Getting Through It



I have been working on a couple of different posts to offer as my last for this year. One has the working title of “Prepping for the Zombie Apocalypse at Dollar Tree.” The other is tentatively named  “The Two Best Books That I Will Probably Never Read. Neither Will Anyone Else.” You may see one or both of those next year. What happened in the here and now was that the rubber was meeting the road as far as decide-and-finish was concerned when I came across the chart that you will see above. Something told me that it was more important to share it than the bits of wisdom and whimsy that I had planned. Things blossomed from there and it was off to the races. 

It was and is a part of my program for embracing the suck that is 2020. The military term “embrace the suck” can be distilled to a simple admonition. That would be best described as acknowledging that a situation is bad and dealing with it, going over it, around it, or through it. That’s a bit of an oversimplification but close enough for rock ‘n’ roll. 

2020 will not go down as a wonderful year. It thus gave us, each of us, a wonderful opportunity.  It gave us the chance to embrace the suck. I don’t know anyone personally who died of COVID-19 but I do know several people who contracted it and many, many more who thought they had it and did not but were sick with something else. Virtually everyone I know experienced some adverse secondary reaction as a result of it. Let me count the ways. Isolation. Diminished income. Loss of jobs. Domestic problems. Each of them continued to get up every morning and did what they needed to do, went to bed, got up the next morning, and did it all again. They embraced the suck. I daresay that if you got up today and are reading this then you are doing the same thing. Woody Allen is credited with observing that ninety percent of everything is showing up. You showed up. You zoomed meetings and read and wrote and worked and shopped and made meals and probably helped others at some point. The sun came up every morning and so did you. Good on you. 

I have mentioned the late Miles Davis a number of times in this spot. Miles was a complicated personality who often got in his own way but he was an immense talent whose music still sounds groundbreaking and in some cases ahead of his time three decades after his death. His music wasn’t formulaic but he had a formula, which was “Play what you know, and play above that.”

That statement is applicable to life in general, and particularly life right now. For writing, it’s everything. Aim to write the best that you can every day, and write above that. It’s true of life, too. Live as best as you can, and then strive to live to do better. You’ll fail frequently, but you’ll succeed too. 

That brings me to the chart above which comes from the good folks at I don’t reflexively think of food banks during the year, but every December our local one has a food drive. Their goal for this year’s drive — again, a tough year for everyone — on December 5 was to collect thirty thousand pounds of food. They collected sixty thousand pounds. In one day. A bag at a time. If you are inclined and you are financially or physically able to do so that reverse Advent chart above is a great guide to what you can do to do live as best as you can, and maybe a bit above. Or you can help someone out, be it a stranger or a neighbor, in some other way. It doesn’t have to involve a transaction. It can be as simple as an effort to give someone an extra smile or a hello or an assist. You can communicate a smile through a mask, by the way. It’s surprising but true. Even I, who really, really does not care much for people as a group, can do it. 

Oh, yeah. The Humane Society. They take care of my favorite people. If you like animals but can’t have a pet most humane societies are begging for folks to come in and interact with the animals there. I can’t do it. The last time I did I had a meltdown because I couldn’t take them all home. I contribute in other ways instead. One does what one can. Please.

Bottom line: be well, and embrace it all. Own it and conquer it. Write, read, watch, be good to yourself first, and then someone/something else. Be happy amid the noise and waste. 

Chag Urim Sameach, Merry Christmas in two weeks, and Happy New Year in three. I will see you back here on January 9. Thanks as always for being here. 

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About Joe Hartlaub

Joe Hartlaub is an attorney, author, actor and book and music reviewer. Joe is a Fox News contributor on book publishing industry and publishing law and has participated on several panels dealing with book, film, and music business law. He lives with his family in Westerville, Ohio.

34 thoughts on “Getting Through It

  1. Part of what gets me through it is escaping for wit and wisdom on writing and life by faithfully reading the TKZ blog. I always look forward to reading your posts. Thanks to you, the other contributors at TKZ, & all the commenters for helping me embrace the suck of 2020. Not only that, but for all the years I’ve been following TKZ. Years ago I started out following countless writing-related blogs. Over time, I have whittled down to reading only one regularly–this one.

