Author: Nancy Davis Kho

Rise: The Midlife Mixtape

Numerous studies show the link between a high-energy playlist and the uplift in mood it can inspire. And when it comes to songs that play on the word “rise,” there’s no shortage of tunes that remind us to get up and keep trying, no matter how dark things seem. A RISE playlist may not be a cure, but if all it does is help us uncurl from the fetal position and take stock of what we do next, that’s a pretty good place to start. “Rise to the Sun” – Alabama Shakes. Sometimes it’s a victory just to get up and power through your day. It’s especially daunting when your goals feel infinity miles away, or as Alabama Shakes sing, “Well, my eyes are full of stars, But I just can’t reach ’em… oh, how high they are.” Take comfort in knowing you’re in good company in the struggle, and take heart in the fierceness of Brittany Howard’s vocals. “The Rising” – Bruce Springsteen Off his 2002 album of the same name, this Bruce Springsteen …

25 Years Later, Adventures with My Husband Are Just Getting Started

“What’s the Australian equivalent of Ibuprofin?” I asked my husband, handing him Band-Aids out of a medicine chest in a hut in the middle of the Tasmanian wilderness. “Is it paracetamol?” I said, flipping through various tiny white medicine packets stored in a Dixie cup. My husband winced and limped back to a bench to tend to his blistered feet. He’d been pretending they weren’t bothering him, but four days and almost 40 miles into our traverse of Tasmania’s Overland Track, his feet weren’t playing along. “Hey, your legs are still bleeding from the leeches,” he said, pointing to the rivulets that traced their way down my left calf. We’d learned that leeches secrete a chemical to prevent your blood from clotting while they fill up. You can’t feel them latch onto you and it doesn’t hurt to have them there, but once they fill up and drop off it, it takes ages for the bleeding to stop. “I know,” I said, dapping at the blood with a tissue. “Those little Tasmanian bastards.” It was the …

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How Do I Feel About A Midlife Crisis? Whatever.

Last spring, I celebrated my 50th birthday. Some might say I’ve finally reached capital-M Midlife, but I’ve always contended that Midlife started back when I turned 39. I mean, I harbor no unrealistic dreams of longevity, based solely on the amount of chemicals I put away in the ‘70s in the form of Tab, Bubble Yum and Pop Rocks. Then again, I’m a Gen-Xer, for whom dry-eyed pragmatism is a generational calling card. And it’s exactly that deeply ingrained bias against bullshit that I think means my cohort and I are going to totally rock middle age. Let me explain. At 46 million members, Gen X is small, wedged between some 80 million Baby Boomers and 78 million Millennials. We have classic middle child syndrome — ignored and overlooked and stuck between two hulking siblings who’ve taken up all the legroom and media attention on our 78-year road trip around the sun. Demographic shorthand for Americans born 1964-ish to 1980-ish says that most of our parents were divorced and distracted, leaving their latchkey offspring to …

This Is What the American Dream Actually Looks Like

My late father-in-law was an immigrant. He was also one of the most American guys I ever met — if you believe that what defines our national character is a willingness to pull yourself up by the bootstraps, a love of family and community, a thirst for knowledge and, of course, a really green lawn. Boen Tong — known as “Tong” or “BT” to his wife and friends, “Dad” and “Grandpa” to his kids and grandkids and “Tom” to the slightly deaf old Jewish ladies with whom he played bridge in his later years — was born in Indonesia in 1919. He spent his childhood working in the family batik business, pedaling his bike through the Javanese jungle to pick up the beautifully dyed cloth for which Indonesia is known. He spoke Malay and Javanese, but when his parents sent him to study at Dutch schools, Dutch became the first of four foreign languages in which he would eventually become fluent. By age 19, BT showed signs of grit and determination that would put a …

I’m 50 and I Can’t Remember Jack Shit

When I was a kid, super memory was my superpower. I was the youngest in my nuclear family, the second-to-youngest in my extended family, and I was regarded as a rememberer-in-chief by all my relatives. Trip to the grocery store? “Nancy, we need apples, tomatoes and cereal,” Mom would say, and I’d reel off the list to her until it was all in the cart. “Nancy, what was the restaurant where we ate in the Adirondacks?” Aunt Margaret would ask, and I’d answer, “Keyes Pancake House” before the question was out of her mouth. People marveled. “You never forget anything.” It was easy, this remembering of things. What was the big deal? I’d think to myself, with all the self-awareness a nine-year-old girl could muster. Later, when I was teenager and perfecting random cruelty directed at my mother, I’d openly mock her for her inability to remember things. “Did I see that movie? Did I like it?” I’d taunt her, after she’d ask me just those questions about some film I’d mentioned. How could someone …

