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.
I’ve had a couple of rough weeks. Free floating anxiety. Restless sleep. Self doubt. It was as if my psyche developed little cracks and all of that seeped in. I didn’t immediately recognize that I was in distress. Then, this morning, I was awake at 4:00am, swimming in worry and anxiety that wasn’t attached to anything real: would I lose my wallet in the airport when I travel next week? Is my book any good? Am I any good? Such moments of suffering are wake up calls. There’s no outside solace to heal one’s heart; I have to begin at the core. What do I need? What do I want? How can I help myself?
From time to time, we all feel like imposters in the world. We stumble and fall into a hole of despair and then wonder how we got there. Visiting the wounds of childhood past doesn’t seem to provide anything but an excuse. Finding ways to psychologically and spiritually hug myself, does. A lifetime of dealing with depression and anxiety has taught me that if I get too angry or too afraid of too many things, I’m bound to fall.
All love must begin with the act of self-love. That’s easy to state and more difficult to do. What does it mean to love your self? I know that I’m not alone in wondering this. Here are some steps toward self-love that I used this morning. May they be helpful to others. Self-love is like going to the gym. The best results come from continued and consistent practice.
Step One: Meditation
is a practice that can relax, comfort and soothe the beast of anxiety. It seems surprising that such a practice can be
so easily forgotten in the face of emails, texts, social media, deadlines, and
the seduction of creating self-importance through our digital life. Liberation lies in deliberate breath,
deliberate mindfulness, deliberate letting go and surrendering into the
vastness and awe of the miracle that we are.
Step Two: Tears. Holding back the tears of life creates anxiety and strife. Right now, our world seems likes its come off the rails. In witnessing the fallout from gun violence, the suffering of children, the divisions that have turned into an “us and them” mentality, then surely there are tears waiting to be set free. I cried this morning. I cried for our country. I cried for myself. I cried for the people I know who are facing struggles. The act of tears, softened my heart and brought me home to myself a little bit. The list of too angry and too afraid began to dissolve.
Step Three: I’m a
sixty-seven year old woman and one might think that all things from childhood have
certainly been worked out and healed forever by now. But the wisdom of age has
taught me that the wounds of childhood inform throughout one’s life. They are part of our spiritual and
psychological work. This morning, I
closed my eyes and remembered the child I’d been. In my imagination, I got down on one knee so
that I could meet her face to face, and then I wrapped my arms around her and
said, “You are so precious to me. I love you so much.” More tears and a sweet feeling of release
begins to set me free.
Step Four: Listing the things I’m grateful for. I
take a walk every day. My dog and I went
up to the park and along the way, I counted the things that I’m grateful for:
legs strong enough to carry me a couple of miles, neighbors that wave hello and
call out greetings, a belly that’s full, and cooling temperatures that made
today’s walk in the middle of Texas very pleasant. Practicing gratitude helps me to shift my
mind-set and ease the torments of self-doubt.
Step Five: Give this reclaimed love away. Wave back at the neighbors. Call out my own greetings of good
morning. Silently bless the gaggle of
teenagers waiting for the school bus — they’re our future. They deserve my
goodwill. Plan to cook a special
breakfast for my husband.
Step Six: Bow my head and say thank you. Thank you for
my life. Thank you for this day. Thank
you for jogging my memory and helping me make it to the toolbox, thus bringing
relief and a way home. Thank you.
In a perfect world, I would wake up every day and practice all of this. However, I’ve come to see that the imperfection of slipping into the darkness is the invitation and the opportunity to re-engage with my heart. The imperfection and errors that come with being human is the path to humility, appreciation and thankfulness. Today was a reminder to stay the course even though I know that I will stumble and fall again. My heart is all about practice and imperfection. This is the work of living out this idea of love.
Breakfast happened in a sunny corner of the kitchen on a plastic tablecloth whose flowered print had faded in spots from the sun and the plates that scraped across its surface. The table was pushed against the windows, and looked over a struggling garden in which I had once planted the watermelon seeds saved from a late summer afternoon. When the green shoots found their way up into the light, turning into vines, I imagined opening a watermelon stand and selling pieces of fresh watermelon to all of my neighbors. My enterprise was cut short, however, when something ate the vines, shredding their leaves into skinny, little pieces.
My mother kept a row of potted geraniums on the table. Red flowers bloomed almost year round in a world that was mostly bright colors and sunshine. Part of that brightness was Penny. She was my first true love, my first true friend, a parakeet dressed in exotic green, accented by dark veins of blue feathers. Each morning my mother would open the door to Penny’s cage, and the little bird would fly a couple of times around the room, lighting onto the table in front of my breakfast plate, chirping while she waited for me to feed her bits of unbuttered toast. Sometimes she would hop onto my shoulder as I ate.
