay about baking my own matzah for an issue to be devoted to Jewish baking, too.)

I reached out when new adventures were offered, such as: being invited to work with the wonderful people at Entre-SLAM (an opportunity I've unfortunately had to take a hiatus from, given recent stresses), or judging culinary masterpieces for the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre (chili) and Perry Nursery School (pie) as well as Temple Beth Emeth's Sisterhood (brisket) and the Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan (luscious desserts).

I reached into my bank account to start fixing up the condo I landed in, which I inherited from my ex-husband (who will one day appear on "Hoarders").  It's not presentable yet, but I hope one day to be able to host Friday night dinners and holiday celebrations with loved ones. I reached past my comfort zone, which already encompassed a wide variety of musical styles (everything from 80s New Wave to French chansons, from Cuban rhythms to Medieval chants), and even found that I like country music ... a long-reviled genre that I've now grown rather fond of; it provides a great background while I'm writing.

I reached out to old friends, going out for coffee or for dinner or for hot fudge sundaes, to keep them close. I reached out to new people, welcoming fresh faces into my extended family. If there was a way to reach out or a direction to reach towards, I tried valiantly to do it. I became an opportunist, but not with any negative connotations: if an opportunity presented itself, I gratefully appreciated it and cherished it and sought to do my best with it.

And so, after achieving so many of the goals I'd hoped for in my choice of last year's word - both thrilled and humbled at being able to reach into so many different facets of myself and of life - I considered what to do for 2013.

Along with my beloved Leanne of From Chaos Comes Happiness, who initiated this project by choosing a new word each year and encouraging all of us to join her, I pondered the coming months and my hopes and dreams for them. In July - when Leanne and I finally met in the real world, as opposed to only hanging out together in cyberspace - we discussed my choice as we toured, and became inspired by, The Art Institute of Chicago. I shared with her the word that, even at that early time, seemed like the perfect choice.


I confessed to Leanne that, after a year of misery and then a year of rebuilding, I found myself - every so often, quite by surprise - dancing as I cooked. A spin. A twirl. A swivel of my hip. As I stirred. As I baked. As I waited for the timer to ring. I could play music I enjoyed, music that infused what I was creating. Music to which I would instinctively sway, something I hadn't done for more than two years. Music I had chosen, music I loved.

I was happy.

I could once again cook pasta in a large pot of boiling water to the sounds of passionate Italian opera, rather than being told the noodles (and only a certain type of approved noodles) had to be sparingly prepared in a small, cramped saucepan so as not to irresponsibly squander precious resources such as water and electricity. Italians - who know just a bit about these matters! - say that you should cook pasta in a large pot of salted water, precisely so it can dance without being constrained. For many, many months, I still could not cook pasta once I was free of the limitations ... or, rather, just free. I would try, and tension would overcome me. Such a simple thing, and yet it had been taken from me for a long while. But I found I could enjoy this again.

I was happy.

Craig doesn't like to dance. He won't go line dancing with me even though, when I tried it, I remarkably found that I enjoy it and have some talent for it.  Just the other day, he did write to me that "I'll dance w/you anywhere," but then added a disclaimer ... "(well, almost anywhere!)" Maybe I'll get him to dance at the Ann Arbor Art Fair in July ...? Perhaps at Memphis in May, which I plan to attend for the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, but which also offers a music festival ...?

But he's dancing through life with me, even if he won't go out on a dance floor. And it's a life that's been a bit complicated in our four months together, as one of my most cherished loved ones has been hospitalized for rehab but still relapsed several times afterward, as I've found my once-legendary immune system has been compromised by two bouts of bronchitis, as he's suffered from kidney stones and then even threw his back out on Christmas Eve, as we negotiate with elderly parents and take care of Craig's adorable little aging dog, contend with the abundant energy and enthusiasm of my grandpuppy, and help to guide our kids who still seek to find their way in the adult world.

I reached out across the table when we met for coffee, and Craig took my hands in his ... my new dance partner.

