Friday, December 31, 2010

Time passes....with or without you

Well, here we are at the end of another one. They do tend to slip by faster and faster as we each get....well, older and older, don't they? I read somewhere that this unnerving fact is because we encounter fewer events that we have never experienced before as we get older. So, the minutes and hours of our lives begin to slip by unnoticed, spinning through the calendar from January to December, our heads spinning with the rapidity of it all. If we even notice at all.

One of the books I'm reading for a second time right now, when I build my fire outside and sit curled in my blanket before dawn each day, is called The Second Half of Life by Angeles Arrien. It's actually the third time, if you count the first one when I didn't understand what this woman was trying to say at all. I slid it back into my bookcase, thinking, "Now, that's a strange book!" A few years later, I tried again. Arrien envisions aging as a journey through eight gates of wisdom, including folklore and customs from around the world in her metaphorical trip through those gates.

One of the verbal customs she mentioned, and one I immediately identified with, was that of intentionally experiencing something new each month for one year on one's birthday. Last year, I had my daughter take me out on a surfboard, which she found entertaining beyond words. I never did stand up on that surfboard, but I had a blast, totally unexpected since I don't swim very well and can't see a  thing once my glasses are taken away from me.

After that, though, it was taxing to find things that I had never done (taking into consideration that there are things I would NEVER do, even under penalty of death, like jump out of an airplane, or things I can't afford, like go to Paris). So, my year of that experiment lasted a month, when I walked out of the ocean with the surfboard in tow.

But I'm reading the book again now. And I think I'm going to attempt that year-long journey of new experiences again. Arrien mentioned that part of the value IS that we have to be creative to find new roads to follow, and that's the whole point.

Then maybe time will slow down enough to savor the moments again, recapturing some of the newness of life that we take so much for granted when we're younger, growing and learning every day.

I'll start a list tomorrow as we usher in a new year, a list of potential new experiences that can reopen my eyes to the world as a source of joy and challenge. I'll keep you posted. Maybe I'll even take pictures. Stay tuned!

The second half of life is the ultimate initiation.....we are a sacred mystery made manifest. If we truly understand what is required of us at this stage, we are blessed with an enormous opportunity to develop and embody wisdom and character.
Angeles Arrien 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

On your mark, get set...... did this happen?  I was 62 years old yesterday, and even in my mind that sounds ancient! But inside this "ancient" body, I also know that my mind is active and still thirsty for knowledge. It's not quite as supple about things like remembering where I left my keys, but I've come to believe that has more to do with TOO much to remember than any age-related memory loss.

Yet, I am still amazed that so many years have slipped by, so many months torn off so many calendars, as I was raising a daughter and working hard, long hours to do it, and then building my own business, while trying desperately to publish (if anyone wants a great coffee table book on the bridges of Florida, I happen to have the concept for such a thing).

I'm always looking for the lessons in life and I've learned a ton of those, too. Without becoming maudlin, let's just say that the primary lesson is that I was wrong to consider myself OLD based on a number. That won't eliminate the occasional shock as I come upon a mirror unexpectedly and wonder, "Who IS that person" before grasping that it's really me...the 16 year old me merely covered in a different exterior. I do admit that my body, the physical shell, isn't quite as peppy these days, but my  mind is certainly not a sucker for the number of years I've inhabited that shell.

So, to all of you younger people reading this: Get ready. Know that it will happen to you, too. (Yes, it will...stop shaking your heads.) But also know that it isn't what you think it will be. You simply can't imagine it now. That's part of the human learning curve that I have come to know and respect. We each think WE will somehow avoid [getting old, being pulled over after just a few drinks, contracting a life-threatening illness, etc], but the things that happen to people in general generally do happen to US.

And maybe, by understanding this before it happens, we all can manuever the front lines of maturity with a bit more common sense and dignity.

Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life.  ~Sophia Loren

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The senior dilemma....

My 62nd birthday is next week. Some of you will stop reading now, because there is an widely believed stereotype in our culture that anyone over about 55 or 60 is a dried up prune of a person with nothing left to offer. I came across another example just today in something I was reading. The author of whatever it was listed groups of people who were discounted as unimportant, and sure enough, there it was: Seniors.

