Saturday, July 30, 2011

Don't ever call me a "senior citizen"..........

Don't call me a "senior citizen".......ever.

Or "retired"......that day will never come, I'm afraid. To be honest, I'm not sure I want it to.

"Aged"? Don't even try that one.

I have decided that Active Master fits the bill just fine. I discovered this term in Deepak Chopra's book, Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, one of my current stack that I'm reading in the morning on my back patio as the sun comes up each day.  I wish I could claim it as my own, but this column is about honesty above all else, so let's give credit where it's due.

Since I left the world of "doing what the boss wants" for doing my own thing, I have become my own master in that sense of the word. I write for a living now, full time, and am relishing the life of creative effort. And I'm certainly active, since discovering ballroom dancing while also keeping up my gym routine of weights, circuits, and cardio. Then there are my 2 mile walks with a friend a couple of times a week so we can chat and catch up on our respective lives, plus a weekly high-intensity fitness workout, and you can see there isn't much time left in my week for the "active" part.

But I think there is more to the Master part.

Here's what I think: As we age and experience life, with its successes and defeats, we learn to master the roller coaster. We realize that the ideals we had in our youth might still be valuable, but the road to their achievement will not be straight. And often not pleasant. That doesn't mean they have no value; it just means we learn to take the downturns that life throws at us, yet we still fly back up to the top of those rails every once in awhile. And sometimes what appears to be a defeat turns out to be a blessing after all; but sometimes it works the other way, too. What I thought was a valid, worthy goal when I was 20 or 30 or even 40 turned out to be a devil in disguise. I had to experience all of that to understand it, though.

And here I am. I'm still standing and I'm stronger in all ways possible. I'm an Active Master revelling in the journey.

Now, if I could just master that Latin hip thing, I'd have it made.

How a person masters his fate is more important than what his fate is.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Lions and bees....oh my!

Lazy Lion sounded pretty good, actually. And Buzzing Bees....well, I excelled on that one! My fingers followed the teacher's instructions without too much trouble, and she said I exercised good pressure for a first timer.

Today was the July episode of my "doing something I've never done before" adventure. I did something I had often wondered about, but never had the opportunity to try. I took a piano lesson.

In elementary school, a man showed up in my classroom once with an assortment of instruments, and I fell in love with the violin. It was glossy and sleek and elegant to my 10 year old eyes. I don't remember why I never took lessons, considering how enamored I was with that beautiful piece of wood, but I guess that was my one opportunity. Such a thing never came up again.

I found a piano teacher by sending out a call to all my Facebook friends, and today was the day. She already knew about my year-long adventure and was willing to give me one lesson. She was gracious and patient with me, an adult with absolutely no knowledge of music other than I love it. She dug out a child's beginner book, a little hesitantly I noticed, thinking I might be offended. I quickly disavowed her of that concern. I may be a lot of things, but I know what I don't know. A kid's book is exactly where I needed to be.

We discussed terms I had never heard before, like steps with skips, traids, and solfeige. She showed me that my fingers are numbered and where to start on the keyboard. I never knew the difference between black keys and white ones, but I do now. I played Lazy Lion on the black keys once I got the finger-numbering system down. Then the two of us played an improvised tune, she on one side of the keyboard and me on the other. Just striking a succession of keys.....and it sounded pretty good!

She was intrigued with my struggles to learn ballroom dancing, things like hearing the beat and coordination (or my lack thereof). There seems to be some correlation that hadn't occured to me before. Interesting, all of it.

I have learned a great deal from this adventure, doing something each month for a year that I've never done before. Much more than I ever anticpated. I have done things that turned out to be one-time events, and I also discovered a passion in April that I never expected, one that I hope to continue forever.  I am so grateful that I have undertaken this mission, as I have discovered corners of my soul I never knew existed. And today, to feel music begin in my fingers and then wrap itself around me was a wondrous happening.

Even if it was only Lazy Lion and Buzzing Bees.

Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.  ~Berthold Auerbach

Visit Martha McKie's website at to learn about piano lessons.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Don't laugh at...or lie to...a lover

As I've told you before, relationships haven't been my strong suit over the years. I'll be the first to admit that. However, that doesn't mean I haven't learned a lot from them. Relationships, I mean. I guess that's one thing about getting older. Our experiences become cumulative and have more depth over time.