Every day when I got home from school, I checked to make sure that she had birdseed and clean water. I wasn’t allowed to let her out unless my mom was there, but I gave her what felt like a lot of my six-year-old attention, crooning, whistling and singing to her. During the times that she was free to fly around, she would always make her way to me, resting upon my hand and hopping up and down the length of my arm. We had our own special way of telling each other: I love you.
One day my mom and I came home to the smell of paint. I knew that the landlord was having all of the kitchens in our row of duplexes painted. We had shopped the week before for new dishtowels and potholders to go with the freshly painted kitchen. I hadn’t realized that the paint would smell so bad though, and I held my nose as I went to check on Penny. But something was wrong. Penny didn’t move. She sat motionless on her perch with her head resting inside of a bell that hung off of the mirror in her cage. “Penny?” I shook the cage and she fell. “NO!”
I heard my mother’s sad voice as she rushed to see what was wrong: “Oh, Penny,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”
“What happened to her?” I asked.
“I think the paint fumes were too much for her,” she said. “The painters didn’t think to put her cage outside and she died.”
No one in my life had ever died before. I knew other children who’d told me that their grandma or grandpa died, or that their dog died, but I didn’t understand what it meant. Something pierced my heart, a feeling of absence so fierce that my whole body hurt.
“I didn’t get to say goodbye.” I said.
I wasn’t sure where Penny had gone, only that she wasn’t in her bird body anymore. My mother helped me to give Penny a funeral, wrapping her in a scarf and burying her in the garden outside the kitchen window. I marked her little grave with rocks that I placed in a careful circle around the newly turned earth.
For days, I tried to cry the ache away, and then one day the loss no longer consumed me. Eventually we put up the new dishtowels and potholders. We moved to another duplex, another apartment, another town. The years between Penny and I grew wide with the passing of time. Now, as my hands and feet begin to wizen, I recall this story and write it down. I still have tears left for Penny and the life lesson that she imparted: Love, even the size of a parakeet’s heart is eternal.
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.
The impervious feeling of youth is a delicious drunk of newness and firsts: first apartment, first true love, first heartbreak; the delight of garage sales and thrift shops, that furnish the backdrop upon which one begins to build a life, blissfully unaware of the baggage of childhood that follows them into independence and self-sufficiency. In my twenties, I surfed in the mornings with Bernie, napped in the afternoons and then waited cocktails at night to pay for a life style that was both joyous and fraught with uncertainty as well as longing and idealism. All that created its own kind of pain and regret. No one escapes the wrong turns, but instead we seem to spend our lifetime burrowing into the core of what ails us before we find the gifts within the inevitable ruin.
At twenty something, I swung my long, gangly legs over the precipice of the 1970’s, watching Viet Nam unwind. The grainy television images of so much human destruction were soon to be replaced by Nixon and the exposure of con and corruption that would define the word “sensational” for decades to come. And as twenty marched ahead into thirty, I realized one day how difficult it was to pay the rent, and repair the car and I had new empathy and understanding for my mother, who worked at a time when the cartoon character of a wolf chasing a nubile secretary around the desk wasn’t that far off the mark.
While the twenties, for many of us underscored a time of adventure and ideals, the thirties was of time of finding a comfortable position within the grip of unrelenting responsibility. Overtime at my work place became a way of life, a badge of proof that I was committed and in the game for the long haul. I bought my first “new” couch and read T.S. Eliot, Yeats and May Sarton for leisure. I wrote in dozens of spiral bound notebooks– an attempt to discover who I was and who I was becoming, and whether or not I had just put on the costume of adulthood without really checking out what I was wearing. Thirty gnawed the bones of idealism and free-spiritedness, replacing the hunger for those things with “want.” Want is a thorn in the foot of human condition, a lusting and longing for those things or people just out of our reach; a strange coming to grips with a shadow of greed, that if we are honest, dogs us until we wrestle it to the ground and learn to balance it with a generous heart.
When I turned 40, I had a realization that life was just a series of stories and somehow we were all connected by those stories. By then I was married, with a choice to remain childless, but with a passion for creating business and a raw and reckless spirit, still wild from my surfing days that allowed me to take the risks necessary to be an entrepreneur. And having a partner with which to play that out remains one of the great satisfactions of my journey. The time of work and creation was marked by this decade and the joke of “over the hill” was really more about the pinnacle of the hill and the overview provided from the vantage point of focus and determination.