I'm not even sure what a "senior" is. I look at other women my age, and many are busy professional people, totally put together and well-groomed, fingers and toes shiny with polish, and nary a totter in their steps. Other 62 year old women have white tightly curled hair, slouchy cardigans, plastic shoes, and they hang onto arms when they go up 6 inch curbs for fear of falling.

This happened to me just recently. Not the falling part. The inability to identify someone as a "senior citizen." A woman I had been working with mentioned she was 65, and I nearly fainted. Is THAT what awaits me in 3 short years, I screamed inside my blonde streaked head? She looked closer to 75, I swear she did. The curler marks were still visible in her hair and she wore those baggy "pedal pushers" with blue keds with white laces, not the cool high tops but the low slip on kind. The ones that no one has worn in 20 years. Her attitude could be described as being done, finished with life.

So, I'm totally confused. Is a "senior" someone over a certain age? It seems to differ depending on what restaurant you're in, and who sets the rules in each company, anyway? Or is it a retired person (in which case, I have nothing to worry about, since I'll never be able to stop working)? A grandparent, maybe? I can't claim that one yet, either. Or is it a state of mind, a viewpoint, a way of accepting the erroneous fact that one has learned all there is to learn?

What is it??

And I have to say that I am no more sure of things than I was at 30, 40, or 50. (Of course, at 20 I thought I knew everything.)  As I have moved into "senior" status, all I know for sure is how little I know.

It's all very confusing to me. My life experiences have been legion and the lessons enormous. Often painful, but always imparting a list of things to do more carefully from that point forward. Or things to avoid by any means. Like don't get a puppy if you don't have a fenced in yard; ask questions before accusing your child based on anyone else's input; when a recipe calls for "shortening" make sure you know which kind BEFORE beginning; friendships are worth nurturing, but it is just as important to know when to let go; the sour-looking person in line in front of you has burdens just as heavy as yours. Maybe heavier.

I also know how I feel inside. I still have goals and dreams. There are places I want to visit and people I would love to meet and learn from. I know, too, that I have much to offer younger people, both within my profession as well as an independent woman who has succeeded in a world that was often not kind to a single, divorced mother. It's not that I am interested in any huge career moves, heaven knows. I'm happy with what I've accomplished, but I still welcome intellectual stimulation and challenges.

Life doesn't get any easier with age. I just know more about it now. But I don't know what designates one a "senior citizen."

And I bet you don't, either.

"Youth would be an ideal state if it came a little later in life."
Herbert Henry Asquith

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Big box = big pain

Last weekend, my mother and I were out Christmas shopping, hitting a number of stores in the morning before the roads became clogged with other shoppers. We ate lunch while the holiday music enticed us to spend more once we had full stomachs and our feet were rested a bit. One item eluded us, though. Something that jumps out in front of you whenever you're not looking for it, but now we couldn't seem to find one anywhere.

We ended up at the closest Big Box store. You know the one I mean. They have the best prices after all and there seems to be one in every quadrant of town. I have taken to avoiding this place at all costs, for a number of reasons. Too few employees, buggies of stock blocking the aisles. But the major reason is the sheer size of the place. First you have to walk the length of a football field in the parking lot to even get into the building. Then you're faced with a store the size of Oklahoma, not that I've ever been there, but I know it's big.

As we entered the front door (the one I'm convinced they have rigged with some fancy technological whirly gig to make you forget why you came there in the first place, so you buy lots more than you intended) of this particular SUPERSTORE version of the Big Box, I came to a dead halt. My mother ran into the back of me, in her fog of being 85 years old and probably out way too late by this time.

ACRES of stuff, as far as I could see. Farther, actually, since I couldn't even SEE the back wall of the place. Groceries to the right, off into the haze over there. Clothes in the middle, everything else to the right. And it was probably EVERYTHING ever made, from the looks of it.

A sheer exhaustion dropped down over me. I think the current vernacular would be OMG! I have the money today to buy just about anything I need, but the energy level of my younger days has deserted me. We stood there for a few minutes, trying to decide if it was worth it. Did we want that item enough to walk the distance it would require to find it?

