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Posts from the ‘Aging’ Category

Surprising state of affairs

“Strange New World” by Betsy Lewis

I have a date this week — with a man.

This surprising state of affairs occurred because the 63-year-old me dropped the ball recently and left the job of running my life to the 20-year-old me. In my absence, I find that the 20-year-old has done a fair amount of remodeling of my body and soul. It was she who set up this date.

The 20-year-old made her reappearance in my life recently when my old boyfriend from 43 years ago came back into my life. It was a tumultuous reunion and, from the outside, it looked like the whole thing ended badly. However, there were some significant things that were healed for me, and the support of a few special friends kept me sane.

So, now that the 20-year-old has tasted freedom — and liked it, she has decided to stay for a while. I have her on a short leash for the time being, but the truth is, it’s felt good having her back.

SHE. IS. FUN. She is also energetic, optimistic, smart, idealistic, earnest, intense, and creative.

She has me running on the track again — and liking it. She has me cutting out sugar and blending green drinks. She has me whittling down my body, so I can physically keep up with her.

She makes me happier than I have felt in a long time and I can see that embodying her is essential to living out my creative potential with the years I have left.

When I asked her what a creative life would look like to her, she made this list:

DANCE, run, walk, hike, create art, try new art mediums, workshops, classes, learn new skills, explore new places, EXPERIMENT, WRITE, publish the Walkabout Diaries, make creative friends, practice compassion, find someone to love, get art out into the world, organize art shows, self-exploration, conversations over COFFEE, deep sharing with friends, CELEBRATE everything, see more of the world,  COLLABORATE with artists, start a writing group, do scary (but mostly safe) things, MUSIC, Play, Be in water.

The 20-year-old, unfortunately, can also be reckless, self-critical, overly trusting, and sometimes lacks judgement.  It is a little disconcerting to the 63-year-old me who had all but settled down for the long slow slide into dementia — but now has a 20-year-old to manage.

The first time around her 20s this lovely girl got the joy kicked out of her.  But as a friend pointed out — what could be better than the wisdom of a 63-year-old and the joie de vivre of a 20-year-old — combined in one person.

We could be a force.

And this time around, she has someone to protect her magic.

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I am unwritten. Ending unplanned.

Breaching Dolfins by Betsy Lewis

I dreamed I was curled up asleep on the ocean floor. When I woke, it was to a dark murky gray green world of sea water. It was utterly silent and uninhabited. I felt an imperative to move — to start swimming upward. I did that for a very long time. It was hard work and bitterly cold. I was running out of oxygen. But, as I doggedly kicked my feet and moved my arms, it grew very slightly warmer and easier to move.

I could see a faint light above me and I strained to reach it, but the swimming seemed to go on forever and I was exhausted and wanted to give up.

However, this time I broke the surface of the water to the light, breaching and splashing like a dolphin. The atmosphere was thin, light and balmy; the sun warm on my skin. I gulped in the oxygen.

I’ve dreamed this dream, and others like it, many times before, but without reaching the light or finishing the foot race or finding what I am looking for (usually my car.)

When I woke up this morning from my swimming effort, the words that first came to mind were, “Oh world, please just let me be myself.”

So simple. Certainly this is in my control?

Yet, I exist between a constrained fearful past and a new vulnerable present – one more full of feeling, heart and authenticity. There is a new person rising up within me I do not know yet, but who is making herself felt and heard — confident that it is safe for her to come into existence now.

It dawns on me that at any age we are at a beginning of something that can be big or small.  That we can always be reaching for something in the distance that we can let in, or that we can renounce and give up. Giving up may seem the easier choice as we age. It is hard to keep doing the challenging working — to keep putting ourselves on the line.

What we have as we age, however, is the experience to know we can survive many things and can survive again.

That even the experience of dying can be met bravely as a beginning.

A Facebook friend sent me this inspiring song: “Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield (lyrics and music video below.)

I am unwritten, can’t read my mind, I’m undefined
I’m just beginning, the pen’s in my hand, ending unplanned
Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find
Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten

My (60 Second) Conversation with God

“Mystery” by Betsy Lewis

A man I love told me he does not love me.

It took him 5 years to stop loving me and he can not go back.

It seems we are always at cross purposes.

He says he “cares about me”, but these are the only words I really hear:  DOES. NOT. LOVE.

