Writing is one thing. Marketing yourself to the world is another. On the one hand I don’t think that the desire for readers is an unreasonable one for a writer to have. On the other hand, I feel like that little kid on the diving board screaming across the pool to her parents: “watch me, watch me, watch me,” just before she dives into the pool.
Marketing myself, my message and my book is in part exciting because it will bring me readers. But another part of me, the old-school, older-generation part feels awkward in the me, me, me, proposition. Plus calling attention to yourself to a point where you actually get people to turn their heads and watch you go off the diving board takes a lot of energy and time.
An assembled marketing team that’s walking me through the process of reaching out on social media tells me that when I post a picture of myself, I get three times more engagement than if I post a picture of something else. They ask me to make video and get more pictures taken. I wince a little bit, hearing the sound of old Catholic nuns in my head who tell me that vanity is a sin. Obviously those nuns never had to promote a book.
Everything has two sides. I feel passionately about my message which is: Embrace your years. Growing older is a privilege not a sentence. Take note that this is a creative, vibrant and noble passage. We are never too old to make a difference.
I love that my message and my book might inspire someone to be a little less afraid of growing older. That’s the gift I want to give. But the me, me, me, me, thing often times makes that lovely message feel less like a gift and a more like the kid on the diving board. And we all know that kid after three of four shouts across the pool of “watch me, watch me, watch me,” becomes annoying.
But here I go, head first into the pool. And just in case you didn’t see the dive, I’ve posted a picture of myself to go with this post.
For most of my adult life I have been a carrot juice swilling, veggie chomping, sugar eschewing, fitness buff. I’ve made good choices. I value health. I stand strong and somewhat smugly in the light of that truth. And then I moved to Texas.
Texas women are belles. That means they are beautiful,
elegant, smart and gracious all in one package. I’ve never met women like them anywhere. And they all have a certain gene. The more Texan they are, the more dominant
the gene. It’s a cross between
mothering, welcoming, sisterhood and baking.
Oh my God, the baking.
Early on in my new Austin life, I was invited into a book
group. I’ve been in groups before.
Writing groups, book groups, bang-on-a-drum women’s groups, but nothing in my
past could have prepared me for the change that this group would thrust upon me
with its room full of belles, seeking expression for their dominant gene.
I’m talking about Texas hospitality. I was warmly welcomed into a sisterhood that conducts its book group in a way that would put Martha Stewart to shame. And they make it look easy. First, a light dinner is served. It’s perfect. Everything is arranged in an inviting way, and even though the food is being dished out as guests arrive, the kitchen remains mysteriously clean and sparkly.
Only after the meal is consumed, and wine is poured is there talk of the book. The conversations are smart, and emotionally intelligent. Once the book has been discussed, that genetic snip raises itself up, and the hostess brings out dessert.
Please keep in mind my earlier statement about “sugar eschewing.” The first time dessert was served at a meeting, I wanted to be polite, and so I took a little bite. There are no store-bought desserts in this group. The gene to which I refer concocts an alchemical decadence of creamy, sweet, tart, crunchy, luxury that has powdered sugar sprinkled on top. Like a siren calling to the mariner, I am moved to another bite, as I try making deals with myself: “Okay, just one more bite, and that’s all.” Ha!
And then came the second book group. Dessert was brought out and my mouth began to water. Are you kidding me? Who bakes like this? I knew that I was hooked when I began to moan. “Oh God. Ohhhhhh. Oh, this is so good. So good, Yes, yes, yes.” I’ll have what she’s having takes on new meaning.
We have no control over the events in our life, only our attitudes. So here’s my attitude: “Bring it!”
My life is changing before my eyes. I think about building a shrine to Paula Deen on my front porch. I dream of what ingredients these women keep in their cupboards. I fantasize about being in their kitchens and licking bowls.
Last night, I wanted to throw myself into a tray of banana pudding, so I can’t really be held responsible for what escaped my lips as I finished the last bite of pudding. In front of these warm, kind ladies, the words just wouldn’t stay in my head and without my knowing it, escaped into the space: “This is so fucking good,” I moaned, unaware that I had pierced the veil between thought and, “did she just say that?”
But, no one judged. They laughed, so I don’t think I’ve been thrown out of the group for bad behavior just yet. I am not a belle, more like a street urchin who has probably been exposed to one too many Fitbits and too much kale.
I’ll get in my 10,000 steps today. I’ll prepare vegetables and protein for dinner. I’ll drink a protein smoothie for breakfast . . . with fiber. I know that for the next month, if I have dessert at all, it will be fresh berries with coconut milk and a little stevia. Then in May, it will happen again. I’ll go to the book group. I’ll adore all of those wonderful women. I’ll participate in the book discussion and hope that when dessert is served, I can behave.
My life is different now. My design on the pure and healthy diet has met its match. The sweet taste of homemade dessert served up on a bed of southern graciousness is too difficult for me to resist. The truth is I want to fill a bathtub with their chocolate torts, vanilla cakes and banana puddings, inserting myself naked into the center of it. This is probably an indication that I need serious therapy.
I’ve recently come to realize that I’ve been a part of a movement that I didn’t look for, didn’t ask for, and didn’t see because it was right in front of my face. Funny how that works. I began writing about and advocating for Positive Aging, several years ago. I’m now a part of a growing movement that seeks to dispel the toxic myths of what it is to be an old person. And I have been blessed with models like Ruth Bader-Ginsburg, Carole King, and my heroine, Betty White. None of these women “retired” from life. Instead they embraced their years with a great love and gratitude and continued to thrive.
Don’t Define Me: Leave it to the Boomers to not go gently into that goodnight. Growing old is a pleasure and a gift. I live an active life both physically and mentally. And while yes, people my age may get dementia, have cancer, or arthritic knees, those things are not a given. The truth is, you can get a disease or an injury at any age. But go on the Internet and look up “top issues for seniors” and you will find statistics and studies that make every last one of us look like frail, fragile, sick and forgetful souls, withering away from our precious significance.
