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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.

 

The Invisible Woman?

Invisible collage 002

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

Self-Portrait: Woman with a Key and Clocks

WP_20150107_002

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!

Skating on thin ice

skating on thin ice tree

Drawing by Betsy Lewis

The Walkabout Woman blog has been languishing. The truth is . . . I have been busy making a living.

The loss of my pension in February sent me off in a new direction, one with less time for writing or art. I am actually enjoying my foray back into the working world.  I find meaning and value in the work I am doing.

I am also grateful for the previous months of solitude I spent in deep communion with myself.

Everything seems to come in its right time and place, but I am aware that I am living more on the surface of life now.

It is as though I am skating on a frozen pond, with just a thin sheet of ice between my busy everyday life above and the shadowy depths of my inner life below.  I am relishing the frosty air on my cheeks and my strong graceful competent movements.  I feel joy and exhilaration with this new slippery speed that sends me careening into contact with other people.

My months of solitude taught me a lot about the magic of being present — and I have not lost the habit.

As they say, “It’s all good.”

I joined a writing group made up of  nine women – The Portland Nine.  I am # nine, the new one. Each Thursday night, from 6:00 pm to  8:30 pm, we gather, respond to 10 minute writing prompts and share what we have written.

There is a lot of freedom in this and I feel myself loosening up as the evening goes on. It is only with these women now that the sheet of ice cracks and I fall through to the depths below.

Sometimes when I am reading aloud, it touches a nerve and I cry.

And try as I might, I am unable to write a scrap of fiction or come up with the colorful adjectives or metaphors that the others do. I can only write plainly and starkly about myself or myself thinly veiled. In this group, however, I feel accepted and appreciated for my voice. I am only slightly embarrassed by my tears. The other women seem unperturbed, and the  hostess just brings out the Kleenex.

What is profound for me is this — day by day, art or not, work or not (or maybe because of it), I am witnessing the unraveling of the tangled threads of my life. Sometimes my tears are  from the relief of finally setting the burden down.

I bought a scroll for my wall which says:

“You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection” Buddha

As I welcome in my own humanity and claim the wisdom of the crone that I am, the love I have received and given so far wells up inside me. I see that, in big and small ways, I am beginning to be able to love myself.

Reinventing the holidays (or confessions of a Christmas overachiever)

My Christmas Tree

My Christmas Tree

Early in this walkabout I said goodbye to relationships and ways of life that no longer served me.

Now I’m ready to tackle a holiday.

You know. The one coming up . . . Christmas!

I am having to be a little bit brave because this is hard. Changing how one celebrates the most beloved holiday of all is akin to stepping into a minefield. Terrible and wonderful memories begin exploding left and right.

Christmas with my family of origin was a mixed bag, but mostly nice.  My mother pulled out all the stops and my father disapproved, so joy in our bounty was mixed with guilt. My favorite memory is of my family gathering in the dark of a Sunday evening and lighting the candles of the advent wreath. In that golden glow we sang, laughed, took turns reading aloud and told stories.  This was love, pure and magical.

It was only when I became a parent myself, that I turned into a Christmas overachiever. Months before Christmas I started creating handmade personalized ornaments for everyone I knew. I drove kids to and fro, baked countless batches of cookies, decorated lavishly and stung yards of popcorn and cranberries. I crafted Christmas cards, wreaths and my own wrapping paper. I attended and gave parties. I shopped like a fiend, making sure everybody got what they wanted. And then after Christmas, I took it all down and packed it up again for the next year’s marathon.

I was the ring master for it all. But truthfully I found Christmas stressful. I gave myself too many things to do in my mission to make everything perfect. I was my own worst enemy.

So in my year of reinvention, I asked myself the following questions:

  1. What do I love about Christmas to incorporate into a new tradition?
  2. What has become meaningless for me?
  3. How can I take better care of myself during the holiday season?

Here is the first incarnation of the new Christmas for me:

My sister, the food blogger

My sister, the food blogger

Family and friends: In smaller doses. This year I spent several wonderful days before Christmas tooling around Portland with  my sister Robin. We tried out new and old ways to celebrate.

Décor: A few minimal but beautiful (to me) decorations. For more about this, read my note on Facebook about  mindful ownership.  No  tree for me. I can visit 20 beautifully decorated trees at the Pittock Mansion in Portland or take in the city lights twinkling below  my apartment window.

Sacred: I am lighting lots of candles this time of  year, just as I did when I was a child. They make sacred the dark days of winter. I listen to the Christmas music of my past. I plan  a day of mindfulness and Tonglen on Christmas Day.

Events: One or two small — or none at all. This year I went to Portland’s Crafty Wonderland Show.

The Hubbub factor: I like all the excitement of Christmas and being anonymous in crowds, so I went Christmas shopping without buying anything. I visually soaked in the beautiful things for sale and enjoyed being part of the crowd.

Eating and Drinking: In moderation. I don’t need to make or taste every possible Christmas cookie or dish. My sister  and I celebrated simply, slowly savoring a glass of port and one huckleberry chocolate truffle each (from Portland’s Moonstruck Chocolate Co.) No more turkey, ham or huge dinners for me. I am trying a spaghetti squash meal on Christmas Day from my sister’s blog.

Port and Huckleberry Truffles

Port and Huckleberry Truffles

Smells: Fresh greenery is at a premium in an urban setting. I bought two small sprays of red berries and a  friend brought me some clippings from her tree. When I walk by, I inhale deeply!

Children: I can’t be with my kids or grandson this year.  While in the children’s section of Powell’s Bookstore, I watched with delight the little ones about my grandson’s age. They fill me with joy.

Giving: In honor of a family member who chooses to be homeless, I  buy a sandwich or two when I grocery shop and hand them off to the many homeless folks I see in Portland. I hope someone does something kind for my relative too.

Christmas Day: I discovered on Thanksgiving Day that the city of Portland goes quiet and still on holidays. With only a few cars and dog walkers about, it feels rarefied and magical. I will be walking there again come Christmas Day.

Crafty Wonderland-Mt Hood Morning 027

My way is not the way for everybody.

And — as with everything — it’s a work in progress.

What do you love about Christmas? What family traditions to you cherish? What traditions would you like to change? I’d love to hear from you!

Happy Holidays!

Betsy Lewis

The Walkabout Woman

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.

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