FINDING HAPPINESS

BELLA’S PERENNIAL HAPPINESS

I got a catch-up note from an old friend yesterday that got me thinking about happiness. He wrote, “That said, we are great, positive, and enjoying most days with activities we would not have done without Shelter in Place.”  Because he is my friend and entitled to privacy, I will not enumerate what went into “that said,” but he and his wife have been through situations that would defeat most of us.  

It made me think about how people can find joy almost anywhere if they pay attention.  It doesn’t take much to notice, however fleetingly, that something or someone brings us happiness.  This isn’t the kind of thing I would normally write about (i.e., it seems a little sappy) but it seems like we should grab happiness where we find it right now.  My go-to guide on happiness is the Dalai Lama, and among the dozens of quotes attributed to him, the one I like best is, “Choose to be optimistic.  It feels better.” Good, practical advice!

My personal happiness these days:  our new granddaughter; my family both nuclear and extended; the hummingbirds and their aerial battles at the feeder on our window;  Bella the dog, who greets me as if she hasn’t seen me in years, even if it’s been only an hour or two.  

Where are you finding happiness in this uncertain time?

Photo by Sara Rankin 

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MOTIVATION LOSS SYNDROME

I just made up the title, “Motivation Loss Syndrome,” and then found that there is a named condition very similar to it:  Abulia.  While this sounds very much like a plant I wanted to buy yesterday at the East Bay Nursery (Abelia), Abulia is something no one wants.  Its definition includes: 

-loss of productivity, effort, and initiative
-lack of plans and goals;
-poor attention and being easily distracted.  

There are more symptoms but these are the ones with which I am all too familiar. And I am not alone.  I learned from the check-out clerk at the nursery that she, too, feels like she has lost all motivation.  (These days I am very chatty when I encounter a person who is not in my 24/7 bubble.)  She reorganized her refrigerator by adding covered plastic containers.  I reorganized a storage closet by foisting unwanted items off on Goodwill.  Neither she nor I was proud that this was all we were motivated to do in more than four months, though at least she had the excuse of working part of the time.

Here are a few things I planned to do before Loss of Motivation (my Abulia) set in:

-touch up all the dings in the trim paint throughout the house
-commit to actually writing the novella I have been writing in my head for the past 2 years
-master the features of my iPhone so that my kids won’t make fun of me
-learn how to use the many useful features of the car I have driven for 3 years
-Sand and paint the small table on the deck with equipment I bought two summers ago
-read more fiction

My conclusion?  If the sort of Abulia I just described is a symptom of mental illness, then it is a second pandemic that was created by the COVID pandemic.  I don’t think it will be cured until we can safely go back to our COVID-less lives.  In the meantime, let’s give ourselves and each other a break and soldier on.

HAVE A GOOD WEEK!

Photo of adorable dog by Bianca Ackerman on Unsplash

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MASKS AND FINDING HOPE

Photo by Amish Thakkar via Unsplash

Kanye West
This past week a post about Kanye West’s Bipolar Disorder appeared in Instagram Stories under Kim Kardashian’s byline. In it, Kardashian made several important points:  (1) it is complicated and difficult to understand; (2) the pressure and isolation in West’s life is heightened by his bi-polar disorder; (3) when a bipolar people most need help, they are incapable of seeking it because they are manic.  Her plea for compassion was unusual for a celebrity of her sort, but anyone who has dealt with the ravages of mental illness know how much that is needed.*

The New Normal 
Though the statistics tell a different story, almost everyone I see on the streets around town (Oakland, CA) is wearing a mask and thereby protecting themselves and others from COVID.  It is interesting that even though masks are hot and uncomfortable, it has become automatic to wear one. I have several styles:  homemade, surgical, stylish (from Anthropologie) and one made of some kind of plastic that seals tightly and looks like something athletes wear in a very different location.  Some people have been so rude as to giggle when I wear it.  

Finding Hope:  What I’m reading this week
The Tree Where Man was Born by Peter Mathiessen  
My friend Jim Martin recommended this book because he knows how much I love traveling to Africa (and has led many of my photo trips there).  I am seventy pages in and, aside from failing to keep all tribes separate, I take heart in knowing that tribal hatreds appear and then wane (as do pandemics for that matter), alliances are formed, animals’ numbers decrease and then grow again and through it all, humans move forward.

HAVE A GOOD WEEK!

*You can read a fictional version of the effects of Bipolar Disorder on the life of a family in my novel, Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate.

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A NEW LIFE

Photo by Rui Xu on Unsplash

This is not about the new life we are all experiencing due to the Corona Virus Pandemic.  This is about a New Life our family has been graced with during this very difficult time.

A few days ago,  Baby T. was born into a world that is not only unknown to her but also pretty darn strange to everyone who has been awaiting her arrival.  While most grandparents are flexing their infant-memory muscles prior to a birth, the four of us are ensuring that we are COVID-negative.  How weird is that?  What is not weird is that this new life seems like a 6 pound, 11 ounce miracle.  She is perfectly formed, down to her tiny fingernails.  She has figured out how to nurse, and she is definite about when to rest and when to fuss.  Though we can’t know now who she is—her personality, her way of sizing up the world—it is already there and we will discover it in time.

