Now that The Red Kitchen is on its way to an April publication, I am free to work on my next memoir. The current title is Pre-Existing Conditions and takes up my dubious rise in the health insurance industry. And my retreat to a Missouri farm where I launched a second career as a writer. Part of the writing process for me is to look at words—and the subtle meanings they can mask.

The word “interesting” comes to mind. Of course, this Chinese curse pretty much qualifies as the understatement of the year.

This year a woman who barely knows me said, “You’ve certainly had an interesting life.” First off, her tone sounded fatalistic—is mine about over? Did she accidentally touch a layer of regret that I didn’t do more with the time I have? Or was it simply a compliment? Many years ago, a relative said I had an “interesting life” but meant sort of sad since I didn’t have a husband, owned a home, and had moved sixty times. Maybe “interesting” can be both a plus or a minus.

And now we come to this past year. I think the tree ornament just about sums it up in so many ways for so many people. For the rich it was a spectacular year—a windfall of tax breaks and profits. For the poor it was the worst year since . . . the Great Depression, the plague of ___(your choice), and not looking too much better for early 2021. And for everyone else—we are a smidge less screwed.

Here are a few words I’d like to flush in the new year.

Those” people is candidate number one. If that isn’t another word for condescension and disdain I don’t know what is. Depending on who you talk to and where you live, “those” can mean how you voted, who you follow on Twitter, and a dozen other dividing lines. It can mean anyone you don’t like, a place you would never visit, or want to include in your circle of virtue. Let’s all just stop shoving people into camps and making mainstream media, politicians, and dubious pundits rich! I think the whole lot of them need to do this:

I’m sick of another word we throw around – “evil.” The list keeps growing; first and always Russia, China is closing in, North Korea, Cuba is in the hall of forever, Iran is the axis, and Venezuela, to name a few. It’s a long sad list of those “evil” countries and their leaders as well.

Here’s another word I hope has a short shelf life. The “soul” of the nation. Merriam Webster has 8 definitions of soul—not one refers to a landmass. If we choose the second definition – “The spiritual principle embodied in human beings, all rational and spiritual beings, or the universe” – we’ve got some work to do. Maybe stop bombing, deporting, invading, exploiting, starving, and punishing other human beings.

But here’s something that always makes me both sad and happy at the same time. When you go to another one of those countries, the people there are friendly, they don’t hate us, and they often share the same challenges, hopes, and dreams. They love their country as much as we are raised to love ours. Homeland is more than security.

I’m not sure 2021 is going to be what we like to call (even gluten-free) a

My best hope is that we’ve learned some things in 2020 and can apply them to 2021.

If not, we’ll have to live out another common phrase – here’s hoping.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana


Photo credits: Eyeglasses – Dimitry Ratushny, Outdoor Toilet – Amy Reed, The Scrabble Tiles – Brett Jordan, Piece of Cake – Cristina Matos-Albers