What The Accumulating Years Look Like: I recently saw a television show of Carole King’s concert in Hyde Park. Behind her on the stage was a huge screen that projected her image so that the crowd could see her playing and singing. She looked up at the image and then said to the audience: This is what 74 looks like. I love it that she said that. I say that too, this is what 67 looks like, and it’s not the B.S. that is on the Internet telling me I’m ready for Depends. We all have to realize that Big Pharma, and advertising directed at “senior products” is big business. And that’s what’s primarily responsible for stereotyping aging in a toxic light.
Engagement: Most of my peers travel are well read, adhere to an exercise program and try to eat well. I meet them in book clubs, writing groups, Pilate’s classes and on the hiking trail. Though they may have retired from full-time work, many still work as consultants or in part-time jobs that bring them a sense of purpose. It’s good to have something to get up for everyday. Some, like me have entered into encore careers. But none of my peers have decided to put their feet up and watch the paint dry. We all feel that we have much to offer and to share with the world. We are wildly in love with life.
The Most Truthful Stats: I loved reading Aging Well by George E. Vaillant, M.D., Director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development. After collecting and studying decades of data on aging populations, Vaillant concluded that aging well is not just about diet and exercise (though that helps) and it’s not about your cholesterol numbers. Rather your health and happiness is largely dependent upon your attitude.
So, the Positive Aging model is really about seeing and embracing your years as a process of vitality and continued psychological and spiritual growth.
When Are You Old?: Ask a Millennial when old age begins and likely they’ll tell you “59.” Ask a 65-year-old when old age begins and they’ll say 73. Ask me and I’ll tell you that old age begins when you disengage from life, when you shrink away from a your hard won sense of confidence and purpose. Don’t let anyone define you or put an expiration date on you. As we come to the end of our journey, we will know. Only then will we naturally and organically surrender to the pull of eternity and return to the stardust from which we came.
Love Where You Are: Positive Aging is not a means for finding ways to stay young, rather it’s a way to embrace your years and see how rich they are. Stand proudly in the light of your truth. Live fully and love well.
Badass Grannies: I intend to dance for as long as I can, to breathe in the rapture of the experience of being alive. That’s badass living. That’s badass aging. I’ve taken to heart the words from the great poet, William Ernest Henley, “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” And I’ve taken to heart that attitude gets you a long way when it comes to health, happiness and aging. Hey, no body puts granny in a corner!
This isn’t the first time that I’ve overthought something and maybe tried a little too hard to get something right. Relocating from Oregon to Texas had a lot of moving parts and being a logistical queen, I handled most of them efficiently. There is, however, a kind of weariness that ensues when you’re dealing with so many challenges and changes. My little Type-A personality won’t rest when it’s tired if there’s more work to be done. So that “trying-too-hard” thing tripped me up and resulted in a demonstration of what I’d call, a super-mighty fiasco. In other words, I just wasn’t paying attention.
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, which oversees drivers licenses, you need to get a license within 90 days of moving here. What they don’t say however, is when that day starts. Is it when you close on your house? Is it when you actually move in to your house? Or maybe it’s when you register your car, because that’s the first time that you are in the system. I chose the “I’m in the system, date” as the official marker for my residency. That’s when I started counting — October 31st. Therefore I must get a Texas driver’s license by January 31st.
Somewhere around January 10th, my husband and I went into hyper gear. We downloaded the Texas Driver’s Manual from the Texas Department of Public Safety web site and began to study. Reading the manual, the first thing that I noticed was that there was an awful lot of information about DWI ‘s and DUI’s, the fines, the jail time, how many years, yes years, it would take you to get your license back if you’re convicted of a DWI.
On the practice tests that I took, there were so many questions about DUI fines and convictions that it began to dawn upon me that maybe Texas had a little bit of a drinking problem. Seems that there was a ton of legislation passed in 2014 meant to deter the bad combo of the drink and the drive. Studying how that legislation applied to me, the Texas driver, also proved to be a deterrent for committing to memory every fine, sentence and charge that comes with a “driving while under the influence” conviction. And yes, it was enough to make me want to drink. I was never going to be able to pass this test. I spent three hours on a Sunday afternoon trying to memorize what could happen to someone who was bonehead enough to consume an over abundance of alcohol and not call an Uber.
On the day after the Martin Luther King holiday, I was ready. Hubby and I made our way to Texas DPS to take our written tests and get our licenses. It’s important to note at this part of the story, that the last time I took a written driver’s test, I lived in Ashland, Oregon — population 20,000. There were exactly three people in the line in front of me the day that I took the test.
Austin though, has a population of 2 million. There were 65 gazillion people waiting in line in front of me to get their license. Someone in a uniform announced to the masses that it would be a minimum 3 and a half hour wait. That same official person told us that we could make a reservation to stand in line by going to the website. So we did. We got on our phones and reserved our places. We went home, had some lunch, walked the dog and returned to the DPS almost four hours later.
On our second trip to get a driver’s
license in the same day, we checked in at the kiosk and found that the
mysteries of the digital universe had recorded my information and my
reservation to stand in line, but not my husbands. So we cut our losses, went home, ate
chocolate, and whined about the wasted day.
Three mornings later, we were now
old pros. We got up early, got on-line, made our reservations to stand in line;
and it was then that I noticed the fine print under the check-list of documents
we were supposed to bring to the Texas Department of Safety. It said something to the effect that if we
had an unexpired license from another state, we would be exchanging it for a
Texas license. Wait. What? No written
test? I searched the website and found a
second reference to “no written test when you hold an unexpired license from
another state.” How the hell did I miss this?
An odd combination of relief in knowing that no one would question me about how many days I’d spend in jail if I was convicted of a DUI, and regret that I would never get back all those hours when I studied the meaning of signs that contained pictures of cows, little men with flags and speed limits. The cows do not mean rodeo ahead; the men with flags, do not connote football game nearby; and the speed limits are more than just suggestions.
I think that one of the ways that you can tell you’ve settled into someplace new is that you start relaxing and you stop trying so hard to do everything right and right away. At this writing, I’m lying around in my pajamas hoping to master the art of doing nothing today, while simultaneously laughing at myself and the super-mighty, Texas drivers license fiasco. I’m told I should receive my license in the mail in the next couple of weeks. Sigh . . .
My new neighborhood reminds me of the opening credits in Desperate Housewives. Behind the beautiful front doors, the manicured lawns, and the gentle southern curb appeal, most certainly lurk all kinds of stories with a sharper edge. Or at least that’s what I’m hoping.