Well, it turned out we did. So, off we went into the innards of the monster. However, I stopped the first employee I saw, the one who had her head ducked into a shelf of candles, hoping no one would notice her. I asked for the item. She stood up, gazed across the store diagonally and indicated I should follow her. Then she took off at a clip nearly impossible for me to, the person who has conquered the Stairmaster at the gym. My poor mother was left shuffling in the dust, hanging on to the cart for support. But I didn't want to lose that woman who seemed to know where the item hid in the midst of millions of other items. Why don't they have a little trolley? A map, starting with YOU ARE HERE!  Maybe some of those headphones like they use in museums for walking tours. Something, anything.

After what seemed like 15 minutes, weaving around abandoned buggies, screaming kids, arguing couples, the foxhound employee stopped and pointed down the aisle in front of her. Then she was gone. Poof! Disappeared. I waited for my mother to catch up with me, and she didn't look too good by this time. Her face was pale and her breath was choppy.

Then we marched down that aisle, craning our heads right and left, up and down (yes, you have to look UP, too), until we reached the end. Puzzled, we reversed and did it again. Nothing.

It wasn't there after all. All gone. Empty space. SOLD OUT. OMG....

Is Peterson's 5 & 10 still open?

The hardest thing in life to learn is which bridge to cross and which to burn.
Frank Noble

Friday, December 10, 2010

Everything's shifting.....

You have to laugh. Really. If you don't, you'll be swept into the whirlpool of inconsistency and insanity of life as it dances around you each morning, snickering and daring you to take it seriously.

In the past two months or so, I have spent close to $400 on products or services that have one purpose: To make me look better. Wait...that isn't quite accurate. To make me look YOUNGER.

There was the facial I had on my recent cruise, ending with the $200 + products the young British woman sold me before I walked out. Maybe it was her fancy English accent that rendered me temporarily mute, unable to even choke out the word "NO." Or it might have been that I didn't have to reach into my purse and pull out that much money. I signed on the dotted line, added my cabin number, and I was good to go. At least she put it in a pretty bag.

My Avon lady advertises via the Internet. And that's dangerous for the health of my checking account. It is so easy, isn't it, to tap in numbers and buy stuff?  You can't even feel the money leaking from your's just suddenly gone. But the creamy tints for my disappearing lips and the wrinkle cream that is GUARANTEED TO WORK will be delivered next week. At least Avon is inexpensive, in the scheme of all my cosmetic spending. $20.

Earlier this week I visited a friend who moved a few hours away. We meandered down an avenue of boutiques, holiday music effortlessly pushing us into festive businesses decorated with boughs of holly and silver tinsel. My friend bought silly costumes for her dog and I bought beautifully scented cream GUARANTEED to erase the brown spots that freckle my hands. $119.00. (Stop laughing.....)

But here is the inconsistency. The one that makes me chuckle at myself and shake my head in disbelief.

I am experiencing, right along with this silliness with my appearance, a period of intellectual growth unlike any I can remember in my life. I am embracing the fact that my life is now more about finding meaning than  climbing that career ladder I put in the closet a few years ago. The inner work that is organically occuring is huge, right along side all of this work on the outer shell that is truly meaningless.

Currently I am reading The Worldly Philosophers: An Economic History; a philosophy textbook I found at a garage sale; Coming to Our Senses; Romancing the Ordinary; and Life 101. Every morning I sip my coffee and read from these works for about 30 minutes. I am learning the beauty of contemplation of just about everything, as well as clearing my mind and making room for me.

And then I retreat to my room and slather cream all over my face and hands.

You gotta laugh.

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.  ~Victor Frankl

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Time's form....

Three generations of women's hands:
Thanksgiving 2010

Time is an illusion, given form only
by the work of our hands.

Nothing else matters.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

"Charlie Sheen-itis"

Most of us by now have watched at least one episode of the popular TV show that highlights two men and their (now grown) son/nephew. You know the one: The uncle is a caricature of the playboy, a jingle-writer whose dictionary doesn't reference the word "commitment" and who loses days at a time while overindulging in, well, just about everything there is to wallow in. Women, alcohol,  name it, he jumps in and might not come up for air until the booze runs out or the woman does.