    I wish you all the best over the holiday season and will see you next year!

  2. BK…thank you. You’ve made my year, for sure. Thank you for taking the time to be here regularly and to comment. It means a lot. See you in 2021.

  3. Your post brings to mind words of John Wooden (Go Bruins!): “You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.”

    Or Zig Ziglar: “You can get absolutely everything you want in this life, if you help enough other people get what THEY want.”

    Happy Holidays!

    • Thanks for sharing those quotes, Terry, particularly the one from Zig Ziglar. Happy Holidays to you as well!

  4. A lovely post, Joe. Your list above, an excellent idea, made me remember a news item that people are shoplifting food. I remember the nuns telling us in high school that it isn’t a sin if you’re hungry and steal food. At the time, many years past now, I pictured someone in the 19th Century and before. But it’s happening in the 21st Century in the U.S. It’s more than sad. It breaks the heart. My mother used to give me extra lunch food to share with a friend who didn’t have much. Blessed Holidays to you and yours and stay well. —- Suzanne J.

    • Thank you, Suzanne. I think that you and I went to the same high school or at least were taught by the same nuns. Have a Blessed Holiday as well.

  5. You’re the best, Joe. I used to volunteer at the local ASPCA, but like you, I found it impossible not to adopt all the residents, even with 8 dogs at home. It’s a dangerous place for animal lovers.

    To embrace the suck I’m donating stacks of paperbacks to long-term facilities inscribed with “You matter to me.” And a promise to return post-pandemic to visit with those who enjoyed the books. The logistics are a bit tricky, as many are under lockdown, but the administrators are amazing. If anyone can figure out how to do it safely, they can. The books may have to be quarantined for two weeks, which means the residents would receive them . . . on Christmas. 😀

    • Sue! You have eight dogs?! Would you consider adopting me? I clean up after myself and can cook!

      That is a great idea about the books and inscriptions. I donate books to those facilities but the inscriptions is something I never thought of. I’ll do it from now on. And they’ll get them on Christmas! YOU’RE the best! Merry Christmas.

      • Of course I’d adopt you, Joe! I *had* 8 eight dogs when I was volunteering at the shelter. Over the years we lost them, 7 from cancer, 1 from a brown recluse spider bite (horrible death). My husband says he can’t go through the pain of losing another dog. Hence my obsession with all the wildlife that visits daily. 😉

        There’s whispers of Santa Paws delivering two guinea pigs for me this Christmas. Fingers crossed!

        A warm and heartfelt Merry Christmas to you and yours.

        • Oh, Sue, I’m so sorry. I couldn’t have handled that. I totally get where your husband is coming from. Oh, and this also gives me another reason to hate spiders. A Rossi Circuit Judge is not an overreaction to an eight-legged invader.

          Guinea pigs are interesting. Einstein never did figure out how you could put 5 oz. of food in one end and have 10 oz. come out of the other without any energy burn in the middle. Wheet Wheet Wheet! Hope you enjoy your present!

  6. Thanks for your post, Joe. Very heart-warming and inspirational, especially at this time of the year.

    Like BK, this blog has become my writing home over the years, educating, entertaining, and sustaining me.

    I loved the image of your meltdown at the Humane Society. I bet you had dogs and cats all over you, begging you to take them home.

    And the theme of your message, getting through difficult times while (or by) helping others less fortunate, is real because it brings great joy, whatever your faith or foundation for your action.

    So, Joe, may you be rewarded for all you’ve given this writing community. And may you find great joy in knowing that it is appreciated. Have a joyous holiday season, you and your family.

  7. Thank you so much, Steve. And thank you for all that you did for many, many years in your own community, earning the trust of generations of patients. Not many folks are irreplaceable but you certainly are. And lest I forget… thank you for consenting to join us on TKZ in a new capacity. Merry Christmas and Happy 2021 to you and Cindy.

  8. Joe, thank you so much for this post and for all the contributions you and the other equally fine writers have made here at KZB. Like BK and Steve above, this blog is now my writerly home. I visit each morning before beginning my writing.

    Today’s post really captured the importance of showing up in this singular year, as well as how to make things worthwhile for yourself and others.