Recently transplanted to southern Texas, by way of Ashland, Oregon, we don’t really know anyone yet. Aside from walking our dog, our days consist of digging through unending boxes and looking for a place to put things. Consequently there is no television hooked up yet to numb our brains at the end of the day. So Dean and I spend our evenings sitting on the front porch, talking in whispers and wonderings about this new place we’ve moved to.
Directly across the street from us is Richard. (All names have been changed in order to cover my ass and protect the innocent.) Richard walks Domino, a black Portuguese water dog. On the day that we first said “hi” to one another, I commented about the plethora of inflatable ghosts and goblins, dozens of pumpkins and skeletons that seemed to be reproducing themselves on his front lawn. It’s a veritable blow up doll convention out there.
“My wife,” he said. And then followed it with “Wait until Christmas,” a comment that left me with a little shudder.
The man has three daughters and a wife who is obviously determined to give her kids happy childhood memories. But as the object of my fascination, Kinky Friedman, once said “A happy childhood is the worst preparation for life.”
The neighbor next door to them have two boys. They throw the football in the evening causing Dean to recount his childhood: always in a relationship with a ball game with other boys — football, baseball, basketball, come over for a catch, kind of days. I never tire of those stories, imagining my 67-year-old husband as an 11-year-old with fresh eyes, a dimpled grin and a fair amount of mischief that he never lost.
Stella is the mother to those boys. I met her when she was walking Lennon, named after John. If not for my dog Jeter, it might take me months to meet and greet the neighbors, but a goofy Labrador retriever is a ticket to an introduction. A few minutes of canine sniffing gives time for an exchange of names and a sincere welcome to the neighborhood. Stella’s yard is decorated for Halloween too, but not crazy over the top, over compensating for something decorated, like Richard’s yard.
Dean and I speculate about the lives here, the intersection of old and young, reckless and measured, all of it with a Texan texture and the smell of barbecue in the air. Welcome to Austin, a fun and foreign land.
“Do you think that we’ve bought enough Halloween trick or treat stuff to give out” I ask him.
“It doesn’t matter. The neighborhood kids are going to hate you anyway because you’re giving out little bags of pretzels and popcorn. You know the holiday is all about the candy, right?”
“What about healthy treats?” He rolls his eyes. “Am I going to be that old woman whose trees the kids in the neighborhood wrap in toilet paper because she doesn’t give out Snickers at Halloween?”
He shrugs. “Maybe.”
I’d hate to wake up to that the morning after. Especially since we just gave our yard got some autumn love this past week, a toned down version of Halloween blow up dolls. We planted winter-hardy pansies and mini snapdragon. I placed three baskets of mums on our porch and an autumn wreath on the front door. I put out a couple of pumpkins. I confess to putting out fake ones, having dealt with the carnage wrought by aggressive squirrels over the years. It all looks very tasteful and welcoming. Then again, maybe my decor is screaming that I’m giving out stupid bags of popcorn for Halloween.
A car pulls into a driveway a few doors down from us and I wave. The driver waves back. “Have you met her?” Dean asks me.
“No, I just want to be friendly in case all the neighborhood kids wind up hating me for giving them pretzels and popcorn for Halloween.”
“Or if you write about this on your blog.”
“That will take longer to discover than the fact that I’m not giving out candy,” I say.
We sit in silence, lost in our thoughts about the lives of polite people in a polite neighborhood that is showing signs of straining at the seams from too many blow-up dolls. Not giving out candy could potentially add to the strain. I’m pissed off that fitting in means so much to me. I hate blow-up dolls and I hate the idea of loading up kids with sugar. But my stomach lurches and before the evening is over, I know I will succumb. I’ll run to Costco tomorrow and buy a bunch of candy to mix in with the healthy treats. That and a glass of hard cider should assuage the Halloween guilt and discomfort.
I like the “new” in front of New Year. Other than that, there’s not really anything that I celebrate. New Year’s eve is my least favorite night of the year to be out and about. People are drinking and they are driving. Restaurants over charge for big meals and staying up until midnight to yell “Happy New Year,” holds absolutely no appeal. So, like most New Year’s, I was in bed and asleep by ten.
There are no New Year resolutions for me, because every time I make a resolution, I break it. Gym memberships and diets are the worst kinds of resolutions, followed by eschewing all negative thoughts and not cursing. I exercise enough. I eat well enough and I keep my curse words close at hand and don’t judge myself for it.
But this year, I want stuff. I want certain things to happen and I know that the old phrase: become the change you wish to see, applies. If I have made one resolution, it is this: to stand in the light of my truth.
I stand in the light of my truth. I am not afraid to identify bad behavior and rhetoric when I see it. If it looks like racism, misogyny and bigotry, then I will call it what it is. I will not support any leader or any human being that defiles another with slurs and policy. I advocate for a world of inclusiveness and civility. I hold these things as personal values and I intend to nurture my character by practicing them.
I stand in the light of my truth. I will not accept the white washing of divisive language by dressing it up and calling it “strong” language, locker room talk, or bar talk. As a writer, I know that words matter and they have power.
I stand in the light of my truth. I fully reject anyone who participates in racist, bigoted behavior or anyone who bears witness to racist, bigoted behavior by stating that they “do not recall.” Experience and age have taught me that we all know when we or someone else is behaving badly, and we do recall.
I stand in the light of my truth. You who bear witness and do nothing; you who participate in the slander of groups based on skin color, religion or sexual orientation; you who try to lie to yourself and to me by telling me that these things don’t matter, but making America great again does matter. I will not be swayed by your weak argument and I will let myself feel disgust and heartbreak so that I fight against you with my vote and my advocacy.
I stand in the light of my truth. I won’t be cowed. I will not waiver. I am not interested in supporting dysfunctional politics. I am interested in doing what I know in my heart is right. And I know the disparagement of targeted groups for the reasons I have stated is wrong. I am going to fight for what is right.
2018 – look out! This is the action that I take: I will not stick my head in the sand and ignore what is going on. And I am not alone. There are many of us. And we stand in the light of our truth, and the power of our convictions.