Fifty saw the departure of my mother and though I felt beyond independent and accomplished when she left, her absence was piercing in a way I could not have anticipated. She lingers still, her hands seeming like they are mine, veined with age. I catch glimpses of her in the mirror, a face layered over my own as I brush my hair. Life is shorter than you think.
So in my sixties now, the question of age as a number and whether that means anything or not? It means everything. Age is a marker, the signs that dot the highway that tell you how far you have come. Age is a container for the experiences that push us forward and challenge us to unfold. Age is a reminder that physical strength lessens with the years and beauty fades. Whether or not we like it or want it, age is what pulls us to our knees while it knights us with the sword of humility and hard-won wisdom. What lies beyond? In my twenties, I could not sit still in the morning hours, knowing that the surf was up. Forty years later finds me on my deck, holding a cup of tea and easing into the day as I marvel at how the apples on the tree in my yard have gone from green to red and are becoming larger in the summer sun. The cycle of beginnings and endings are everywhere around me in nature. In my heart I let go of memories that are stitched with pain and discomfort. They drop like apples from the tree. I like to recall instead the touchstones of surfing and careers and a life education that was beyond divine. I revel in the partnership of a marriage, now tender and softened with grey.
I embrace the years, each decade a lamp unto the soul, lighting the way into becoming human. The striving for some sense of self-honesty and awareness, for a sensuous breeze in which to throw back my head and close my eyes as life takes me; this has made the journey purposeful. To paraphrase Mr. Yeats: “I am an old woman with a dry mouth, waiting for the rain.”
The days and weeks bleed into each other, speed nourished by long “to do” lists. Meditation practice is sporadic during these times, writing almost non-existent. Instead, life is a packing box, punctuated by the purge of things that will not make the journey to our new home.
Today “The Daily Writing Prompt” arrived in the email. Like a siren of the sea, I was seduced to put down the packing tape and pick up the lap top. Scaling a blank screen, my energies having been elsewhere is scary. The theme for today’s prompt “How do you stay young at heart?”
Here’s the thing, you get to be to a certain age and you realize that the life you have already lived is longer than what is in front of you. While that may seem bleak, it does provide an immediate opportunity. If you know that you are only going to be alive for another 20 years or so, the question becomes, “how then, shall I live my life?” For me, living with the consciousness that everything eventually ends, is what has made my life more alive. The luxury of believing that there are years in front of you is gone. But to live consciously, savoring the days, becomes immediate.
A young heart is really a heart that is awake to the world. I walk every day with my dog and my husband. Being out doors is a great love for us. Feasting our eyes on the sky and watching the season’s change as we trompe through snow, mud, rain and more mud until we get to the hard ground of warm summer days. Keep moving. That keeps you young. I have left behind a life of running and tennis, skiing and weight training–none of which serves me these days, but walking…I feel that I can walk forever– that there are trails and paths yet to be discovered, waiting for my feet to cross them.
Then there is the contemplative part of life so necessary when one is standing at the threshold of old age. I call this decade of my life “reclamation.” It means that I reclaim those things that have angered me, wounded me, betrayed and stung. And I strip from them the pain, seeing where they emptied me and softend my edges. The acid speech is then removed from my tongue and any regret is tempered with a compassion for the frailty of all human beings as they create their story.
Story, that’s a big one too. If you are going to be old and young at the same time, you must know your own story. You need to know it with all its glory and all of it jagged, ragged edges. I embrace my story. I don’t turn away from the dark or the mistakes that were made. Instead I string together the events and processes that formed this person over decades of living. It’s so nice to no longer feel that I need to be fixed. Over time I have slowly learned and still slowly learn to love every step that I took upon the journey to becoming fully human.
Isn’t that what we want when we grown old–to become fully human? To love with a heart that has been broken and yet is open wide, receiving life with enthusiasm?“I grow old, I grow old…I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. Do I dare eat a peach? I have hear the mermaids singing each to each…” I didn’t look up the poem, it is in me now and I have probably bastardized it somewhat with my memory. Apologies to T.S. Eliot. But I love the affirmation of “I grow old and I shall wear the bottoms of my tourers rolled.” It reminds me of the slower walking that escorts us to the inevitable edge.
I walk and I read and I write. I so need to get back to writing every day and I hope that after this move is done, I will sit at my desk each morning and record the world that I see; the realizations that grace me; the humor that keeps each of us going in the tougher times. But for now, as I pack up and end this piece about what it takes to be young at heart, I conclude and repeat that I read. I walk and I write. And each day I find a way to breath deeply the cool air around me and say thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
For me, turning sixty marked the threshold of old age. I will be 62 this year, so now I am really in the thick of it! It does not mean that I have gone gently into that good night, but it does mean that the physical, psychological and spiritual changes of this particular passage are no less exciting or daunting than the changes of my twenties. I recall the young woman who I once was– full of edge and humor, pathos and pain standing on the precipice of life and daring herself to fly.
