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Catching my breath after my first 57 years of life

A Hair Raising Walkabout

What a wild ride it’s been so far!

I love this saying below, by Brian Andreas, which he pairs with a painting of one of his colorful StoryPeople:

“Is willing to accept that she creates her own reality except for some of the parts where she can’t help but wonder what the hell she was thinking.”

When I look back on certain parts of my first 57 years of life, I really do wonder what the hell I was thinking.

And for some parts I wonder how I came out alive.

Which makes me wonder further. . .

In the future, will I look back at this walkabout and ask myself, “What the hell?”

Or will I say, “Good going!” with no regrets.

Only time will tell, but I am guessing it will be a little bit of both.

My collage above, “A Hair Raising Walkabout,” pretty accurately depicts the first two months of my walkabout. My itinerary was tight as I busily traveled up, down and across California and Oregon by car, (all the while defying PTSD.) There were heat waves at the start of the trip and early snow storms in the last days. I drove on crazy multiple lane highways and through shockingly beautiful deserted country.

I lived as an anthropologist in other people’s houses, studying and  accommodating to the ways of each household. There were family and friend reunions, and I met many new people. I did bits of art and writing along the way, but there was not much true rest or time for reflection.

I had burst out of the walkabout gate with a high energy explosive catharsis. And as right and wonderful as it was . . . it was time for it to end.

Now, I am quietly stashed away, all by myself, in a cozy cubbyhole of an apartment in a historic high-rise in the city of Portland, Oregon — until next summer.

I only know a few people here, and even those, not very well. I talk a lot on the phone with clients, friends and family, but my only in-person communication has been with shopkeepers, clerks or people in elevators. My apartment is 475 sq. ft., and it took me just a day or two to set up because I brought only the things that would fit into my car. If I need something I generally find it at Goodwill down the street — knowing I can return these things there when I leave.

My apartment is high on a hill on the fifth floor of the building – well above and looking down on the twinkling lights of Portland. This, and the close gray winter days, contributes to my sense of being set apart from humanity and cocooned. I like being anonymous and, so far, I haven’t been lonely. The stimulation of a long walk through the city makes a nice counter-balance to my isolation.

I question my contentedness and begin to suspect I am an introvert . . . or is this just a phrase?

I take the Myers Briggs Personality Test online and find I have “a moderate preference of introversion over extroversion.” So maybe it is true, but it doesn’t really matter. I am doing what feels good now.

I also conclude that  I am catching my breath after the first 57 years of my life. I am in repair, taking stock, and gathering supplies for the future. This time here in Portland is a punctuation mark to my life, a slow putting on of the brakes toward an ending which will inevitably lead to a new beginning.

It’s doubtful I will live a second 57 years. I could be gone in 30 years or 10 or tomorrow. I am glad I have made it this far at least – to have the chance to live the life I have – messy as it’s been.

And with the holidays coming – this time here in Portland is icing on the cake – the gift solitude I give to myself.

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. Drawn from a deeper well

    57 is a number that resonates with me too Betsy. Firstly, there is a somewhat tenuous link with your name, as in the phrase “Heavens to Betsy!” of which no one seems to know exactly when or where it arose from, except that its first publication appears to be in the US journal “Ballou’s dollar monthly magazine, Volume 5”, January 1857. Being English, it is to me a fairly unfamiliar phrase, save the fact that I have an American internet friend who is in the habit of using it and it makes me smile to see it as I can see her in my mind’s eye exclaiming it so when surprised by life.

    Heinz 57 is an advertising phrase that anyone over a certain age is familiar with and has come to mean anything that is comprised or mixed from a lot of parts or origins. Does that ring a bell? It ain’t just soup that’s got history then.

    In mathematics it is a semi prime, 57 is a Blum integer since its two prime factors are both Gaussian primes….huh?

    In music “57 Channels (and Nothin’ On)” is a song by Bruce Springsteen, from his 1992 album “Human Touch”……..ok so that one resonates more than the previous example.

    In the culinary world it is a fast food dinner in Pereira, Colombia…..hmm.

    57 is also my current age and the age at which my mother passed away, from cancer, 20 years ago. I wish I could say that I thought about her death every day. I don’t, but what does occur to me now is that I am living more days than she ever saw in her own life and of course there is a whole underground world hidden away in that one. I wonder for instance what I would have done had she been alive this year when things came to a head in my life.
    I too, as you say about yourself, have had to catch my breath, be in repair and take stock and now at least to some extent I am doing what feels good. Following my bliss, as the great comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell was found of urging his students, though with the understanding that I will not be floating on a cloud that has a silver lining all of the time, but that same cloud will turn black and dump crap on me too. But then I can always buy an umbrella.

    “It is part of what made me, me”. So said screenwriter Akiva Goldman (“A Beautiful Mind”, “Cinderella Man”) in the dvd “Finding Joe” (which outlines “The Hero’s Journey” we are all on) when musing about the childhood sexual abuse that he was subjected to.

    I was never, as far as I remember, subjected to sexual abuse, but like many people on this planet I was haunted by ghosts. The ghosts of parents and their parents too (and even beyond that…this DNA runs deep) and what they teach us. The rules, their rules, of life, which of course they demand that we learn for our own good and which we understand they teach us to protect us and we are grateful for that. Ghosts continue to influence us as we grow, teachers, priests, ministers, brothers and sisters, friends, older and wiser people, work colleagues and bosses, our peer groups and we crave their attention throughout this long process, during which our sponge-like brains are developing right up to the age of 25 years or so, as scientists tell us.