Our culture spends a lot of time and money on motivational books, inspirational blogs and personal growth seminars. Why is this?
Is it the need to heal some childhood wound of wanting to get it right? Or is there a deeper reason, like wanting to get the most from life? On some level, no matter how successful you are, or how right you get it, we all know the truth, that life is only temporary. And that’s what makes me want to live as fully as I can.
Satisfaction and Success: Satisfaction is sustainable, and success sometimes unattainable. Success is results oriented, often associated with fame and prosperity. Satisfaction is process oriented. While the self-help industry offers some good advice on creating success, the wise elder will do well to redefine the word success, becoming familiar with the nuance of making the world a better place; and become intimate with the satisfaction — doing for the sake of doing.
The Creative Force: The most alive, vibrant people at any age are those for whom creativity plays a daily role. In her 80’s my mother had a small hand-loom, upon which she made wool hats, dozens and dozens of hats. Every so often she would box up the hats and ship them to organizations that would distribute them to children who were in need of winter clothing. It’s the ‘making,’ that keeps the heart and mind engaged. Creativity is the life affirming power that lends itself to purpose.
Fitness of the Mind: My husband plays his bass every evening after dinner. He sometimes takes classes at the university in music theory. It stretches his brain, challenges him to think and process in ways that keep his mind fit. Whether it’s playing music or working crossword puzzles, a mind that is engaged in learning is more flexible. We’ve all heard the story about someone being “set in their ways.” The concretization of who we think we are creates a brittle mind-set, prone to disappointment. Whereas a curious mind-set continues to expand, adapt and evolve.
Fitness of the Body: Keep moving. That is the motto of anyone who has ever had a fitness regime. You know that when you stop, it’s harder to get it back. While pushing weights around a gym may not be the most ideal for older connective tissue, there are a lot of activities that you can do including but not limited to walking, swimming, biking, pilates and yoga. Fitness lessens pain and contributes to positivity and energy.
Fitness of the Spirit: Never grow tired of watching the sunrise or walking in the woods in the early autumn. There are places that evoke in us a reverence, a sense of oneness with all life. I seek out those experiences in nature. Some will find the same in religious text or mindfulness practice. The source of your wonder and awe does not matter as much as your ability to surrender to the sustenance of the wonder. In our later years as things change and end, accessing that place gives us a way to cope with inevitable loss.
Use Your Voice: Some people my age complain that they feel invisible after a certain age. The fact that some people still need to be educated in ageism should not be an excuse to slink away. Use your voice in activism and advocacy. Share your hard won wisdom with those you meet along the way. Do not go gentle into that good night.
Keep Your Dreams Close By: I dream of having three books published before I turn 70, and I am not opposed to sneaking that number up to 75 if necessary, or even 80. I derive a great deal of satisfaction from daily writing, whether it’s my blogs or a new manuscript. I’m good at what I do and I have courage. What I don’t have is a guarantee of anything, but no one does. So, dare to keep dreaming.
Go To Sleep At Night With a Prayer of Thanks on Your Lips: This was the best spiritual advice that I ever received. Say thank you at the ending of each day. Say thank you at the beginning. Life is a gift to be lived to the fullest and there are delights to be had in the successes and failures, the love and the loss, the wonders and the shock. Our best response to living well always be, in my estimation, thank you. Thank you for this day. Thank you for this life.
What’s the one thing that you believe contributes the most to your dynamic life? Please share with me in the comments section.
A is for attitude. Get a good one going on if you want your life to be dynamic and purpose filled. We cannot control the events that happen to us, but we can control our attitude about those events. Money, relationships, status and stuff are not what make us happy. What creates happiness is the attitude with which we walk through life.
I have yet to find any better attitude than gratitude. There’s a scene from Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning that will always be with me. It’s this: a group of prisoners are being moved from one concentration camp to another. They are crammed into the boxcar of a train, like cattle. It’s daybreak, and the train is going by a mountain range. Frankl and his fellow travelers clamor to the side of the boxcar to watch the sunrise through the wooden slats. How beautiful. How amazing, they remark. Each time I think of that scene, I think of this horribly battered human being who still found beauty and awe in a sunrise. If he could do it, than it should be easy for me.
Some days a good attitude can feel far away. Politics and the perversions of poverty seem unstoppable and defeating. The way in which we treat each other shocks the senses. But just like Frankl on that train, I am reminded that beauty and ugliness do exist side by side and it is up to us to choose what we nurture. I choose to nurture beauty through advocacy and activism. I take part in my community to do the things that I can. While I cannot do it all, I can make a difference in my own small way and then sit back and appreciate that I’ve been given the opportunity.
Today is July 4th and our county celebrates its independence as a free and sovereign nation. I celebrate my independence and the freeing attitude of gratitude that does not exist in a bubble of isolation, but rather in reaching out to the world. We are only blessed in order to give blessings.
If you are a writer, you’ve probably asked yourself why. Writing is serious business. It’s solitary. It’s demanding. And no matter how much you study and how much you practice, it is a craft that you never master.
On the one hand, you have to be a little bit crazy to want to lock yourself into a room several hours each day to create worlds with the written word. On the other hand, story telling is sacred art. Stories can teach us, provoke us and make us feel and think in ways that we might not have otherwise. And the writer is always looking for this–what is it that I am writing which touches a universal place in the human condition?
Even with a lofty vision of what writing is to you, it will always be an unforgiving taskmaster. I write and perfect to the best of my ability only to discover the one flaw in the work that will unravel it all, baring my insecurities. I laugh at the rookies who when confronted with cutting 6,000 words thinks that they will be able to use it somewhere else, as through you can just cut and paste one world into another. But I digress. . . In spite of a daily discipline, in spite of focus and unending practice, I have moments where I wonder if I am good enough? Can what I’ve written cut muster? Why do I do this?
That answer ebbs and flows, and it sucks to wrestle with the demons of insecurity and not good enough. So why then, put myself through it? Why does anyone, in any craft where excellence is held in high regard, put themselves through it? It would be so much easier to be a lady who lunches.