My Proof God Wants Us to Keep Laughing

When I was a kid attending church with my family, the worst offense we could commit was to laugh in the middle of the service. Which is why my siblings and I regularly prodded each other into laughter so forceful that it seemed to emit from our mouths, noses and ears. My brother and sister and I were regularly reshuffled to opposite ends of the pews by parental glares set to “SALT PILLAR” until the moment Miss Smith arose and called the kids to follow her out for Sunday School. The lesson was driven home at an early age: God and humor do not mix. So I was so delighted, as an adult, to find a church in my adopted hometown in NorCal where a) our priest is an accomplished stilt walker and never misses a chance to explain a parable from ten feet overhead; b) the send-off gift to newly ordained seminarians as they head to their first big jobs is a flaming Bible (to be used ironically, of course); and c) when a …

Midlife Mixtape: Albums, Books and Other Music-Inspired Gifts

O Holy Night, it’s already end of November and I’ve done zero holiday shopping so far this year – whoops. Normally all that’s left for me buy by December 1 are the tangerines for the toe of the Christmas stocking (that go uneaten in favor of the chocolate, but at least I try for the healthy option.) Not this year –  2016 kept knocking me down every time I got up. Suck it, 2016. No tangerine for you. I do, however, have lots of ideas for Christmahannakwaanzukah gifts for the music lovers, book readers, and sense of humor-havers in your lives. Some caveats: I believe in paying creative people for their work, so I still buy albums and print books (for which the musician/author gets a much higher royalty percentage.) I encourage you to shop locally. And this year in particular, I’m trying to find products that are made in parts of our country where manufacturing jobs have been lost. Maybe if people weren’t so disaffected and hopeless about the economy, they wouldn’t have been …

Even When Dad Was Dying, We Kept Laughing

I am one of the lucky ones whose parents, through a combination of good genes and good living and good luck, were still around when I was in my 40s. When I thought about losing either one of them, which I did rarely and fleetingly, I pictured myself sobbing next to a hospital bed, drained faces, the gaping abyss that would come with the loss of someone who had loved me unconditionally from my first breath. Then my dad got sick in June this year and died in July. And I realized I’d left out an important facet of the process of losing them: laughter. Admittedly, mine is a family where a quick wit was prized and prodded to higher purpose. A sense of humor was as important growing up in my home as was the ability to work hard, tell the truth and clean the rabbit cage without being nagged to do it. I don’t believe we were special that way; the proprietary humor that can thrive between family members is part of the …

Here’s Your Protest Playlist: 11 Songs to Fight the Power

One of the things we love about music is its power to tap straight into the emotions you need to feel and get out, the ones that defy words and logic. This week saw me put in my earbuds and walk and walk and walk, finding messages in every song I heard that helped me process shock, disappointment and fear. I’m trying to be ready to move on. And if you are too, I’m sharing a list of inspirational protest songs to fuel you for the hard work ahead of us. What would you add to the list? “Can’t You Tell?”  — Aimee Mann In the run up to this election, Dave Eggers’ 30 Days, 30 Songs project saw artists released 30 songs in the days leading up to Election Day, “united in our desire to speak out against the ignorant, divisive, and hateful campaign of Donald Trump.” It’s no longer a campaign but a presidency, which just makes the need for creative protest and creative community more urgent. I mean, as Aimee Mann notes, it’s not like …

Why I Will Never Pull an All-Nighter

Procrastination is almost always presented as a negative act, a problem to be tamed, a character flaw to be furtively confessed. As someone who never does tomorrow what I can finish today, I’d like to present a different view. I have harbored secret admiration for procrastinators my whole life, because they’re comfortable rolling with last-minute changes and short deadlines in a way I fear I never will be. I was the kind of student in high school who received her assignments, immediately broke them into smaller, manageable tasks, then dutifully counted backwards from the due date to record each one on my desk calendar with a blue Bic pen. At a time when my social life and hair were unenviable (the latter thanks to ‘80s spiral perms and Aquanet,) I craved the feeling of control and calm that came with seeing exactly what would be expected of me each day, checking each completed task off the list. [pullquote]Adolescence could feel like wading chest-high through peaty sludge, but at least my homework was always complete, and …