From where I stand, this gap between “caring about” and “loving” is a vast un-navigable ocean.

I asked my friend, Carol, what she would do in this situation. She says she would pray to God to:

  1. Remove the wish or obsession
  2. Leave it if there is some other purpose for it

I am not a conventionally religious person. When I took a test to determine my character strengths, “Spirituality” was at the absolute bottom of my list of strengths. As far as beliefs go, I am wide open. I reject nothing, but am not attached to anything either. If I were a church, I would be the church of unknowable mysteries, loose boundaries and capriciously editable dogma.

I decide to give Carol’s system a try. I fold my hands in prayer like I did when I was a little girl in church school. I ask God to remove my love for this man or to leave it, if there is some other purpose.

This takes all of 5 seconds.

I stand up and I think to myself, “All I really want is someone to love.”

Another voice, perhaps the God voice, points out the obvious – I already have someone I love – the man who doesn’t love me.

Perhaps I did not ask for the right thing.

But maybe this is right. Although it is unrequited, I do have at least one someone to love. I am clearly capable of true and enduring love. My love for the man needs no answering call. It was forever engraved into my soft youthful heart and mind all those years ago. It has existed hidden, but rears up now and says, “See me. I am not going away.”

And in truth, I don’t take it personally that this guy doesn’t love me. I haven’t loved everyone who has loved me. All is fair in love and war.

Even better, I didn’t ask God to make this poor guy love me. I didn’t ask to be loved.

I asked to give love.

This seems like mature progress on the love front.

Don’t get me wrong. I love to be loved. But, at age 63, do I even have the right to more romantic love? Should there not be a limit? There is a time for every season after all. Is my season up?

These are the issues I am wrestling with. I battle with aging, the physical changes it brings and maintaining my self-esteem in the face of it all.

Sigh. It was all so much easier when I carried the bargaining card of youth and beauty.

Now, I have no card, but still a beating heart, a warm body, energy, enthusiasm – a surfeit of love. I see no end in sight for the longing of the delicious feelings of loving and being loved.

 

Girl Meets Boy

 

“We now know that memories are not fixed or frozen, like Proust’s jar of preserves in a larder, but are transformed, disassembled, reassembled, and recategorized with every act of recollection.”

Oliver Sacks, Hallucinations

Girl Meets Boy (At a Disco)

For B.G.

Saturday night at a popular disco/bar in a small California college town a boy asks a girl to dance.

The next morning, the girl’s ears still ring from the deafening beat and volume of the music. She recalls the gyrating bodies on the cramped dance floor, the patterns of light racing around the walls as the disco ball spun overhead and the sharp sour taste of beer in the plastic cup she clutched in her hand.

She also thinks back to the tall lanky boy with a head of dark curls who appeared out of nowhere and asked her to dance.

The girl must have told the boy where she lives because, a couple of days later, he strolls down her tree-lined street and finds her reading quietly in the shade on her front porch. They talk, make a date and their love story unfolds from there.

They both will go on to live other love stories, but for the girl at least, this is her first one.

Over the next few years, the boy and the girl learn about love and share wild adventures – and some tragedies. During summer breaks, the boy makes heroic long-distance drives to see the girl. He is there to support her when her father dies. The girl always stands patiently by the side of the road while the boy grabs his collection of tools and disappears under the hood of his beloved Bugeye Sprite to make the mysterious repair that puts them back on the road again.

They get to know each other’s families and the girl often stays with the boy’s family during holidays. A few things she remembers from the boy’s house are the thick perfectly folded guest room towels she was afraid to use, sneaking into the boy’s room when the house was asleep, the boy showing her how his father folded the Land O’Lakes butter packaging so the Native American Indian girl’s knees looked like breasts, and the soft raspy sounds made by the three big white fluffy (debarked) dogs in the backyard.

The boy’s mother teaches the girl to put a dish towel in the bottom of the sink when washing crystal by hand, so the glasses won’t crack against the hard porcelain. She shows her how to make a pie crust using lard and how to pile that pie high with huge California strawberries which shrink while cooking.

There’s much much more, but this story does not end with the boy and the girl living happily-ever-after, however.

Over time, a divide grew between them about religion. They cling together for as long as they can until the girl meets another, leaves to make a life with him and resolutely locks away her memories and feelings for the boy from the disco. The boy felt love-lost for a while, but eventually made a happy life with another who shared his faith.