I don’t know about other writer’s reasons for creating in this way. For me, I think it comes down to how it informs my unsettledness and gnawing discontent. It feeds something in me that wants to look down from on high and move the pieces around the board to make it mean something. Writing is born of a dark, chaotic place in my psyche that is engaged in the perpetual activity of examining the what if’s in life. The meat of grief, falling from grace, love, betrayal, revenge and how those things can push us toward transformation is my grist. It makes me lick my lips.
Still on a day like today, when I am filled with doubt and I sit down to write anyway, I feel as though I am doing the right thing. And I suppose that counts for something, that and a fervent prayer that I will get to the “good enough.”
Most people who read my blog are writers too. So the question of the day is: why do you write?
While it’s true, that I am no saint, ahem. . . . I am someone who tries to be a better person. Seems like there is always room for improvement. What I want is to keep my gratitude close by and grow my compassion. That’s a tall order for anyone, but all we can do is try, right?
This morning I made myself a to-do list, a reminder list of the simple things that make me a kinder, happier person. I hope that you find some value in it too and that maybe you’ll make your own list. Here’s mine:
Strive to be authentic and honest with yourself and those you meet along the way.
Admit your faults.
Say “I’m sorry.”
No matter how healthy you get, eat bacon once a month.
Say “thank you.”
Spend a lot of time in the garden and in the woods and always take your dog.
Let your dog (or cat) make you laugh (it’s their job).
Be as kind as you can be to your partner–they put up with you.
Keep your sense of humor with you at all times.
Appreciate your friends and be generous with your love, affections and support.
Wear black lacy underwear no matter how old you get. (TMI?)
For every dollar you make in the world, give some of it away.
Let gratitude be the way you pray.
Don’t judge anyone by their religion, the color of their skin,their sexual orientation, or their ability.
Dance to rock n’ roll music, and dance often.
Sing when you clean up the kitchen or drive in the car.
Always wave hello to your neighbors.
Stay current on current events.
Be an advocate and an activist for those things that are important to you.
Dream big and be patient–it’s coming.
Now while I go tape this list to my bathroom mirror, why don’t you share some of the things you’d put on your list? Hit me up in the comment section.
Sitting on the deck, I watch the sun crack through the morning clouds in streaks of pink and orange. The air is cool and inviting. Wrapping my hands around a cup of tea, I breathe in the essence of a day coming alive. This is a simple pleasure that fills me with immense joy. I am thankful. It is the first day of the year that I am able to do this. Until now, it’s been too cold or wet. But this morning, the long grey winter and the unrelenting drizzle of spring have given way to warmer temperatures and sunshine. This is a day that deserves to be noted. This ritual of tea and appreciation marks the beginning. There will be days ahead where I will welcome the sunrise in this way. Fortified by a caffeinated brew and the hum of the world around me, isn’t life is good? Celebrate.
What marks the beginning of the spring and summer months for you? Please share with me in the comments.
With the advancement of new technology, there is also loss. Today I mourn the demise of the letter. Yes, I know that email is faster and more efficient. I also know that you can get easily addicted to checking your phone every 10 minutes to see if someone has contacted you. Facebook has replaced the intimate chat once provided by letters with a very public façade of the personal life. Facebook and other social media have become the mask of happiness and rainbows that we wear for the world.
A few days ago an old friend, Kitty, emailed me that she was cleaning out a file cabinet and had found several of my letters. She scanned and attached two of them. And when I read them, I cried. It was a glimpse into the anticipation we held in our younger selves, and of course now, I knew how all of it had turned out.
I was punched in the emotional gut by those letters written in 1989. I’d just moved from Los Angeles to Boulder, Colorado. I was the in my thirties and in the midst of two enormous life-changing events. I’d become a college student, finishing up what I’d left behind. It was making me into a different person. AND I was falling in love with the man who would become my husband. Simultaneously my best friend, Kitty had recently given birth to a son. Her life was in a great state of change too.
The record and account of all this was documented in a series of long-distance letters in which Kitty expressed to me the fears and joys of being a first-time parent, the angst of wanting to do it right and how the ups and downs of all of that was affecting her.
I wrote about how getting a college education in my mid-thirties was giving me a sense of confidence, a sense of pride for going back and turning around something that for the longest time I didn’t believe I could fix. And then there was the tenuous narrative of my love life, words revealing the most cautious of hopes. I was in a relationship that I desperately wanted to work and feared might not, so I tiptoed around how I wrote about it. Of course looking back, I can see how much was said in what I chose not to write down.
Checking the mailbox to find a letter from Kitty brought me a rush of excitement. Her musings were a thoughtful deliberation on life, often accented by newspaper clippings and photographs from days when we were much more cavalier. I sent her short stories I’d written in school and a running commentary on my adjustment to Colorado. The letters reveal the depths of a friendship between two young women growing into their potential and purpose.
I appreciate that I can email a friend across the country and get a response in the same day, but emails are never as thoughtful as my letters once were. The anticipation of an email is more habitual than the delight of the ongoing dialogue contained in letters which were more emotionally honest. I miss that.
I am fortunate to have received many letters in my lifetime. I believe that their legacy can be found in my heart-felt love for stories. As a child traveling between divorced parents, my affection for the one I wasn’t with found expression in letters. And the connection I had from the absent parent was made up by hand printed reassurances. In my jewelry drawer, I still keep a letter from my husband, written to me one anniversary. It is a meaningful conveyance of his love and unwavering devotion to me. That he took the time to commit it to paper makes it a treasure.
When did Kitty and I stop writing letters to each other? It wasn’t a decision. It just unfolded that way. We are still in touch all of the time, but there is a sense of rush and hurry that was never in our letters. Our email sentences are shorter, and there is no longer the salutation of “Dear.” Many of our sign-offs are a promise to talk soon, knowing that the email was squeezed into a too-busy-day and that what needs to be said, what wants to be said does not exist in the paragraph on the screen.
I miss the letter. I fear that it is an art form that has met its death. I can’t imagine a title like Rilke’s Emails To A Young Poet ever gracing my bookshelf.
What about you? Have you kept letters from a friend or family member that you revisit from time to time? Do you still write letters? And like me, do you miss the delight of a letter in your mailbox? I’d like to know. Please share with me in the comment section.
