Open Letter to 2019


Dear 2019 —

A whole year elapsed without so much as a peep from me. Truth be told, I’ve spent a large percent of the 2019 licking wounds. The carnage of 2018 left me oscillating between feeling destroyed and destroying myself.  At the beginning my head was in the sand and I wanted nothing more than to disappear, hurt and broken. But by the end 2019, the flashes of hope, joy, and love interspersed among the grief grew.

The surprise for me, 2019, was the kind of despair and mourning that followed me.

The first part of the year was living in the aftermath of an unhealthy relationship, a misinformed scorched-earth campaign on the content of my character, and the continual fear of reprisal. Aside from last year’s Open Letter to 2018, this is the only thing I said publicly.

Then as we reached the mid-way mark, 2019, Grandma Venske was issued a palliative care plan which quickly spiraled to hospice and finally eternal rest. The 9 days Grandma and I shared together before she died were important. Not only to love and hold and be with her as her story winded down, but to witness how to gracefully close out one’s chapter with faith and strength, sing-songing the whole time through.

I remember the moment when I realized Grandma wouldn’t be getting better.

Up to that moment I had hope she would continue to fight and be. Because that’s all I knew. Grandma (and Grandpa) were always there. We lived right next to each other in Watertown. From infancy I grew knowing they were watching over and taking care of my brother, Daniel, and me in the little rambler on Angel Avenue they’d shared for 60 years…

And then on one not so special day, while working remotely from her apartment squeezed among the 88 years of memories and mementos, my brother appeared. It was especially surprising to see him because mister-working-all-the-time doesn’t take time off. But there he was in the middle of the day — on a Thursday — in his work uniform: steel toe boots, dirty jeans, and a reflective vest. It’d be an understatement to say he stood out.

Twenty-four years ago, as part of the chapel choir at the church Grandma and Grandpa made their spiritual home, Daniel stood in front of the congregation and fainted. That is to say: my brother doesn’t sing.

But back in Grandma’s room, we, her boys — grandsons / neighbors / snow shovelers / lawn mowers / joke tellers / Sunday school protégés — sang. Not any songs though, hymns — songs as much a part of Grandma’s soul as Grandma is part of ours. And to the merriment of Marion May, my rough and tough little brother, chirped away.

And that’s when I knew: there is no coming back. Daniel is singing and Grandma is dying and this is the end. There is nothing to be hopeful for anymore. There is no hope.

I thought, originally, that because I was present for the dying process and the load out and the funeral planning and actively involved with the service both eulogizing and carrying Grandma to her final resting place that in the immediate aftermath every feeling would naturally wrap itself into a sad small souvenir where it would sit in my heart never to stir again. But months later, I am gripped by the constant ache of missing Grandma. There are not tears enough for this heartbreak.

So. 2019 was tough.

Yes, there were mistakes made, and I know I didn’t do my best by calling it in. There are things I regret; poor choices, and bold moves alike. Laughter continued to fight for a seat at the table, but not all fights have winners this year.

In spite of it all, there grew greater devotion and appreciation for family, friends, and health. There were new adventures and many simple pleasures; sighting Scott Seekins, trying at trivia, and Mangione’s magic music.

Friends and family shared precious love and time. These moments are carved in and out of all the pain, sadness, and grief I lugged around. They pushed, carried, and lifted. The load became lighter and I felt brighter.

So to you, dear friends who are family and family who are friends, thank you. For checking and seeing and being with me. For reminding me you’re there and here and at times, everywhere. Holy wow thanks for the help.

Rainer Maria Rilke left stains on my heart in 2018 and dragged me though 2019 with this:

Let everything happen to you:
Beauty and terror.
Just keep going.
No feeling is final.

-Rainer Maria Rilke

Everything happened: all that beauty and terror of simply existing? Check!

The only cure in an uncertain world is to distract oneself with some sort of momentum. Keep going until you can’t. I saw that this year and I know what it looks like.

I can still keep going. That’s what I did. And for doing that I am proud of what I worked through and overcame. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.

Now here we are in a whole new year (and decade).

As Chuck would say, it feels so good.

So, with gratitude, go I.

Let’s do this 2020!

1se Video Diary

If you don’t have 10 minutes to watch all of 2019’s 1 Second Everyday video diary, here’s the synopsis:

Revelry. Trivia. Trains. Firetrucks. Bell ringing. Bubble baths. Soul searching.

Enjoy this snapshot of 2019 one second at a time.