Some of those lessons learned were easily acquired. Like, it's not a good idea for the health of a relationship to laugh at someone who is trying to explain how they feel. If you make that mistake more than once, peace be with you, because you're going to have a rough road keeping your bed warm on a cold night.

Or that lies have a way of rebounding, kind of like a billiard ball that doesn't drop where you thought it was going. It just keeps bouncing around, hitting things. Usually you.

I've made small mistakes, as well as some huge ones. Some have cost me dearly. But the most interesting, and I believe most valuable, lessons have shown me what I am capable of as an individual. For example, only recently have I been able to write about the most devastating relationship I ever had. It's a sad, strange story, believe me. One that no novelist could ever make up. I had to see a therapist for a short time to process exactly what had happened. And the therapist handed me a gift when I was ready to head out on my own again.

That gift? "No matter how painful this experience was for you, at least now you know the passion you're capable of."  Needless to say, I didn't look at the situation that way for a long time. I was too busy tending to my shredded soul. For years.

Relationships can be excruciating. They can bring immense joy. Often both. At the same time. 

Sometimes they last. Other times they simply don't. People hurt one another and get hurt in return. But I believe there are always lessons there somewhere. And the older we get, the more we're open to the instruction that results. 

And time truly does heal. I have the scars to prove it.

Some people come into our lives and quickly go.  Some stay for a while, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same.  ~Flavia Weedn, Forever, ©

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A sweet thing, friendship.....

Growing up as a Navy brat was tough on me. It's pretty sad when the longest you've lived anywhere is when you go off to a four-year stint at college.

The remnants of my early life are evident today in the fact that I haven't moved in over 20 years, and that my daughter grew up in the same house her entire life. I can even still see the marks on the tree out front where she nailed boards to its trunk so she could climb as high as possible. I love those marks dearly.

The biggest drawback, however, is this:  Friendships don't survive the nomad lifestyle. At least they didn't for me, and I think most military kids would agree. And it wasn't for lack of trying on my part. I wrote letters to friends I had to leave behind from one duty station to the other. At first, they would write back to me, updating me on all the gossip among our group, and I'd lament the new Navy base I had been banished to once again.

But over time, the return letters would stop and I would still be struggling to make new friends, me the shy kid with glasses and the hated designation of "the new girl." Always the "new girl." 

Somewhere along the way I made a decision that the whole thing was just too painful. My solution? Don't make friends at all. That way, I didn't have to leave them. I didn't have to try to keep in touch with them when I moved on, which I always did. The quiet "new girl" became the kid who never spoke at all. Lonely and mute.

That experience taught me that a friendship is a rare gem to be protected at all costs today. I have often joked that once you are on one of my email distribution lists, you are there forever. I don't let go of people easily any more, sometimes to my own detriment, but I believe friendships need to be nurtured and safeguarded.

Nurturing means things like getting together to catch up frequently, even if it's via phone or email. To share good news and bad, to talk and to share, to advise when asked. To offer encouragement and support. Sometimes just to listen. You can't ignore friends and expect them to hang around very long.

I envy my friends who maintain ties with people they have known since elementary school. They get together and reminisce, look at pictures, laugh and gossip. The fact that they even remember each others' names is amazing to me. I would love to have ties that reach so far and hold so tight.

Today I know all of this. And if you're my friend, I think you know how much I value you.

But my reality growing up was different, and I have learned much from it. I just wish all those lessons didn't have such sharp edges.

Without friends no one would choose to live,
though he had all other goods.
- Artistotle

Friday, July 15, 2011

Paying respects.....

Funerals suck. There's no other way to put it. Especially now that I'm a bit farther down the road than many of you and they pop up more frequently. However, up until last year--May 27th, 2010 to be exact--I had avoided them like the plague that they were to me.

"They're for the family," I huffed indignantly, like families weren't worth the effort. Or the ceremony for their loved ones was held simply to annoy me, the center of the universe.

"The person who died won't know whether I'm there or not," I proclaimed. Certainly an original thought, don't you think? I went shopping instead.