Girl Meets Boy (Again)

One day the girl, now a woman in her 60s, receives a surprising message. The boy, now a man also in his 60s, has sent her a text.

Four decades from their first meeting at the disco, the boy/man and the girl/woman connect again — this time through the magic of the internet. Suffice it to say, they are no longer shiny and new. The man is grieving the profound loss of his wife of 31 years. The woman is numb and exhausted from the effort of tying up the loose ends following her divorce.

Now, a few mornings after the surprising text message, the woman sits quietly sipping her morning coffee at her kitchen table. She looks up and reflects on the story she has been writing about a girl and a boy meeting at a disco. The ending is eluding her – shifting and changing like a cloud on a windy day. It is still being played out and she doesn’t know how she wants it to end.

She can’t remember the last time she cried, but now her tears start flowing like a river as she begins to unlock the feelings, stories and people she shut away so many years ago.

She cries because she desperately misses the boy she knew, so joyously and vividly alive. She cries because this boy has had to walk a difficult and challenging path through life as a man.

She grieves for their family members who have passed away – her father, his mother and father, his sister.  She even cries for the dogs, the house, the safe familiar rooms, the cars in the driveway; the trees, leaves, flowers, blades of grass in the lawn. And Bugeyes? Is Bugeyes gone too?

She grieves for the pretty girl she was, and for all that is now finished for her – romantic love, touch; being cherished and desired.

The girl who learned to never let anything in has become the woman freely welcoming all that arises.

Perhaps the boy/man and the girl/woman will meet again someday.  Perhaps they won’t. Still, for as long as they live, they hold within them the remembrance of their youthful love, the unique times in which they lived, and the people they loved who are now gone.

The woman now knows what she did not know as a girl when, 40 years ago, she so easily and innocently took the risk to love the boy:  That there is no love without grief and no grief without love. That grief and love are as intimately connected as lover’s hands entwined.

And that, although there is no end to grief in life ….. there is also no end to love.

 

 

Popeye and the illusions that save us

When I was a little girl, I loved the TV cartoon character Popeye the Sailor Man. Popeye was a crusty old sailor who rose above his lot in life to fight for justice, rescue the girl and generally save the day. His secret power was spinach. He got a boost of heroic energy when he consumed a can of spinach – sometimes inhaling it in through the pipe, perennially hanging from his mouth.

Popeye had a theme song — a memorable nonsensical tune. (I’ve posted the lyrics below.)

The child (me) who loved Popeye was, unfortunately, often burdened by adult responsibilities — with no clue how to carry them out. Despite this, I was optimistic and resourceful — with an imperative to survive. Illusions of powerful super heroes are fortifying when one is as young and powerless as I was.

For example, I knew if I could just get my hands on one of those cans of spinach, I too could be able and strong and my problems (shame and confusion at my incompetence) would be forever over.

When I grew up and entered the work-a-day world, I felt called to the field of social justice. Back then, my illusion was the adult version of believing I could save the world. It amuses me now to think that it might have been Popeye the Sailor Man setting me on this path.

I do not remember my mom serving us spinach often, if at all. I do have a vague memory of being offered spinach once, but not in a can (like Popeye), and feeling angry and disappointed. It was obvious to me that the can was essential for the power, and the spinach by itself was yucky.

I do remember the exact moment when I realized Popeye wasn’t real. I was in a library arguing about it with a taller child  — who I could see was making a lot of sense, and as I walked away, the truth sunk in. It was bound to happen. It was like losing Santa Claus.

I have shed a lot of fantasies and illusions as the years have gone by. The romantic ones were the hardest. (Those are stories for another time and a bottle of wine.)

Today, at age 62, I am uncomfortably having to coexist with hard truths about our leaders, my fellow citizens and the humanity of the world in general.

It is in my dreams, however, where I experience the ultimate falling away of illusion and encounter the abject terror of being a soft small vulnerable mammal on a ravaged planet in an incomprehensible universe.

The truth can be cleansing and invigorating, but it can also be painful — like standing in an ice-cold shower.

I am harboring the illusion now – that it is this truth that will set me free.

 

I’m Popeye the Sailor Man,

I’m Popeye the Sailor Man.

I’m strong to the finich

Cause I eats me spinach.

I’m Popeye the Sailor Man.

 

I’m one tough Gazookus

Which hates all Palookas

Wot ain’t on the up and square.

