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Posts from the ‘Aging’ Category

No one likes an old angry woman

Screaming Woman By Betsy Lewis

Screaming Angry Woman: Mixed Media Collage 11″ x 14″ By Betsy Lewis

My 61st birthday approaches. So far, the “golden years” have been anything but peaceful. I have been angry, spitting angry, a lot this year. I’ve learned (again), that no one likes an angry woman. People wish angry women would just go away, suck it up and be demur and quiet. Probably even more so if you are an OLD angry woman. You’ve lost the bargaining chips of youth and beauty.

And if you are an old angry woman, there will be repercussions — and often repercussions that impact you financially.

I learned this year that you are never too old to be sexually harassed. I spoke up, justice was not done and I took a blow financially. I learned that, although I was being dangerously harassed by my next door mentally ill male neighbor, I would be the one told to leave by my landlord because I demanded (sometimes angrily) to be able to feel safe in my own home. I took another financial blow when I had to move.

I know we are all talking about anger, hatred, violence and war in light of recent national and global events. Many of my friends on Facebook are preaching love and peace. I know I am a privileged white woman, so my experience is not the same as a person of color. I also know there is no hierarchy of oppression. I am angry about it all. I would love to feel peace and love by just saying it, thinking it or wanting it, but honestly I just can’t jump there on a whim.

I need some sort of bridge for me to get there.

So, meanwhile, I am still an old angry woman, but thinking about how I can be a tiny part, with the time I have left, of making that bridge.

 

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The Invisible Woman?

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Me and Invisible Me

 

Last week a sales clerk gave me the senior discount automatically — without me having to ask. Whoa! That was a first.

I had dressed up too. Made an effort. Had my makeup on. I’d also recently lost a few pounds. I thought I looked good, middle-aged perhaps, but certainly not a senior. Apparently it is time for a reality check.

Or quite possibly, the clerk hadn’t read these breaking news stories:

Middle age begins at 60, says researchers

Middle age now lasts until 74 as baby boomers refuse to grow old

God bless the baby boomers. We are not going down without a fight. If we don’t like the rules, we’ll change ‘em. You wait. We might just outlaw old age altogether.

I am still sorting through what old and senior will mean for my life. My memory slips now and then. I sometimes strain to remember the title of “that book.” “You know the one,” I say to my friends of a similar age. They nod. They DO know, but can’t find the words either. Apparently we can now communicate telepathically. This is good news.

On the other hand, I can no longer learn a new language (I’ve tried), knit an Icelandic sweater, or move a furniture item of any weight and bulk up a flight of stairs. I am having to face up to some new limitations. Sometimes I look in the mirror, stretch the skin on my face, and toy with the idea of surgical intervention.

There are the jokes about aging and there will be the optimists piping in with things like: “Age is just a number!”, ”Aging is mandatory, but growing old is optional!”, “Embrace your age!” etc. My favorite one is, “You are only young once, but you can be immature for a lifetime!”

I see other people are sailing through just fine. I came to parenting late, having spent the last 15 years using my dwindling energy to make sure my children survived to adulthood. I have emerged from that absorbing effort to find myself a senior. It is going to take some getting used to.

And why am I surprised I am old?

Because inside, as other seniors will tell you, it is a different story. Inside I am stunning, a force of nature, a blizzard, a tropical storm, an avalanche, a hurricane — for god’s sake. I have it going on. I know what’s what. I have big ideas, plans and dreams. All systems are go.

And finally I have a voice!

But will anyone listen to me – senior that I am? What are these words I hear whispered on the wind: “Irrrrrrelevant” . . . . . . “Invvvvvisible”

There is something familiar in this actually. It is my home turf in many ways. As a woman I have been grappling with some stage-of-life version of “invisible” my whole life. From petitioning for the right to wear pants instead of dresses to school, to the right to choose, to the right of equal pay for equal work – to name a few.

So now it looks like I must add ageism to sexism.

And how about love and the “invisible woman”? I would like to fall in love again. I thought I would be over this by now, but apparently it goes along with being a human of any age. I’d like a chance to do it better and make – ahem – better choices. But, as my neighbor lady says, “That’s a topic for another time and a bottle of wine.”

The advocates push old as bold and empowered. I am having trouble building up enthusiasm – but maybe I’ll get there. Obviously I need consciousness raising. But, there are the grand words and then there is the reality — which seems to me to need a total societal remodel — which I do not feel up to tackling at the present time.

Being old and getting even older is the unknown. I have few close models. My parents didn’t make it to 60, like I will – if my luck holds – this August 2015. I am a little scared. The end – MY END – is coming closer. Losses are multiplying faster. If I don’t go first, I will lose someone.

So I guess it is time to get busy making long awaited dreams come true – which I am doing as best I can.

Hopefully my body and my bandwidth can keep up the pace for a good long time.