    In the spirit of the season and in response to this singular year, let me offer a little more hope.

    Last Saturday evening my wife and I watched Harold Lloyd’s classic silent film, “Safety Last,” released in 1923 and probably filmed the year before. It was a charming comedy with some hilarious physical bits culminating in Lloyd hanging from a huge clock in one of cinema’s most iconic scenes. We watched via online streaming through our favorite local theater, the Hollywood, here Portland. They have a pipe organ, and had recorded their organist playing to the film in an empty theater.

    This film was made just a couple of years after the terrible 1918-1920 influenza pandemic, and here was Lloyd and cast cavorting about amid a busy Los Angeles filled with people, the pandemic behind them. We will get to our own busy “new normal” in the not too distant future. A year from now things will likely be quite different from today, in a good way.

    And we’ll get there by showing up, each day. Thank you for this! May you and yours have a very happy holiday season.

    • Thank you for your daily presence here, Dale, which we all appreciate. Also…I love that your local theater is showing “Safety Last.” The Harold Lloyd and Hal Roach productions of that era are unsurpassed as far as I’m concerned. You bring up an excellent point about how those films were produced just a couple of years after the 1918 pandemic. They’re all the more remarkable for that.

      Hope you and yours have a great holiday, Dale. Thanks again. See you in 2021.

    • Dale, What an amazing coincidence. We just watched “Safety Last” a couple of weeks ago after our son suggested it. It was a delightful movie and hard to figure out how they did such a convincing job of Lloyd climbing up that building.

      Did you know Harold Lloyd had lost the thumb and index finger of his right hand in an explosives accident earlier in his career, and he’s wearing a prosthetic with a glove over it in the movie. You can see one scene of the clock-hanging incident where he can’t wrap his hand around the hand of the clock. And yet he still soldiered on! Courage and talent.

  9. Give charities money, not canned goods, so they can buy “clean” goods that haven’t gone through who knows how many hands. And, yes, those people who haven’t been driven into economic hell by this crap have been extremely generous.

    What I’ve been able to observe from the sidelines is total emotional disaster in the middle of the suck. A close friend of 40 years had a major stroke, and none of us could help her or her family, then she died alone in the hospital. None of us could help her family and had to grieve alone. My best friend’s husband was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer early in the pandemic, and I couldn’t be there for her or help in any physical way. Phone calls and emails just don’t cut it. He died within a few months. Again, I could do nothing, and she was left alone.

    And the happy things I missed. My niece’s wedding. It was in her parents’ back yard with both parents and her best friend. Birthdays, anniversaries, traditional get togethers.

    So what sucked most about this year wasn’t being stuck absolutely alone for most of the year but being trapped behind a giant plexiglass screen watching people I love go through the worst and the best times of their lives without me.

    • It’s interesting that you mentioned this, Marilynn. I just watched my granddaughter give a piano recital on Zoom and was thinking how fortunate I was that there was technology to do this. That said, the teens of this era are missing out on a lot that we took for granted, socially and every other way. Then there are the situations you mentioned, where loss is borne alone. Hopefully we’ll be able to help those who are grieving in person on the other side of this. Thanks for the reminder.

    • I’m so with you, Marilynn. My husband’s sister died this week from cancer. Everyone knew it was a matter of “when”, not “if” although she was a fighter until the end. The greater pain comes from not being able to do anything, to be stuck here while her husband has to deal with everything on his own.

  10. Ahh…Joe, love this post. And love all the comments.

    Embrace the suck.

    Cancer patients have this down pat, I gotta say. Working with them for a decade and a half taught me something about narrowing down what I think I need. We don’t need even a hundredth of what we think we need.

    I recall one scene with a patient who was checking in for her long chemo treatment. My female staff member who checked her in had been complaining to her teammates about her latest visit to her hair salon and how the knucklehead who colored her hair didn’t get it exactly right. She bragged that she demanded her money back and got it. The two other girls commiserated with her, sharing a similar story or two.

    As I watched from behind them, the complainant handed insurance cards back to the patient. Then stopped cold as she watched the patient slowly remove her hat. The patient didn’t say a word. Just put her cards away, put her cap back on her gleaming scalp, and walked away. You coulda heard a pin drop.