I biffs ’em and buffs ’em

And always out roughs ’em

But none of ’em gets nowhere.

 

If anyone dares to risk my “Fisk”,

It’s “Boff” an’ it’s “Wham” un’erstan’?

So keep “Good Be-hav-or”

That’s your one life saver

With Popeye the Sailor Man.

 

I’m Popeye the Sailor Man,

I’m Popeye the Sailor Man.

I’m strong to the finich

Cause I eats me spinach.

I’m Popeye the Sailor Man.

 

A team of one

12-4-2016

Today it is snowing outside my windows. I have a chicken roasting and my apartment smells delicious. I have a few work and household things to complete, but this is not overwhelming. Truth be told, I am still in my flannel nightgown at 11:00 in the morning and I am looking forward to reading a good novel today. I revel in the freedom to do exactly what I want, when I want.

I used to always be trying to achieve something — to arrive somewhere else more perfect. Lately, I think that I have “arrived” — as much as any human being can. I know there will always be changes and growth ahead, and I hope I will ride them out gracefully, but mostly I am living the life I want to live.

Yesterday morning, I smelled a gas leak. This new apartment is the first time I have had gas appliances in a few years. It was 7:30 am, but I called my landlords, who only live downstairs of me. They called the gas company and one of them came up. It was at that point I discovered that the oven nob was turned slightly on. I hadn’t used the oven that morning, but I did reach over it to an upper cabinet and had unknowingly nudged the knob “on”. It was embarrassing. Something I should have figured out myself, but my landlords are always gracious and kind and told me not to worry about it.

Just now, I realized that the clock isn’t right on the microwave. Most devices change automatically with the time change, but this one didn’t, and I hadn’t made it “fall back” as I should have.

When I was married, I had someone around who took up the slack and took care of the things I missed.

Now I do it all myself and have for several years. I am no longer part of a “team effort” and it made me feel a little afraid — all the things I have missed or am possibly missing, that another person might see. The things that need to be done — that I am not doing.

When my daughter is with me, she follows up on certain things for me. My son can always find, within seconds, things I have lost.

I have some moments of insecurity. Missed things? Little things, big things? I may never know if it was all for good or bad.

Maybe having a clock with the wrong time is better than having to compromise part of who I am for “the team.”

They say that isn’t the way it has to be, but I don’t believe it. That season of my life has passed. I make this choice to be a “team of one” (with lots of support waiting in the wings if I need it), doing exactly what I want, when I want, and living the life I hadn’t really dreamed of, but is the quirky, imperfect-perfect one I want right now.

If not now, when???

10-5-2015-marla

I  am getting ready for a trip to New York City. It’s #1 on my travel bucket list.

This is not the most affordable trip I could take. Like all trips, there is the getting there (not cheap) and the lodging (REALLY not cheap) and the eating, the transportation etc. However, I’ve pulled it together as affordably as I can. I am going with my good friend Patty, who has traveled to many exotic places, but has never been to New York City.

I would put it off if I were younger. But, at 61 years old, my new favorite things to say to myself is: “If not now, when???”

I had this trip planned some 7 years ago, but my kid got into trouble, so I canceled. The ensuing years were filled with worry and sacrifice. I look at the pictures from 7 years ago and it shows in my face, beyond what would be normal aging.

Now this child’s life is not my life — to protect with MY life anymore. But, for a long time there, I felt I was finished. Like I was done with new and growth and a future — and moving backward in a long slow slide to my own demise.

Getting another chance, at what I was planning when it all fell apart, feels like a reboot.  Back to the “before” and still capable of something approximating the future I had imagined. I am still a work in progress.

New York will probably look different to me now than it would have 7 years ago. I will get different things out of this visit – find different meanings and be changed and inspired in different ways.

And, thanks to Facebook, I have discovered that a friend I haven’t seen in 20+ years will be at a theater just down the street from where I am staying — the night I arrive in NYC. Our babies – her boy and my girl – were friends in the Indiana neighborhood where we both lived. New mothers together, we shared a pivotal time in our lives! My baby grew up and is a mother now herself. And her son is getting married soon.

We will both be exhausted by then. I will have traveled all day and she will be flying out early the next morning, but there is a chance we can meet for a few minutes when the play lets out.

It’s funny to think that we would both land, once again, at the same time and at the same place in this whole wide world.

 

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