Stephanie’s Blog

8 Steps to Dynamic Living After 60 (Or Really Anytime)

iStock_000015408259XSmallOur 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.

Happy Independence. Gratitude.

Patriotic Puppy Dog Sign
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.

Happy Independence Day. Gratitude!

Insecurity, Not Good Enough and Other Sucky Things Writers Do to Themselves

Opened notebook, pen, books and glassesIf 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?

My Summer To-Do List

iStock_000010690028XSmallWhile 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.

Sunrise Ceremony

White mug on wood table with sunlight over mountainSitting 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.

A Life In Letters

Wax seal and old lettersWith 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.

United Airlines and a Nation of Serfs

air hostess rude middle fingerLike 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.