Like millions of Americans, I was deeply disturbed and appalled by the way United Airlines mangled the removal of a passenger from one of their flights in order to make room for a flight crew that needed to get to Louisville. Certainly the horror of the man being physically “re-accommodated” from his seat, his head smashed into an armrest that bloodied his face, was horrifying enough. But what I found equally horrifying was the sickening realization that we are now officially a nation of serfs.
Corporate America is so huge, so vital to our economy that we are secondary citizens. Corporations are the primary citizens, and as such, they can get away with just about anything. We, on the other hand are the masses of over-marketed consumers with no rights and the guarantee of physical violence against us should we displease our corporate masters. Long gone are the days of the customer is always right. Those days only existed when smaller companies truly cared about their patrons. United CHOSE to handle this situation with violent, physical aggression. And then they doubled down and did not offer an apology. How messed up is that?
Look no further than our federal government to find the role models that underscore the state of our country. We have elected a bully whose cabinet is filled with Goldman-Sachs. Wow, an administration that is just like the United Airlines Corporation. Their motto should be, “if you don’t do what we want, if you don’t like what we do, we can hurt you.” And there it is, on the evening news, what can happen to any of us.
The CEO of United was quoted as saying “the man was belligerent when asked to leave the plane,” trying to make an excuse for the airline’s inexcusable behavior. That was a stupid and unfortunate choice of words. Belligerent means hostile, aggressive and war like. The man dragged off the plane was none of those things, as evidenced by the recordings. He was however, indignant. And who wouldn’t be? The idiots at United put everyone on the plane and then started ordering them off. Why wasn’t this handled at the gate instead of employing violence as a viable solution? This incident is the epitome of everything that is wrong with corporate America. But, I digress. As a United Airlines rep pointed out on the morning news, you and I do not have any rights when we fly any airline. Thanks for the clarification.
United Airlines is one more corporate master, not unlike our current government, which is also a corporate master. “Do what we want you to do. And if you protest, we will fuck you up.” Thanks for underscoring the truth that most of us have suspected, United: we have become a nation of serfs.
There were lots of Facebook messages this birthday. I enjoyed each one of them. It was part of the celebration, a veritable cyberspace party. And, I was surprised when I read that someone thought I was inspiring. Obviously they had just run out of verbs and that was the only one left. But then a couple more people wrote, “You inspire me.” Inspire? Me? Is this because I’m old or because it’s my birthday? It certainly can’t be because of some level of attainment. What is it that I do that inspires you? It got me thinking about where or how I might be inspirational in my life.
My writing journey is pretty inspirational, at least to me. For the past four years, I have been doing what musicians call “woodshedding,” the process of locking yourself in the woodshed and practicing until you can’t stand yourself anymore. That’s what I think it takes to become a good writer, and in my case a good novelist. I probably threw away more than half the words I wrote last year. So, is this what people mean by inspiring? Or is it possibly the definition of crazy? But I digress.
In January of 2016, I signed with my first ever-literary agent, and a really good one too. I thought, piece of cake. She’ll sell my book to a publishing house. My book will be released to thrilling accolades. Tom Hanks will call me and want to do lunch and I will wash, rinse, repeat and move on to my next novel.
It didn’t happen that way.
I’ve spent the past year learning to revise and rewrite my novel so that it is better. During that year there were some members of my writing community who told me “if the agent doesn’t like it this time, you should just stop.” But I couldn’t stop. How can you turn down the advise of someone who has been in the business for thirty years when you’ve just walked through the door? So I slogged away. I wrote, rewrote and revised, painstakingly correcting the rookie mistakes I’d made in my book. By the end of the year I was exhausted, but the last round of revisions finally made the agent’s cut.
I sometimes get frustrated with this culture of instant gratification, quick results and “it’s good enough” mediocrity. I think there is a special place in hell for self-help gurus whose only success criteria is money and things. And while I have never been a particularly patient person, I scoff at promises to write and publish your novel in 90 days, replete with revisions that take us mere mortals six months to a year to complete. What’s the old adage? Anything worth doing, is worth doing well, and I will add to that, to do it well, you need to slow the fuck down.
And you know what I find really inspiring? The determination to be a viable writer at 65-years-old; making writing a second chapter career and coming face to face almost daily with 30-somethings who can get up earlier than me, write longer than me and have twenty years a head of them to work out the kinks in their craft. That being said, I’ve just started another novel.
Having mulled over the you inspire me comments written on my birthday timeline, I have come to this conclusion: We are all inspired by hard work, tenacity and the striving for personal best, regardless of age or anything else. I will never be a savant. I’m one of those poor schmucks who have to earn every page, every scene, and every chapter that I write. I don’t often get things right the first time, it takes me several. I’ve had to learn to be humble in the face of the competition, become a perpetual student and keep an upbeat attitude of gratitude throughout. Is it the positive attitude juxtaposed to unrelenting hard work that is inspiring to others?
I find deep satisfaction and purposfulness in doing the work of writing to the best of my ability and then pushing myself to do better work. Either I’m a masochist or maybe that narrative is what is inspiring to others.
What’s your take? Do you inspire? Does it happen by accident or is it deliberate? Please share your thoughts with me in the comment section.
65 isn’t as old as I thought it would be. I guess it’s official old age, I mean I did get a Medicare card. I don’t feel that much older, but I do feel grateful.
I woke up this morning and wished myself a Happy Birthday, then said a little prayer; “thank you for 65 years of living.” I meant it too. For 65 years, I’ve been getting up every single day and experiencing life. Sometimes it has beat me up and sometimes it has given me reason to rejoice, but looking back I’m not sure that I would change any of it–because, well it’s made me who I am.
There have been a lot of dreams and discoveries along the way– first kisses, first marriage, oops, second marriage, jobs that I hated, jobs that I loved, an accidental career, terrible grief, outrageous joy and love of writing, reading and education. I’ve made both terrible mistakes and really good choices.
Someone asked me if I was doing anything special today and I said “no, not really.” But I realize that isn’t true. I am doing something special today. I’m going to walk through life another day and look at, touch, smell, feel and taste it. That’s special.