These past months have brought about a whirlwind of change and resolve and there are days that I marvel at how life continues to build upon itself regardless of years and days that I feel I should just lay down and take a nap until it all passes. My husband and I retired from our business late last summer–thirty-seven years worth of work that came down to some boxes for storage and a few tearful goodbyes. Then we started a consulting business that allowed us to work from home with less hours and far less stress. It provides some purpose, a context into which we build daily hikes with the dog and meals that are now served with leisurely conversation.
And at this strange new threshold that leads into the last chapter we dreamed a new dream. We recently bought a home in a small town in the northwest that will undoubtedly provide a greener moister climate, a larger garden, and a deck from which to watch the world.
I have friends that rail against this age and approach it with fear and even a little anger. You can fight it all you want, but we all march toward death everyday. Since that’s what is true, why not live and embrace every event to the fullest? I like being in my sixties. I will probably like being in my seventies. For once I have some real perspective from which to view a life richly textured–a life that knows the joy of celebration and a life that also knows how to suffer so that suffering can teach and even inspire.
These next months will be more packing and unpacking, a stream of logistical tasks that moves us from Colorado to the great northwest. I picture myself sitting on the deck of my new home, wrapping my hands around a mug of hot tea, watching with wonder as the early morning light creeps across the yard. I see myself sitting at my desk tapping away on the computer recalling or creating stories. And time and time again I see myself holding onto the hand of my husband, my friend, my partner as we look up into the dark sky on a summer night, counting stars and knowing that at the end of this chapter, we will return to the star dust from which we were born.
The train whistle slices through the edge of the night, a low rumble of metal on metal, weight on weight making its way across miles that are pulled tight against horizon and sky. I lay unmoving on my bed, slouched into pillows and quilts, playing the scenes of the day through my head, stirred by the sound. Suddenly I am back someplace I know but have never been: my mother told a story of being a child at the convent, swinging on a swing, hearing the sound of the train and trying to pump higher and higher so that she could see over the convent wall, all the while wondering where the train was going and wanting to go there too. Now I am in her story, a piece of history shared from when I was a little girl, a piece of story that I remember when the train goes by, pulling the twilight into dark.
Sometimes it seems so clear; where I am and who I am and what story is unfolding. I had grandparents that slept in separate bedrooms; that spat and grunted communications that were interlaced with whiskey bottles and wooden rosary beads. I vowed to never be like them. My husband and I dance a different dance. We will not, cannot sleep apart. I love this story. It is punctuated by small acts of tenderness that reach out like vines into shared cups of warm ginger tea, someone to fetch the mail; “oh, wait, I’ll get that for you…” check the oil in your car, drive with you to a doctor’s appointment so that you will not have to sit alone. This is my story of the ever after that happened after youth rode into the sunset.
Remember the Catholic schoolgirl who smoked pot behind the high school gym, who wanted to help the poor, but also enjoyed a good make-out session? Can’t you be it all? Can’t you do it all? That was me. I remember feeling forced to choose, and as a result began to see life in a small and shrinking way, squeezing myself into something I thought I was supposed to be, but never really could be. Then one day I woke up with a dry mouth, symptoms and sorrow for what might have been.
I wish I could gather all of my nieces and nephews into one place. I would bring us around a large fire, where we would sit late into the night. I would tell them stories among the crackle and hiss of leaping flames. Stories about Viet Nam and how Brent came back with only part of a hand and couldn’t sit with his back to any door, anywhere, ever again; stories of how I learned to grow impatience and ferns in a shaded flower bed and would sit there for hours reading; stories of walking in snow under a full moon. I would tell them stories, because it feels like that is what I am meant to do now. Instead, we text—we call—we make dinner plans in lives that are over scheduled and tired.
I reflect upon what has been as I lean forward into age, that for this time affords me strong legs and the desire to keep walking and filling my lungs with fresh air and my heart with the beauty of the natural world; learning that the stories themselves are like thick, wonderful murals, layered with paint that portrays the laughter and the wounds, the celebrations and grief. But the files in which I place those stories in my mind… the labels that I write onto each one, those are dangerous. Those make the story less important than how they are categorized. I am too organized for my own good sometimes.–alphabetizing spices and filing memories. You cannot continue to do that. It’s really just one big story and we are all connected by it. I should go mess up that spice drawer just to take in the aroma of each dish they have inspired in my kitchen. What was that wonderful quote I read somewhere, that now seems so appropriate? “Life is like licking honey off of a thorn.”