Charlie has come close a couple of times. Meaning to a WEDDING, not some satanic ritual where everyone gets naked and shakes things at the full moon, although now that I think about it, there are some similarities. But, a glitch always appears that causes him to run for the door like he IS the centerpiece at some human sacrificial ceremony, leaving a beautiful woman at the alter wounded and bewildered.

Apparently the writers of the show are intelligent enough to take note of the fact that their lead character MUST be aging, especially since the nephew has literally become a young man on the set of this comedy....they can't hide that one with make up and spiky hair. So, occasionally they insert a throw-away line that proves that Charlies knows his jowls are a bit longer and his stamina leaves just a little to be desired.

This takes them into the media minefield of aging. They can't pin the "getting old" label on HIM too often or their audience will remote their way to MTV. So, they splash his women with dialogue that proves it can't be his inability to "keep up," even with sly references to those little blue pills. But my ears perked up one evening when Charlie and I were meandering through a half hour when he said, "Ewwwww! I'm not going to put my tongue in some 60 year old woman's mouth!" And his face was all screwed up in disgust as he swigged his vodka. Like women over 60 were so unappealing and OLD that he couldn't even say the words without gagging. 

I had to back the recorder up and play that segment again to make sure that's what he said. Yep, I heard right the second time, too. Let's think about this now:

Christine LahtiChristine LahtiCristina FerrareCristina Ferrare
 Jane Pauley Jane Pauley Linda ThompsonLinda Thompson

Yes, these women are all over 60, folks.

But I think many men agree with Charlie on this false age-referenced distaste, based on my own experience with dating (or attempting such a hilarious thing) after 50. But that's a topic for another day.

Maybe Charlie just needs to keep better company. And the writers need to acknowledge the obvious....their lead character HAS to be knocking on the door of middle age. Soon it may be the women who can't imagine kissing him(or whatever...this IS an adult-themed show with plenty of the action taking place in his bedroom). Think what fun the writing team can have with THAT.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Meet Grumpy.....

I used to wonder why old people were so persistently grumpy. Every minor glitch in the day became an overblown ordeal, from being shorted 3 cents at the grocery store to scrutinizing a bill at the restaurant as everyone else at the table squirmed in their chairs.

"C'mon, Mom/Dad....I'll give you the 3 cents," I said once. Well, probably more than once.

These people appeared to be looking for trouble. Much like little kids at the other end of the age spectrum. Almost like they knew it would be lurking around every corner, scrunched behind half-closed doors, just waiting to jump out and scare the bejesus out of them.  

But, no, they didn't want my pennies or my interference while they spent 20 excruciating minutes going over every item on the check with the waiter (and it is a WAITER to them, not a SERVER, none of that PC nonsense welcome here) in an attempt to prove....what?

About 3 years ago, as I was knocking on the door to 60, I began to get it. I figured out what they (now, WE) are trying to prove.


I find myself sighing in the face of the 16 year old cashier who can't count back change and just shorted me a nickel, trying to decide if it's worth it to even go there. And after being shorted all my adult life, I reached a point in time, and in line, when I had simply had enough. It became time to take a stand. That child behind the counter, the one who was hired to take money and GIVE CHANGE, needs to know that I know she/he is doing it wrong and that, although it was only a nickel, it might have been $5 for all she knew....literally.

Much like the person in the cell phone superstore who sighs dramatically in my face, trying to make it sound like I JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND.  So, they keep repeating the same words, over and over, as people behind me mutter and grouse, all hoping that I will simply give up and slink away. With my problem still unresolved. Which means I would have to go home and get on the "customer service" line on the phone, and that is an entirely different sad story.

I'm a very fit 60+ person. But I have also learned through those many years of dwelling here that faster is not necessarily better. In fact, speeding through life is exactly that, and we miss a great deal of beauty and nuance that way. Translation: I walk slower than I used to. On purpose. Including at the mall. Where teenagers and overaged teenagers insist on walking on my heels in their haste to find more things to buy that they don't need. Just walk around me, OK, and you can save the dirty looks for the cashier who will short you on your change. If you even notice.

I guess we have more patience with incompetence when we're younger. We simply haven't had time to get swallowed up by it yet. YET. And then we snap, sometime around 50 or 60.

See? Grumpy.                                               

Man cannot live by incompetence alone. Charlotte Whitton