And while 65 brings me closer to the finish line, I’m not straining to see where that is. Instead I’m going to sit on the couch this morning with my husband, Dean, and talk about our outer world and our inner lives. I’m going to do a little dance in stocking feet and my pajamas to something that moves me like The Pointer Sisters or The Temptations. I’m going to eat a wheat free, chocolate chip cookie and I’m going to climb the hills around my house with hubby and dog, celebrating the sunshine and the flowering trees. “Live it all up and don’t forget to say thank you.” That’s my birthday motto.
Nope, 65 isn’t as old as I thought it would be. I’m grateful to be able to hike, to write, cook, read, and reflect. I’ve been doing those things a long while now and really all that’s changed is that my knees creak and I go to sleep earlier than I used to.
Truth: I love drinking in life. So, Happy Birthday to me. I’m gonna celebrate it by climbing a mountain and dancing with joy.
Ask most writers, and they’ll tell you that the traditional publishing industry is fickle if not unkind; and that self-publishing is a tremendous amount of work for what, in most cases, amounts to the sale of 100 to 200 books. In an age of offerings worth binge watching, time for the written word is receding into an antiquity of independent books stores and rotary dial phones. Technology has the influence and the edge.
So why write a book at all? I’ve asked myself this question in the past year as I’ve slogged through the slow revision and polish process of completing a novel.
I fell in love with stories before I was even in grade school. A slightly inebriated mother with a vivid imagination made up bedtime stories for me that delighted and enlivened my imagination. And the slight hint of vodka that hung in the air was my first understanding that life was interesting, messy and rarely as polite as we try to make it out to be.
Although I was a terrible student in school, English class was my great joy and I couldn’t wait to do the writing assignments. By the time that I was a teenager I was typing the poetry of unrequited love on my baby blue Smith-Corona, trying to bend the words to capture the horrible, beautiful, angst that I felt. Emotions that lived in the captivity of my heart and mind needed to be liberated by carefully chosen words.
There has never been a time in my life when I did not write. Eventually I would earn a degree in creative writing and poetics. I would work an internship at a newspaper and write a few magazine articles before life intervened with marriage and a mortgage. Then one day as I approached retirement, I decided that it was my time to write a book.
And wouldn’t you know it, as I got around to writing that book, technology was sucking the life out of the written word. The fast pace of our techno-driven society had replaced the slow, delicious reading of a story with hand-held screens, communicating in abbreviations and initials. OMG! So much for choosing words carefully. Back to the question: why, when knowing all that would I even want to write a book?
I wrote my book, not because I am a writer, but because I am a storyteller. Yes, writers can construct beautiful prose, but it is stories that connect us. They give us clues into who we are and how we need to be. A good story can change the world. And even when you strip away the focus and deliberation necessary to read, storytelling must endure. Technology cannot replace story, it can only replace its delivery.
It’s difficult to predict what will happen to books. Clearly there are fewer readers for the novel format. New fiction writers come and go each year with few breaking out into careers with any promise of longevity. Writers must now be marketers too, participating in an Internet that is a cacophony of unrelenting promotional noise to sell their wares. And most of all, one-time readers are turning to other media to involve themselves in story. What will be the result? A book engages the imagination, while the flickering light of stories on a screen requires little engagement at all. In fact, it has an addictive quality to it. Does anyone remember the feeling tone, let alone the details of binge watching, or just the feel-good seduction it has provided?
You and I are meaning seeking creatures, and story gives our world meaning. That is why I write. I see storytelling as sacred art that engages and enrages its audience to think, feel, and reflect. Yes, I would love to be widely distributed and have millions of people read my books, but I’m not convinced that books will survive our technological age. In the event that they don’t, I will keep writing stories anyway. It’s the thing that keeps me in awe about what it is to be human, and provides a sense of purpose.
It will be interesting to see what happens next: from gathering around the fire to tell stories that teach us, to reading books that engage us, to new forms of media that will continue to inform us about our miraculous lives. Whatever delivery system our stories take on in this brave new world, storytelling will remain essential.
It always feels good to get to the other side of the holidays. Decorations put away. Check. Promise not to eat any cookies until February. Check, albeit reluctantly. Make it a good writing year. Check.
Even though one day is pretty much the same as another, and an arbitrary line between December 31st and January 1st doesn’t really mean that much, there’s still something compelling about the idea of a new start, a fresh beginning, new goals. When I look back, it seems that most of my New Year’s goals bleed from one year into the next: be nicer; stay away from the damn cookies; write better; exercise more. Except for the cookie thing, I usually make progress in all of the other areas.
A few weeks ago, I read an article about New Year’s goals and the author suggested that instead of having a list, you just pick one word and let it be your focus word for the 2017. I like that idea. One word points you in a general direction and gives you a touchstone and a reminder. Too, goals tend to get very narrow, whereas vision and intent paint a much larger landscape, setting you up for greater success.
By way of example, the word I chose for 2017 is “fulfillment.” My vision is to know fulfillment in my writing. In my physical activity, in the way that I relate with and to others. Fulfillment can mean that I finally secure a contract with a publisher, and it can also mean that I am fulfilled by my writing whether that happens or not.
Fulfillment is a kind of acknowledgement for the good that has come to me and is yet to come. I’m fulfilled that I can hike in the woods several times a week. I’m fulfilled by a happy and humorous marriage. I will be fulfilled by finishing the revisions on my current manuscript and I will also be fulfilled by working hard in the garden and then taking a nap.
So, fulfillment seemed like the right word for me this year. It has a component of gratitude and acknowledgement. In the year’s first nine days, I’ve returned to the word several times. I have a feeling that the word will continue to inform and help me to hone my vision of living the fulfilled life.
Just one word. There are so many good ones. My husband chose “gratitude” for his word and I am pretty sure that my dog chose the word “wag.”
What one word would best describes what you want for yourself in 2017? Please share with me in the comment section. Happiest of New Years and may you be fulfilled.
2016 ends with my neighbor Austin’s death, a woman whose life at its heart, was an inspiration to everyone who was fortunate enough to meet her. An artist into her eighties, her home showcased canvases and masks, hanging on the wall, inviting the visitor into a corner of her rich and complex psyche, a true wild woman who I am sure channeled moonlight through her fingertips. It wasn’t so much who she was in life, it was how she was, that moved us.
Three times a week, she walked the hills around our little town with her friend, Denise, huddled together, two ancient women undaunted by the climb.