Noted Happenings & Intentions Met in 2019

  • Traveled to Chicago on a whim to see Max & Rebecca
  • Went on a blind date and was reminded that I’m worthy of something magical
  • Enjoyed a family dinner with old friends the Moshe’s
  • Saw The Lemon Twigs in the most dramatic show at First Ave with my BFF
  • Checked out the Luminary Loppet with neighbors
  • Attended a Super Bowl Party for yearly sports quota
  • Started regularly playing trivia with friends
  • Volunteered for Ziggy’s Art Bus
  • Saw Elton John in concert 
  • Went ice skating
  • Sported a mustache for January
  • Consulted for a high school drumline team
  • Attended Mr. Murtha’s Theatrical Debut in Little Mermaid
  • Enjoyed company and conversation at 98LB Buffet w/ Lora
  • Met and officiated the weddings for two amazing couples: Shannon & Tyler / Steph & Bryan 
  • Finally attended the Community Fish Fry at St. Albert’s with my BFF (& her folks)
  • Saw Fred Armisen & Mary Lynn Rajskub @ First Avenue with BFFs
  • Volunteered with the Morels & Memories Mushroom Hunt Alzheimer’s Fundraiser
  • Spent Memorial Day w/ Murthas
  • Finally experienced the joy of receiving a pedicure after a long winter at the urging of BFF
  • Saw Vampire Weekend with BFF at the urging of my grandmother
  • Shared Grandma Venske’s final 10 days
  • Found solace in Jeremy Messersmith’s “11 Obscenely Optimistic Songs for Ukulele” which Grandma and I listened to together
  • Delivered Grandma Venske’s eulogy
  • Bought a house
  • Volunteered for Kevin Allison’s Risk Podcast
  • Went camping with BFFs at Pattison State Park
  • Shot a commercial, some training videos for Target and a handful of voiceovers for
  • Bathed in a waterfall
  • Caught dinner with Mrs. Murtha
  • Dated women who took me on adventures great and small
  • Traveled north to Duluth and spent quality time with Number Two, Number Two’s Hubby, & Chani
  • Finally saw The Trash Cats in concert
  • BFF took me to see the Violent Femmes & Ben Folds in concert
  • Said goodbye to my work-wife as she started the next chapter
  • Camping trip in southern Minnesota allowed me to sleep in a hammock under the stars in the rain, sleep in a lawn chair in a stream, and do all of it with BFFs (& family)
  • Toured The Remember Project through Wisconsin
  • Participated in No Shave November and raised $190 toward the fight against cancer
  • Traveled for work: Phoenix, Nashville, Denver, Orlando
  • Rang in my 3-year work anniversary at a suite in the swanky Ritz-Carlton in Denver
  • Hiked the Royal Arch Trail outside Boulder
  • Took in the Burnsville Fire Muster Parade & Flugtag on the same exciting day
  • Successfully completed “Sober October,” and then threw it all up (and away) on November 1
  • Visited the dentist and doctor like a real adult
  • Experienced the wonder of Wise Fool Theater’s “Hamlet” in Duluth
  • Reconnected with neighbors at the annual Chili Cookoff on Humboldt Avenue
  • Volunteered at the Twin Cities Marathon
  • Saw my (little super tall) cousin, Johanna, get married to a dude who makes her super happy
  • Saw Mike Birbiglia’s The New One
  • Encouraged my inner-child to come out pumpkin carving
  • Pitched show to APM/MPR & started a podcast…kinda
  • Started a new side-gig as an on-air guest at a home shopping network
  • Reconnected on better terms with A
  • Dinner with Shamus‘ parents, Anne & Lowell, followed by the annual memorial service at Saint Joan of Arc
  • Voted for the first time in my new district of St. Paul
  • Cooked for and attended multiple Friendsgiving events
  • Celebrated Thanksgiving date-night at the best Chinese restaurant in the Twin Cities, Tea House
  • Made new friends at Yarusso’s dinner table on rib night with the Murtha’s
  • Checked out a craft fair to see Mrs. Murtha’s artistic endeavors up close
  • Drinks out with previous work-wife, JC
  • Saw Scott Seekins in the wild, his natural habitat
  • Remained a non-smoker for all of 2019’s days
  • Learned how to make: kettle corn, candied: bacon, walnuts, pecans
  • Traveled upstate New York and visited the Angry Orchard distillery
  • Reflected on all that was during the darkest day of the year at First Universalist
  • Honored the annual tradition of raising a glass to Grandpa Zimbrick at his bar, CC Tap, on his death day/Chuck Mangione’s birthday and Christmas eve
  • Listened to 53,243 minutes of music on Spotify
  • Got a roof rake so Grandpa Venske and Zimbrick would be proud
  • Enjoyed the last breakfast of the decade with Lauren and her daughter
  • Rang in the new year with neighbors and BFFs
  • Spent more time on self-care than ever before and feel better for it

What were your intentions in 2019? How’d you do? What about the DECADE? What happened?

And what are you most looking forward to accomplishing in 2020?