Collage artist

The Collage Artist

Love In The Time of 40 Rose Bushes

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I used to own 40 rose bushes.

They came part and parcel with a house my new husband and I bought in Boise, Idaho — when we were young, in love and wanting to settle down and start a family.

The roses were a riotous mix of colors and shades, lined up prettily against a low weathered gray fence in a sunny courtyard of our new backyard. The windows from the kitchen, eating area and sun room looked out at them. They were in constant view and not easily ignored.

I preferred to grow vegetables back then and was intimated by the responsibility for these roses, so fragile and elegant — and not at all like a melon or head of lettuce in usefulness.

Still, the roses had been growing at this house for a long time. And someone, or a succession of someones, had cultivated and maintained them – perhaps loved them. I was learning to honor love and ready for new responsibilities. Now that the baton had been passed to me — I did not want the roses to die on my watch.

I diligently studied rose cultivation with books borrowed from the Boise Public library. (These were the days before Google!) I mounded loose acidic bark at the base of each bush and put in soak-er hoses to keep their shallow roots cool and damp through the hot Boise summers. I fertilized them, vigilantly watched for disease, picked off aphids and clipped spent blooms. That first fall, instructions in one hand, sharp new clippers in the other, I pruned them rather far back – reducing them to ugly gnarly stumps. I had a few winter months of worry that I had killed them.

But no, they were consistently resilient and reliable, dying back each fall and blossoming beautifully each spring we lived there. The death/rebirth metaphor for my own life is easy to see now with the distance of age.

The roses came to be a source of pride and joy for me. I needed something alive to cherish and nurture, so I showered those 40 rose bushes with the love I was unable to give the child we could not conceive.

Now, nearly 60, with spring on its way, reminding me of my roses and those heady glory days when opening to new love was easy and untainted by its potential for crushing loss, I do another little bit of grieving for the past.

I know that some years later, after we had moved, that beautiful house and its 40 rosebushes burned to the ground — just like my life did, or so I thought, for several years after my divorce.

There are things you can not know about love until you have loved and lost. There are things you can not know about how to live and honor life until you have been burned to the ground. I could not know these things back then.

But I do know, that as long as I am alive, there are still lessons about love ahead of me.

GLORY DAYS

There were brilliant autumn days

where I stood in fields

gone rampant with abundance.

And I was full to swelling and beautiful.

My baby was a round cherub,

a pumpkin,

and my husband was puffed up with love.

And we were going to live forever.

Glory Days!

The days God gives to remind us,

as winter comes,

that in the end,

it was all worth it.

Betsy Lewis

The No Bullshit Selfie

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True to my walkabout path, I took a small step out of my comfort zone a few days ago and did something new and moderately scary. The repercussions resulted in an inner earthquake I could not have anticipated — catapulting me into a new version of myself — that feels like growing up.  As a friend said, this is a “no bullshit” selfie. A bit of unnecessary protective fluff is gone. It is all good.

Self-Portrait: Woman with a Key and Clocks

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What’s up for me in 2015?

Time. (And being in control of it.)

I’ll be turning 60 this year — and this fact is working powerful magic for me.

Up to now, I felt I had plenty of time — eternities of time. I didn’t ever think about how I used my time. I just went along, spending it haphazardly on things as they came up. This wasn’t all bad. My unconscious ruled, and it has been an interesting unfolding of a life. But now it is different.

I am aware of limitations in all areas of my life, and TIME is a big one.

That explains the clocks above my head. The big key is important too. I am taking charge. I will open and lock the doors for myself now. My hands are big, over-sized and strong. I want to make things. The E and L  are my initials. I use my given name, Elizabeth, when I mean business. (I love doing self-portraits. I never know exactly what will show up — but it is always revealing.)

I think the cowboy getup, (clipped from a Sundance catalog), is a little more shallow — a wish fulfillment. I dreamed of growing up to be a cowboy as a child, and as an adult would like to dress like a Sundance catalog model!

A woman in the apartment across from me just had her 2nd knee replacement surgery. After her first surgery, I drove her to a couple PT appointments, waited for her and drove her home. That’s the nice person I am, but I felt resentful — and that is key too. Ironically, I barely know this person, yet I felt obligated to BE THERE for her. This 2nd surgery I am refraining from offering. She has financial resources, there are cabs and she has friends and family who could help her. I don’t blame her – who wouldn’t want to save $ and get a ride from a neighbor. I was the one who OFFERED to drive her that first surgery! This second surgery, she seems to be getting along just fine without me. I don’t have to feel resentful and a true friendship between us has a chance of developing.

In many other ways, I am refraining: Not doing work that doesn’t inspire me, declining social invitations, limiting visitors, letting myself be the introvert that I am and the extrovert that I am — when it fits.