I can hardly write this without choking up.  Since March our daily lives and the foreseeable future have changed in unimaginable ways.    We do not know what lies ahead.  I have good days and difficult days, trying to deal with isolation, anxiety, and innumerable changes as I navigate through an unforeseen way of living.  And then Baby T. shows up and a blessed peace descends:  it is pure happiness. 

I had many expectations of the birth of our second grandchild, but I never expected the joy, the suffusion of happiness her birth has brought.  For the past five months of our altered life I have been trying to savor happy moments:  family, nature, clouds, good weather.  But this is different.  The birth of a child at this time is a gob-smacking dose of joy that is indescribable. Thank you, little girl.  If all goes well, you will never fully understand what your birth at this particular time means to us.

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A DAY IN THE DELTA

Cormorant Rookery

I spent a day on the San Joaquin Delta’s rivers, sloughs and cuts  this week, exploring the area where I was raised but never appreciated.  My sister Liz and her husband Steve acquired a boat earlier this year for fishing and exploring, and now, during the pandemic, as a place to be with extended family safely, in the open air.  Driving from Oakland to their boat in the Delta,  I passed towns that were little more than crossroads when I was a kid and are now medium-sized cities with acres of newish housing developments and shopping centers.  

A Great Blue Heron

At some point the freeways led to old highways and bridges I remembered from the back seat of the car as a little kid, elbow- wrestling my siblings out of the way.  I think the only sib I was nice to was Liz, the youngest—this weekend’s hostess and tour guide. The other thing I remember from those days was passing on the narrow Delta levee roads settlements that my parents said were where the gypsies lived.  (And there really were and still gypsies around Stockton and other places in the Central Valley.  You can read about them here.)

This is only a small portion of the vast Delta area. Unfortunately, Disappointment Slough isn’t shown here but it exists–believe me.

I never thought I’d feel nostalgic about Stockton, a town I left at 18 and to which I returned only spend time with my parents,  but I carry within me a boatload of good memories.  If you look carefully at this map of a small portion of the Delta, you will see a stretch of water named “Disappointment Slough,” where I spent many an hour fishing with my father.  The slough lived up to its name.  Visiting the Delta after 50 years away, I am impressed with its beauty:  the vistas, the silence, the wildlife. I was not for one minute disappointed.

HAVE A GOOD, SAFE WEEK!

Photos by Bill Popik

I never thought I’d feel nostalgic about Stockton, a town I left at 18 and to which I returned only spend time with my parents,  but I carry within me a boatload of nostalgia.  If you look carefully at this map of a small portion of the Delta, you will see a stretch of water named “Disappointment Slough,” where I spent many an hour fishing with my father.  The slough lived up to its name.  Visiting the Delta after 50 years away, I am impressed with its beauty:  the vistas, the silence, the wildlife. I was not for one minute disappointed.

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FRIENDS AT A DISTANCE

The idea of keeping friends at a distance is unnatural. It feels strange to stand six feet away from a person when having a conversation. Last week I went to a plant nursery to get advice from one of the staff. We were outside, both wearing masks, but as we spoke, she kept backing up and I kept moving towards her. When she held up her hand to indicate I should keep my distance I realized how instinctive, how normal it is to stand near other people when conversing. But these are not normal times. Distancing is difficult but it is one way we can still be together with friends.

In this time, I really feel the need for friends. Life as we knew it a few months ago is not possible and the future is uncertain. And there are the weird moments: I drove through a red light last week; I lose things constantly; I have weird, absurd dreams. I miss hanging out with friends, so I was especially grateful when I received an unexpected invitation in my email.

My “neighborhood” is a street of eight new houses. Everyone is friendly but until recently family, jobs, travel, and the busyness of daily life did not leave much time to get to know each other. Now, with all of us primarily homebound because of the pandemic, my wonderful neighbor Liat organized a Distancing Happy Hour on a recent Sunday evening. The oldest neighbor is 84, the youngest 18 months. We were careful: everyone wore masks, brought our own glasses and drinks and kept our distance while becoming better acquainted. I slept well that night, happy to connect mask-to-mask with my neighbors, despite the distance.

Have a good week!

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NAMES AND MEMES

I just learned that my first name, Karen, is a meme.  While I was reading the daily bitch-fest known as “Nextdoor” I saw that someone responded to a neighbor’s complaint with, “Don’t be a Karen.”  Huh???  What is a Karen? I immediately went to Wikipedia and found that “Karen is a pejorative term in the Western world for a woman perceived to be entitled or demanding beyond the scope of what is considered appropriate or necessary.”  Apparently Karen has been a meme for quite awhile.

I am still unclear as to what a “meme” is, but I get the general idea.  One definition is:  “An element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation.”  The “nongenetic means” of passage is often the internet.  You have probably heard the meme, “Okay, Boomer.”  That is the response of a young person to an old person who is spouting off about “in my day….”  A name meme is shorthand for a particular type of person.