    Then, as if we have been locked away in a padded cell we are released into the world with the tools we were given to find our way within it. So far so good, but we have been defined by rules which may work for us, or may not. From there we will stumble on still intent on trying to please others instead of following our bliss and staying true to ourselves and becoming the person we were born to be. No wonder some of us look back on our lives and feel hurt and confused by what we see and feel and reach a point in our lives where we have to stop and take stock. Sometimes that stop is a choice, sometimes not.

    I reached my stop this year.

    It was a thunderstorm worthy of “King Lear”, y’know the line, “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!” and it was on me. It was raging whilst I was doing my job and I wondered after why it did not happen whilst I was at home, quietly reading a book, sipping tea. Ha! Well of course it could not have happened there, life rolls along on the edge of a wave, a wave which sometimes reaches a shallow sandy shore, but can also smash against the rocks. We need a confrontation, a catalyst to spark us off and the storm overhead and the dumb guy in front of me was mine.

    I never hit him. The guy who was bugging me, I never hit him. I wanted too, but I’m not a natural fighter, it takes a lot for me to fight anyone. In moments of crisis we fall into two categories, fight or flight and in my case I sprout wings! I often do it with humour, but something in me just flipped this time. He wasn’t a big guy, but I knew my job was at stake, no matter the provocation, I had to get out of there, my head was about to explode. I was back at Head Office in five minutes and gushing out my tale of woe to a female work colleague.

    She asked me if I was angry and I said yes and that I’d been angry for six months or more. She asked me if I needed to see someone, counselling. Well when someone throws you a lifeline and you’re drowning, you grab it.

    So I had six counselling sessions, free, on the company. By the sixth one I had learned that far from being unlucky, I was the lucky one. As my counsellor said, most people never get to this point, it eludes them and they die without knowing.

    Knowing what, I asked.

    Knowing who they are and coming to terms with their past, forgiving others, but mostly forgiving themselves and being able to love yourself. And more than this, being able to acknowledge yourself and your past, take responsibility for your past actions and whilst understanding that blame is not a healthy state of affairs, there were reasons for my life arriving at this point. I have a right to say no. (That was a new concept, I had been only too willing to go along with others in the past, a major cause of unhappiness). I had too often bounced from one job to another, one relationship to another, surviving, but never able to ‘follow my bliss’ and have a purpose in life.

    As Joe Campbell said, “Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.”

    So it was never too late I asked. Never, she said.

    So aged 57, I too having paused, am moving on as much as I can at my own pace and pursuing the elusive butterfly.

    One final thing that I learned too.

    At the end of each session, my counsellor would book my next appointment, hand me a card with the date and time written on it and underneath she would always write.

    “Go gently”

    Sounds about right to me.

    James Jay 2012

    November 20, 2012
    • James – Thank you for this thoughtful beautifully written comment. I think you need a blog of your own! You have a lot of wisdom to share that would be helpful for many others. Betsy

      November 21, 2012
      • Thanks Betsy and you may well be right….trouble is i need something to spark me off and I was thinking about writing about the above the same day you published your own piece and so i went ahead and wrote whilst i was energized…so thank you.

        November 21, 2012
  2. And because it’s Portland, it’s a gift of solitude AND sweet potato ice cream sandwiches. Lucky!

    November 19, 2012
    • Yeah — but those things aren’t cheap! Just priced them $7.95 for one (maybe two.) Thanks for your comment! Love Betsy

      November 19, 2012
  3. I live vicariously through you.
    Thank you for helping me gain some insight in this process we are sharing.

    Seems fitting… here is one of my recent posts

    inevitable change is banging at my door
    each day with a violent scream
    I hunker down scrambling for a sense of grounding

    This internal hurricane
    knows no other way
    storm raging
    I yell back
    stop screaming at me

    I seek a gentle birth
    a loving birth
    different from the first

    somehow I remain

    nothing changes
    and everything has changed

    November 19, 2012
    • Jacquelene, this is an absolutely fabulous poem! I get it totally. Thanks for helping me inch my way along. Working on the gentle birth idea! Love Betsy

      November 19, 2012
  4. There’s a thread you follow.
    It goes among things that change.
    But it doesn’t change.
    People wonder about what you are pursuing.
    You have to explain about the thread.
    But it is hard for others to see.
    While you hold it you can’t get lost.
    Tragedies happen; people get hurt or die; and you suffer and get old.
    Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
    You don’t ever let go of the thread.
    ~ William Stafford

    November 19, 2012
  5. I love and admire the skillful way that you are letting your WalkAbout unfold, and the way you are tracking your process by connecting the dot, and how you are staying close to yourself through it all.

    November 19, 2012
    • Hi Marla – Thanks for your supportive comment! I’ve learned a few things from the best — You! Love Betsy

      November 19, 2012
  6. Rocky Schnaath #

    Glad you’re getting a breather! Sounds like you have a lot of experiences to sift through. Come to Oakland anytime you want a change of scenery!

    November 19, 2012
    • Hi Rocky! Are you back in Oakland now? I am definitely going to make it back to Oakland. If you ever feel so inspired, I would love to have a guest post from you about your latest adventure. Thanks for reading! Betsy

      November 19, 2012

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