I find myself taking refuge in being almost 60. I am OLD for God’s sake – give me a break! But, I have never really needed an excuse.  I am well aware of how my past, my upbringing and my gender has led me to ignore myself — especially as a mother. As hard as it is, I am working on letting my children figure things out by themselves.

This doesn’t mean I won’t be there for others in the future. But, I will be discriminating and consider myself first (gasp . . . did I just write that?). I just have to see those clocks, me as the holder of the key and those big hands screaming, “Make something now!” — to remind myself. I think the kick-ass boots are a nice touch too.

There are things I want to do. I don’t want to die regretting not doing them. There is no guarantee that all those people, for whom I have sacrificed my own needs, will come to my funeral and say nice things. And who wants to spend their precious time securing glowing eulogies.

I am also thinking about buying those boots and taking myself off to a dude ranch for my 60th birthday!

A love letter from my past

baby announcement foot

Today is my birthday. Born this day in 1955, I am now 59 years-old.

I have lived one year longer than my mother did, and nine years longer than my father. I was the first-born in a family of four children, and I am also the first of these children to live longer than our parents did.

Today I stand here at the edge of the proverbial cliff, intrepid, but marveling at the uncharted territory before me. I’d rather not move forward, although I guess I have no choice but to take the first step off into the wild blue mystery.

The other day, just in time for this birthday, I came across a love letter from my past – my birth announcement, handmade by my mother and father. The blue lettering is in my father’s hand. My parents obviously inked up my foot and pressed it to paper for each announcement. Inside, in my mother’s handwriting, are the usual facts about length and weight and it is signed off with the words:

“Proud, I guess we are!!”

I am touched that my parents created this card. I am also curious about their use of the word “proud”. I am guessing new parents were more likely to call themselves “proud parents” in the 50s. “Proud” was also the word my father used often when we were growing up, mainly to warmly acknowledge an achievement.

At the time of my birth, however, my achievements were as small as I was. All I had done was arrive at a convenient hour, a little after lunch, and be born healthy. Still, my parents were “proud”, and I can only assume it was the word they used to express the excitement and the overwhelming blooming of love in their hearts for their newborn.

I know this feeling. I have experienced it with own my children.

I have come to think that “proud” was our family code word for love.

Today, as I step forward, off the cliff once again into the wild blue mystery — as we all do, every day, I am also reflecting back across my 59 years. I see a life’s journey that has been rocky and tragic and, in equal measure, pretty wonderful.

I seriously doubt it has rolled out anything like my starry-eyed, proud parents imaged for me at the time of my birth.

Today, as we mourn the loss of comedian, Robin Williams, I think, “But for the grace of God go I.” So far at least, a dogged resilience has pulled me back from the brink more than once.

But then I have always known I was loved — from the moment of my birth.

And if anything can inoculate you against the vagaries of life, love can.

Baby announcement text

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living my life outside my windows

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My work (and live) space is a modest 450 sq ft apartment on the 5th floor of a historic high-rise in rainy, quirky, PC (politically correct) Portland, Oregon.

It’s Friday, 6:15 p.m. TGIF. I have just consumed a hearty dinner, prepared in a compact kitchen a few short steps from the couch — where I am now reclining, feeling replete and grateful that it is the end of my work week.

WP_20130929_002This is, of course, only a fantasy. I am walkabout woman turned freelance consultant by necessity, and I know that early Saturday a.m. I will cross another few short steps from my bed to my ball chair/computer station and be back at work. My compensation is the luscious, fully leafed trees that grace this view and will soon be turning orange, red and yellow in profusion.

The best thing about my workspace is that it is surrounded, on its two longest sides, by large picture windows facing north and northeast, and when I lift my eyes up from my computer screen, I can view the bridges for which Portland is famous, long expanses of city laid out before me, the snow-clad peaks of Mount St. Helen and Mt. Washington at the horizon — AND the tortured rush hour traffic from which I have been spared.

WP_20130308_001From every part of my tiny space the sun rises and sets, weather rolls in, dark and angry skies turn clear and blue (and then back again within minutes), rainbows manifest, lightning strikes, and city lights twinkle on and on until dawn. When I see planes taking off, I tell myself that one day I too will set out on a worldly adventure by plane.

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Sometimes my workspace holds me still, close and cozy for days — when the world outside is engulfed in a pounding rain or gray fog. Just as frequently, a special quality of light both expands and brings closer every detail of the view and I feel like I am hanging off the side of a cliff.

What it comes down to is this — although I am firmly planted in a little cubby hole on the side of a building in the  confines of my workspace — I live my life outside of my windows. With no TV, it is entertainment enough, and knowing that I will be leaving Portland at the end of May 2014, makes it all the more precious.

If I survive to an enfeebled state of old age, I hope my children will set me up in front of a window. With that and my memories (or hallucinations as it may be), it may be all I need.

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