Austin had a large deck that wrapped around her house, the centerpiece of which was a claw foot bathtub, plumbed so that she could run hot water and soak outside, while she looked up at the stars.
From the branch of a fruit tree in her garden hung a blue chandelier. Another tree, one that had died, one that might have been a nuisance or an eyesore to someone else, she adorned with glass bottles making it a prominent piece of art.
Sometimes the sound of drumming was carried by the evening air, a gentle, pulsing, rhythm of celebration. Surrounded by people of all ages, sitting in a circle on her deck, everyone drummed, this amazing woman at the circle’s center keeping time.
When my husband and I moved into the neighborhood, she hand wrote invitations and put them in all of the mailboxes, inviting us to gather on her deck. We learned we were not the first people to be welcomed by her in this way. And it was at her house where we began relationships with our neighbors over garden tomatoes, cheese and wine, all of us delighting at the ultimate conversation piece, that claw foot bathtub.
How can such a woman be anything but beloved? Everyone knew her and everyone loved her. She was for our community a true elder who with wisdom and wit, relished the journey and made things with her hands and her heart to the very end. For her, age was not a limitation but a force that propelled creativity to greater heights.
This past summer, she built a small studio on her land, replete with a garage door that opened to the garden. With a surge of artistic juice, she created the work for what was to be her last show in October. The cancer that overtook her brain, came fast and hard. Still, she managed to display her creations one last time before the disease stole her away from this realm to one where I imagine blue chandeliers hang from all of the trees.
Austin died at home yesterday morning and I have spent the last twenty-four hours allowing myself to open to the inspiration she left in death’s wake:
Why settle for convention, she showed us all, when you can have a claw foot bathtub in the middle of your deck? Why recede from life when there is so much art to be made, when there are so many new friends to meet? Why stop, when the hills beckon your steps every other day? And most importantly, why not live wild and free until every last drop of life is wrung from the cloth of your being?
I will miss seeing Austin. I am sorry that I didn’t know her better or longer and I am so very honored and grateful that I got to know her at all. My life and the lives in this community are richer because of her. I think that each of us secretly hopes that we will age as fully and as well as she did. She sure showed us how it’s done.
Just a dusting of snow, not much at all, but enough to punctuate the date, December 24, 2016. My neighbor’s have all turned on their tree lights and smoke escapes the chimneys mingling in the morning fog.
I am hunkered down with tea and a laptop, moving forward on a manuscript that has had its hands around my throat for the past year and may finally be loosening its grip. Learning is like that, two steps forward and six steps back.
My husband and I will go to the movies this afternoon. For most of our marriage it has been just the two of us and our holiday rituals are simple. I’m appreciating the quiet that has fallen over our house, the twinkle of tree lights and the promise of roasted duck for two.
My life is blessed beyond measure: a loving husband, fun and kind friends, a beautiful town surrounded by woods and trails, a faithful dog, plenty of food and decent health.
Dear readers, thank you always for stopping by. May your heart be full and your spirit light. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.” As a writer, I see it this way: all the world’s a story, and all the men and women merely characters.
I recently talked with a friend who is a Jungian analyst and has spent many years collecting fairy tales and myths. “What is the story that can show us some hope about the election results?” I asked him. He told me that he sees Donald Trump as fitting into the archetype of Blue Beard (dark and destructive). At first glance, that doesn’t sound very hopeful at all, yet the tale does resolve on a high note. If you are not familiar with the Grimm’s fairy tale, it goes like this:
Blue Beard was a wealthy aristocrat, but he was ugly and was known for his strange blue beard. The people in his village were impressed by his wealth and happy to attend the lavish parties he threw. And they were willing to overlook that all of Blue Beard’s wives disappeared under suspicious circumstances. Of course, that didn’t stop Blue Beard from getting married multiple times. At one party, he met a beautiful, young woman to whom he proposed marriage and she accepted.
Blue Beard traveled a lot for business, but left his new bride with keys to all of the rooms in his castle and told her that she had the run of the place while he was gone. The young woman enjoyed looking through many magnificent rooms. One day she found a locked door. Trying the keys that Blue Beard had left her, she opened the door to discover Blue Beard’s previous wives, dead and hanging from meat hooks. She was shocked and afraid. Running out of the room, she tripped and dropped the keys into a pool of blood on the floor. She tried to wash the keys, but the key that opened the room of death would not come clean.
Before Blue Beard came home, the wife had stationed her two sisters in turrets on either side of the castle. Upon Blue Beard’s return he discovered the bloody key and told his bride that now she too would have to die. His young wife said the she understood, and begged him to give her a little time to prepare herself. Blue Beard told her that she could have one quarter of an hour. She went to the window and signaled her sisters. They in turn, alerted the brothers who were waiting down the road. The brothers rushed into the castle and killed Blue Beard before he could kill his bride. ~~~
Here is my interpretation of the story as it applies to Donald Trump and the feminine. Trump, is of course, Blue Beard. He is symbolically the ugly man as evidenced by his crude rhetoric toward women. His beard is not blue, but his skin is orange. His wealth and power are seductive to a lot of people who confuse being rich with being great.
The dead wives hanging on the meat hooks represent Trump’s disdain for women. The bride in the story represents the strong, smart feminine, who resists being battered and killed. Blue Beard’s bride steels herself and lies to the liar. “Let me prepare for my death,” she asks of him. Unbeknownst, to Blue Beard she has called in help from her brothers, symbolic of conjuring her male energy and becoming the warrior. This is the hopeful part of the story: The feminine becomes the warrior and destroys the aggressor, saving the day. And peace fell over the land. Well, at least that’s what like to think will happen.
Here’s what is happening: All over social media, we see the presence of the feminine, coming forward. Trends toward positivity and gratitude are everywhere. These are the receptive parts of the feminine. Too, we are seeing the woman warrior who is both receptive and strong speaking out in resistance to the orange man (Blue Beard).
All the world’s a story and a good story can change the way we see the world. I am always looking for the story I am in. It gives me context in which to hold certain life experiences. We are connected by our stories, the collective of our conscious and unconscious, and in these stories are we able to assign meaning and find hopefulness and transformation. Steel up, ladies. Stand in the light of your truth. And never forget that strong, smart women do prevail.