    Lesson learned.

    If you want to be encouraged, I always say, get to know a cancer patient.

    Happy holidays, Joe! Be well. (All y’all, too…) 🙂

    • Deb, such a moving scene. You’re right. I had a colleague friend of mine, who worked at our Central library, who died of cancer. While she was undergoing therapy, she came in to my branch to visit. She was wan, and a little spacey from the chemo, but so very kind. I was getting choked up talking to her when she said she wanted to tell me what a special person I was. That she was battling cancer and yet thought only of telling me what I meant to her as a friend was a kindness that I still feel, all these years later. She was all about being kind, no matter what the situation.

    • Deb, thank you for your kind words and especially for that story. Maybe we all get wrapped up in our problems of the moment but you don’t have to look too far to find someone who is in a situation that is much, much worse. Helen Keller — now there is an example — is credited as saying “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” Just so.

      Happy holidays to you as well, Deb. Be safe. See you in 2021.

  11. And Happy Festival of Lights to you, Joe. (I had to Google Chag Urim Sameach) Nice and heartfelt piece to end the year of the suck, my friend. May 2021 be the un-suck and we’ll rejoice in the new normal. BTW, I like your hat 🙂

    • Thank you so much, Garry. I’m glad you like the hat! I have obtained almost all of mine at Meyer the Hatter, family-owned and operated for almost 125 years and located in the same block on St. Charles Street in New Orleans. Sam Meyer, at 91, still is in the store occasionally and can look at your head and say “7 5/8!” in reference to your hat size. And you WILL BE 7 5/8!
      Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  12. Thank you for this post, Joe. And for the reverse Advent calendar. While there may not be enough days left in this year to complete the whole list, it’s one that will be useful any month of the year. We won’t fix the deep need created by 2020’s events overnight. But I do look forward to a new year, one where our support of friends, family, and strangers leads to deeper connections and peace for all.

    Many blessings to both this site’s contributors and those who enjoy and absorb its contents every day. Thank you all!

  13. What kind gesture, Joe, in a year that seems to be seriously short on kindness. A horrifying number of Americans are food insecure, and the pandemic has only made it worse. Thanks for reminding those of us who are fortunate that we have a duty to care for people who aren’t as lucky as we are. Stay safe and happy holidays.

    • Thank you, Elaine. Many years ago I heard a priest give an otherwise undistinguished homily that contained the wonderful nugget, “Don’t give until it hurts…give until it feels good!” I haven’t followed that advice nearly enough but it is never too late to start. Be well and Happy Holidays to you and yours.

  14. You’re welcome, Suzanne. As you pointed out, one can do this at any month throughout the year. Actually, if the urge strikes and someone wants to pick up a few items during a grocery shopping trip and donate those, that works too.

    One thing I should have mentioned is that many food banks publish online lists of what they need at a given moment. My local bank needed toilet paper, paper towels, condiments, and canned fruit, among other things. Done, and done.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Suzanne, and blessings to you as well.

  15. Checking in late today but that doesn’t lessen my appreciation for your insightful post, Joe. Despite many family members and friends in the military, somehow I missed “Embrace the suck.” Excellent advice.

    Warm Christmas greetings to you and your family. And, for all of us, may the New Year be full of embracing and very little sucking.

  16. Debbie, you are not late because we never close! Merry Christmas and Happy 2021 to you and yours. I’m looking forward to a good one and I hope you are as well.

  17. Joe, what a wonderful end of the year post! I love the reverse advent calendar and that you reminded us of what we should be doing every year, not just 2020.

    Like others have said, TKZ has become the first electronic stop of each day for me. The wisdom and good sense displayed here are priceless. Thanks to you and all the other contributors and commenters.

    Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas to all. Now it’s off to the Dollar Tree Store! ?

    • Thank you so much, Kay, for all of your kind comments. There would be no point to doing this without you and everyone who stops by here. So, thank you for being here.

      Dollar Tree?! I LOVE Dollar Tree. I am addicted to Dollar Tree. The Snack Zone! Frozen Food! Cards! Obscure DVDs! Have fun. And Merry Christmas and Happy 2021!

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