Women’s names in memes imply, as a baseline, that the name holder is middle-aged, white, and privileged.  Here is a selection of what I’ve learned from my “research:”

Janet can be summed up as “whatever.”

Becky is snobbish, loves Starbucks and Uggs and is clueless about racial and social issues.

Sharon is a soccer mom with a minivan who likes to complain in supermarkets.

However,  the longest meme description I found is for the name Karen:  “blond, has multiple kids, is an anti-vaxxer with a “Can I speak to the manager” haircut and a controlling, superior attitude to go with it.”  Obviously, there is no way I am a Karen.  I would NEVER say, “CAN I speak to the manager;”  I would say, “MAY I speak to the manager” or, if I’m feeling timid, “I’d like to speak to the manager.”  

So much for memes!

Have a good week!

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HOPE AND HOME

This lovely illustration of what home means is by my friend, Morella Camejo

What does home mean and what gives you hope during this pandemic? Here is what some of you wrote to me:

In and effort to fill the days I’ve actually found some positives. The yard never looked this good! And, in the absence of friends and family dropping by I’ve found new friends that previously I have been too busy to notice. The early spring  weather was so mild I spent a great deal of time outside and was amazed by the symphony  of birdsong. Everything  is especially quiet these days, and  the sound they provide is beautiful, relaxing, and almost deafening sometimes…even occasionally annoying. It turns out.. some birds like to argue with each other or so it seems. I have discovered varieties of birds I had no idea ever spent time in these parts.Janet, Robbins, CA

~~~

I am trying to stay positive and one of the things that gives me hope right now is honest connection that is so scarce on social media. And being of service–I like that, too–not in a goodie-goodie way…but getting takeout from my favorite spot to help keep their business going, cooking for my shut-in older friends and cancer patients.–Jenica, Santa Rosa, CA

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I am glad I like to read. I just finished The Splendid and the Vile about Churchill during the time of the Blitz. I thought it was very good and a good reminder of how people have suffered and survived adversity.–Barbara, New York City

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We are in the Sierras and have the pleasure of being surrounded by pine and cedar trees. We abide by the rules for our good and the good of others. I haven’t lost anyone to the virus–that gives me Hope! My yard is flourishing and flowers and trees are beginning to bloom…that gives me Hope! I am hopeful for the future.–Shirley, Twain Harte, CA

~~~

NOTE: This is my first blog since changing my “web host” and some other things. I would appreciate it if you would let me know if you notice anything different, such as (1) you are receiving more than one copy of it (2) it is a weird size–i.e., smaller on the page (3) anything else that looks peculiar. Thank you in advance for your help.

HAVE A HEALTHFUL, HOPEFUL WEEK AT HOME!

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Testing, Testing

Things are clearing up

It appears that my computer wizard helper has fixed the problem I have been having for weeks with my website. If this test works, regular blogs will resume on Mondays. Fingers crossed.

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Home…Still Home

I have been home—in my home—for more than five weeks now.  This is true for a majority of the U.S. population, as far as I can tell.  We are doing this to protect ourselves and others from the Corona Virus, aka COVID 19.  I am reasonably content with the situation, as I should be.  I am retired, I have no children at home whose schoolwork I need to supervise. If I were so inclined, there are plenty of sorting-and-clearing out chores to do (but I won’t).  I enjoy having no outside obligations.  I take socially distant walks.  Bill and I have had a couple of virtual Happy Hours with friends. 

Quaranteaming isn’t always that easy (see last week’s blog here) and in conversation with friends, “going crazy” comes up fairly often.  I think this might be a good time to take a few minutes to look back at what home meant before the pandemic. I have written about home several times in this blog and readers have written back with their thoughts on what home means to them.  Here are a few definitions.

Home is a place where all my needs are met.

Home includes warmth, total acceptance, love, good food, family and friends. To this day I feel most at home (no matter where that happens to be) when I am surrounded by the people I love and who love me, making food, laughing, talking and sharing stories and creating memories.

Home is where I’m always glad to return after my travels.

Just being around things–my things–particularly those that bring me great pleasure and/or comfort, such as the beautiful old wood grain of our trestle dining table, makes me feel good and secure.  Smaller, more confined spaces make me feel at home. Our house isn’t very big and I’m fine with that. Bigger would make me feel unsafe/uncomfortable.

Home for me is wherever my parents are.

I am at home in houses where I feel comfortable cooking in the kitchen.

My home is the most familiar and comfortable place in my world. A place that smells distinctive, familiar, comforting. A place where I can be undressed, unkempt, unprepared…….and have it not matter. A place with chairs, couches, and bed that readily conform to my body. A place with a warm fire. A place that has food that I like
to eat and the kind of coffee and wine that I like to drink. Most importantly, home is a place where people whom I love (and who love me) come regularly to enjoy life with me.

HAVE A GOOD WEEK AT HOME!

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