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Family Archivist: Why I’m the Only One Who Still Writes Letters

I come from one of those annoyingly functional intact families that make it hard for me to sell my memoir to publishers. Of course, the rosy vision I have of my family relations is helped by the fact that I live, by choice, three thousand miles away from them in the Bay Area, and have for 20 years. It’s easier to idolize my parents and siblings (and vice versa) when we’re not rubbing right up against each other every day. Even if the cross-country move was entirely my doing, once I became a parent the fact that I was the outer moon to their cozy hometown Family Planet became harder to bear. When Mom and Dad wanted to see my brother’s and sister’s kids perform in a school music showcase or volleyball game, it required a drive that ranged from five to thirty-five minutes (depending on the snow). To see my kids perform, it requires advanced airline reservations, a transfer in Chicago, and three days for them to get over jet lag. Seeing Grandma and …

10 Songs to Get You Through That Breakup (Using Kubler-Ross)

An epic breakup deserves an epic playlist, but here’s the problem. Like the beautiful, delicate snowflake that is new love, every sordid, sad split is unique. There are the breakups we caused, the breakups that crushed us, the breakups we sort of suspected were coming from the first date. And within each of the hundreds of different kinds of breakup playlists, there are special songs whose opening notes make only one person gasp in pain — the song that perfectly describes his strong shoulders, her tangled hair, or was the song the two of you heard that one time when you were at that one place you used to go (and now you’re choking back a sob again). So putting together a ten-song breakup playlist is very much like that relationship slated for failure from the get-go: I can’t know I’ll get it right. But using the Kübler-Ross model of grief as our rough guide, we’ll start with the wallowing, move next to resignation, and finally progress to a hearty (if fake for now) pledge …

10 Songs to Whet Your Appetite

There’s nothing like hunger to get a starving-artist songwriter thinking. At least I think that’s true, based on the sheer number of songs dedicated to culinary delights, real and imagined. Herewith a playlist of tasty-sounding songs that celebrate all things scrumptious. 1. Church by Lyle Lovett You shouldn’t start a meal without a moment of gratitude for the labor of those who made it possible, so we’ll start with a Texas prayer that celebrates gospel, country cookin’ and comedy. Lovett’s trapped in a church service where the preacher just won’t wrap up the sermon and let the congregation get to all the deliciousness that awaits it in the parish hall. So he takes matters into his own hands. The message: Even God wants you to get some of that good cornbread. 2. Black Coffee in Bed by Squeeze Technically coffee’s not breakfast, but when all you have left is a stain where your love’s coffee cup once was, well, maybe that’s all you feel like eating today. Though I’ll point out that many a strained …

10 Songs That Will (Happily) Put You to Sleep

I definitely don’t need any help falling asleep these days. Maybe it’s maternal multitasking, maybe it’s the depleting store of hormones, maybe I have adult onset narcolepsy — I never thought to seek a diagnosis. You know who does? My reticent 16-year-old daughter, who comes alive, animated and desirous of conversation just as I am blacking out between my bed sheets. So I’ve put together a 10-song go-to-sleep playlist so potent that even she might nod off at a reasonable hour. I’m hoping it will reset her body clock so she’ll wake up at dawn like I do, ready for that chat (once I’ve had a cup of coffee). 1. Tonight Will Be Fine (Leonard Cohen cover) by Teddy Thompson The title encapsulates the hope we all harbor as we climb into bed: a good night’s sleep uninterrupted by the need to pee, spousal snoring, or sudden leg cramps. Cohen’s unmatched lyrical prowess paired with Thompson’s earnest, pure voice and strumming guitar put you in the right frame of mind for slumber. And if you’re …

Give It Up for the Giving Circle

It’s hard to believe how long it’s lasted. We may not have given away millions, but we’ve kept it going. Shortly after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, I reached out via email to fifteen friends I knew from different spheres of my life – my fellow elementary school moms, friends from church, old college buddies who lived nearby. “Between Katrina, Rita, the earthquake in Pakistan, the melting polar ice cap, the war in Iraq and, and, and … I’ve been feeling kinda gloomy and hopeless.” I wrote. I knew my friends did too. I wondered, in the email, if they might want to join me to set up a social meet up once a month, where we would pool our funds—the suggested donation was whatever you would have spent on a girl’s night out—in support of a non-profit organization selected by the group. Pretty simple. We had no bigger ambition than to spend time with friends and throw a tiny bit of good karma back into the world. Those first few meetings were rough. In …