And so, in 2013 I intend to dance. Dance while I cook. Dance - or, at least, bop a little bit - while I drive. Dance in the grocery store, a place I find so full of fun and inspiration (and only occasional routine drudgery). Do the Snoopy "happy dance" whenever I can, appreciating the moments that inspire it.

Because I will also have to continue to dance with the twin devils of mental illness and alcoholism, which occasionally rear their ugly heads in my loved ones and do not back down readily from the war even if some battles have been won. They have been rudely cutting in again recently, making me dance on tiptoe rather than dancing with joy.

I will dance with my boyfriend, even if he won't do so in public. I will dance through life, because the alternative is to sit still, to be stagnant. I may not always do it gracefully, as I tend to be a bit clumsy; Jeremy is convinced that Armageddon will arrive the day I don't have any bruises on my legs.

But I will dance, literally and figuratively.

And so, what better way to end this with than a cheesy dance song from the 70s??? (I have such a perverse affinity for this genre, though no one else can tolerate it!) So much is in place that's never been settled before, even if my life is still a work in progress. Yeah, it's taken me 50 years to even get to this point. But my ancestors were living into their 80s even 150 years ago, and my paternal grandfather lived to be 98. I'm only halfway done!


Robin said...

I think that this is an excellent Word for your Year. And I really enjoyed the writing bit of this piece. I think that your writing skills have really improved as I have been reading this blog. I noticed as I was about midway through that this was truly excellent writing. Seriously. Very lyrical. The word pictures were graphic and lovely. I really enjoyed this on so many levels. You so rarely give your readers a glimpse into your world, so that all by itself is a joy (and heartbreak) to those who want to know what is going on with you. But your writing was a delight. A sheer delight. Kudos Mary.

Angela said...

Happy New Year, Mary--may the dance be more effortless this year.

Carla from The River said...

Happy New Year, Mary. :)
Best to you in 2013!

TeacherPatti said...

Oh Mary, that is beautiful!!! I like dancing, so you let me know if you want to go :) And congrats on being so involved in the community--I hope things stabilize in other areas soon! We need people like you.

Unknown said...

Oh Mary, I just love this post! Thank you so much for sharing so much of who you are with us! I think Dance is an amazing word for the year... I might try and do more of that myself this year.... you definitely are inspiring!! Plus, I know now that at least I'll need to put on dancing shoes for Memphis in May!!!

Chris said...

Here's another dance for you:

:) Go fishin'

Happy 2013 to you and your family!

Leanne said...

DANCE, my Mary!!!! DANCE DANCE DANCE!!! Oh,how I love this post. When reading about the need for the "noodles to dance" in the water while boiling, it came to mind that perhaps the challenges and obstacles in your life have been like those noodles cramped in a pot much to small for it's own good . . . And only now are you really ready (and able) to dance on. I am so proud of you, and absolutely LOVE your word!!!

And I must tell you - meeting you and spending our day in the city will truly be one of the highlights of 2012 for me. I think of you, and smile a great big smile, my friend. and I can't wait to see you again so we can do it all over!!! HAPPY NEW YEAR Mary! I look forward to a year of much dancing for us both!!!

Cranberry Morning said...

Oh Mary, I've so enjoyed your friendship over the past few years! I love this post, and like Jenn, feel so grateful that you would share so much of who you are. Few of us dare. I'll have to admit that when I read that you even like country music now, it's like everything abruptly stopped and then started moving in slow motion. LOL But no, this is the Mary we love, and if she wants to like Country Music, then so be it!
Blessings on you dear Mary throughout the coming year! May you enjoy the dance!♥♥

Bibi @ Bibi's Culinary Journey said...

Happy New Year, Mary! Hope all your dances are happy and full of passion.Dance through life with ease & magic in every step :)

The Sisters' Hood said...

'dance without being constrained'
LOVE this, and your words when you speak of dancing, are filled with joy and happiness.
Thank you for linking into ONE Word, I wish you a wonderful year ahead, and will remind myself to do a little dance from time to time in my kitchen ...

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