"The services are at an inconvenient time." I bet the people who are the stars of funerals think so, too.

And then on May 23rd, 2010, my father passed away at age 85. Suddenly, I was part of a family standing next to the casket to say good-bye. I watched in amazement as dozens of people filed in to touch my hand and tell me how much my father meant to them. I had no idea who many of them were. Some of them didn't know him at all, but they knew me, or my brother or sister, or my mother. All these people came to pay homage to my father or to give support to us. Many had the opportunity to stand and speak about my dad that day, of his quiet calmness, his Navy service, his dedication to my mother for 67 years. I was touched to the core.

Today I sat in a funeral service for a woman I didn't know well. She was a teacher, like me, and we shared membership in an organization that supports education and women in that profession. I never spoke to her family, I didn't speak to anyone. But I was there to be human testimony to her life of service to children and to show her family that she meant something just by having spent time here on Earth. Regardless of one's beliefs about what happens when our time here is done, today her family knows  that she was respected and we all thought enough of her to show up.

And I will never avoid the opportunity again. I just wish it hadn't taken me so long.

“If you don't go to other men's funerals they won't go to yours.”

Clarence Day

Monday, July 11, 2011

The teacher as learner......

This teacher has become the student and the transition has been intriguing. My year-long journey of doing things I've never done before has put me into the role of the student in some new situations, and the lessons are many and varied. For those of you new to this column, the purpose of the journey is to rejuvenate, to experience life in a fresh way at an age when things often go stale. I started in January and have tackled six new things so far this year. (For an update, see for the first installment.) Who knows where the next six months will find me?

One of my new teachers chuckled when I admitted that I hadn't done the homework that he asked me to do. I hemmed, I hawed, I excused my own transgressions. I was pitiful, in other words. And then he seemed to delight in reminding me that my students must have felt the same way when I asked for THEIR homework and they started reciting the litany of reasons why they didn't have it done. You know what they say about payback.

It has also been an eye-opener to be reminded from this new viewpoint that education is repetition. I hear the instruction, I see the demonstration, and I'm simply not getting it. Frustration mounts. And then, a mere change in terminology allows the same concept to finally sink in, making sense where yesterday there was no sense at all. Or it took me being ready to hear it....finally.

These are all things I know and have utilized from the instructor's side of the desk for decades. But by moving to the other side of the desk, the student side, my perspective has been knocked off kilter.

And that is a very good thing, at any age.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Examining everything.....

The results of the examination aren't important. At least, that's what I think Socrates meant when he said the unexamined life isn't worth living. The important thing is to get out the tally sheet and take stock of what we're doing.  The planet spins away from us if we don't tote up the sums once in a while.

I waited much too long, and now have some regrets. One thing I don't want my daughter, or any young person for that matter, to do when they reach 60 is to regret anything they did....or more importantly, things they didn't do with their lives.

Such as......

I wish I had made beautiful gardens sooner.

I wish I had known that all that worrying wouldn't change a thing.

I wish I had spent more time doing nothing. Not even examining anything.

I wish I had worked harder at some things. One relationship comes quickly to mind.

I wish I had spoken up much sooner (like 50 years or so). Everywhere. About everything.

I wish I had understood that I always have the right to change my mind. And I wish I had changed it a couple of times, that's for sure.

I wish I had followed my passion for writing earlier. Many young people got a good teacher, but my voice was silent for much too long.

I wish I had smiled more. (Someone paid me the ultimate compliment the other night when he said that even though I didn't know the steps to the foxtrot yet, I had the smile down..... and that was the most important part.)

I wish I had danced even when I felt awkward and conspicuous. I know now that no one else cares how I look on the dance floor, because they're only thinking about how they look. And if they are assessing me, they need to do some totin' up themselves.

As one becomes long lived, I think we tend to become more contemplative. I surely wish it had happened sooner, though, especially now that I've reached the age when the yellow brick road ahead is shorter than the one behind. There's a lesson here for people just now travelling into adulthood, if they care to hear it. I hope they don't wait until it's nearly too late, like I did.

Of course, Socrates also said, "As for me, all I know is that I know nothing."  Go figure.

"Employ your time in improving yourself by other men's writings,
so that you shall gain easily what others have labored hard for."