A few things I can never do again…

The interview with Linda Ronstadt on CBS Sunday Morning this week was poignant. She learned that she had Parkinson’s Disease in 2000 and has since lost her ability to sing. She is however making the most of it:

“These days she spends much of her time reading. “I can’t do a lot of things that are active,” she said. “I can’t spend very much time on my feet, or even very much time sitting up. I have to kind of lounge around. But I’m lazy, so it’s a good thing that I lounge! So, I’m glad to have the leisure time. I have a huge stack of books that I need to read.” 

 Does she think much about singing now?

“Oh, I can sing in my brain; I sing in my brain all the time. But it’s not quite the same as doing it physically. You know, there’s a physical feeling in singing that’s just like skiing down a hill, except better, ’cause I’m not a very good skier!”

This is how I feel about so many activities I did in my previous life as a long-distance walker and high elevation hiker. Not to mention the many things I loved like yoga before my arm and shoulder began hurting constantly.

Laura and rasta close upThis is one part of aging that is very hard to take, and yet it reminds me how fortunate I was to have at least experienced these things at some point in my life. And for all of you who feel what I call ‘pathologically optimistic’ about my limitations, between a traumatic brain injury, fractured ribs and COPD which barely allows me to live at 7000 feet, these disabilities will not be changing in this lifetime.

What I find particularly difficult to deal with are the doubters and blamers I sometimes run into. They have no compassion for my losses, but instead blame me for my injuries. They judge me instead of supporting my difficulties, perhaps because they have not experienced any serious limitations yet themselves.

I felt quite strong through most of my 50s. I injured my brain and my ribs on a bike ride through Fort Collins in 2008. My 60s have been extremely challenging so far, and it doesn’t help when I feel criticized and judged for my limited ability to be active. Now I must carefully pick and choose which activities I can complete and enjoy. Everything takes more breathe and effort than in the past.

We will all experience disabilities as we age. We will all die. Please don’t blame others for reminding you of that.

 

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It’s time to say “Yes, we’re angry” and fix things!

I saw a fantastic “Brief but Spectacular” essay on the PBS News Hour last night. In case you missed it, go see it now!

cindi leiveHere, journalist and women’s advocate Cindi Leive, “Glamour” magazine’s editor in chief for 16 years, reflects on the well-known phenomenon of men interrupting women and engaging in other dismissive treatment, at everyday places of work all the way to the Supreme Court. 

To quote the beginning of her talk on Women and Power:

“We don’t really embrace female rage, which is why bestselling books for women about work are usually called things like “Lean In” and “Not Screw You, Kevin, for Taking Credit for My Work After You Interrupted Me 12 Times in That Meeting,” which is a book I would buy.

There’s a very well-known phenomenon that most women have experienced and social scientists have studied whereby men enjoy interrupting women, often without realizing they’re doing it. Even female Supreme Court justices are interrupted three times as often as their male peers.

I mean, that’s RBG. Women apologize more than men. Hillary Clinton, by the way, is the only presidential candidate ever to use the phrase “I’m sorry” in her concession speech.”

Does any of this ring true for you?

Sometimes I feel like I spent my entire life apologizing for my very existence! It became a natural part of my speech pattern. I only truly found my own rage at this situation during my midlife crisis when I realized how many cards were stacked against me as a young girl trying to make a difference in the world. It became perfectly clear when a sad and inadequate boss of mine fired me for being too certain of myself at age 49. Yes, he was canned soon after that, and yes, I have been embracing my rage ever since…

“If we tell women, don’t be enraged about the fact that you have been denied a promotion, don’t be enraged at the rates of sexual assault in this country, we’re never going to get anywhere.

We have to say, yes, we’re angry, and now we’re going to fix it.”

I had to spend a few years in counseling and at anger workshops in my 30s before I realized exactly how angry I was. I had spent a lifetime fearing the expression of anger towards anyone. When I finally started having anxiety attacks where I couldn’t breathe or speak when my full anger arose, I learned how to take charge of my rage, instead of it taking charge of me. I owned it and let it out finally!

Interestingly, starting my own blog “Midlife Crisis Queen” in 2007 (now deleted) helped me to begin expressing my full range of emotions, but that wasn’t enough either. So I started the “Midlife Queen Blows Off Steam.” My byline was:

larger things left unsaid

These days I am certainly in charge of all of my emotions including my anger. My “ouch time” has shortened dramatically! Unfortunately Mike sometimes bears the brunt of this new discovery, but I always explain and apologize if I feel I am being unfair to him. I must learn to direct my rage towards those who actually cause it!

I like to think we are all making progress in this department, both men and women. Women historically have only been allowed their pain and depression, and not their anger. Men have been delegated only anger as an expression of frustration. I still find my unhappy moments begin as a deep sadness, but eventually may develop into outrage at the many unfair situations I face.

Observe yourself and you will discover how you deal with life’s frustrations!

My Dad is 90 today: Dr. Jack L. Carter

My Dad came from strong but simple folks outside of Kansas City, Kansas. His Dad was a railroad engineer on the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe and a barber. No one in his family went to college before him. Most barely finished high school. Dad also considered the railroad life at one time, but changed his mind and began to study biology and specifically botany in college. There he met some great people who encouraged him to follow his intelligence and dreams to a better life. My Dad was nothing if not smart and disciplined.

Dad Laura Diane and John small January 1961

He married at 23 and three kids soon followed, but Dad was determined to finish his PhD in botany and become a professor. My parents struggled greatly to find the way to a better life for them and their children. Along the way they saw that intelligence is always the better path to a more productive and happy life.

mom and dad in nmMy Dad ended up at Colorado College at the end of an amazing career in teaching and research. They even named the Colorado College herbarium after him! Then my parents moved down to New Mexico to “retire”but instead produced a number of new books on Colorado and New Mexico botany. They have always been smart, creative and productive.

This week I have been giving some thought to my Dad’s greatest gift to me, especially in light of that memoir I’ve been talking about for the past week or so: Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover. Thank you Dad for teaching me to use my innate intelligence to improve my life. Thanks for making certain that I had so many opportunities to attend the best colleges with top faculty, exposing me to a different kind of life than our ancestors had the chance to live.

Learning about anything we might be going through from those who have lived it before us and then studied it, that is the BEST WAY to put our own experiences in perspective. Reading and intelligence is the best way to understanding. Thanks for teaching me that Dad.

Education remains the best predictor of women’s advancement in our world today

One of my many roles in my 25 year career as an academic librarian, was being chosen as the United Nations Librarian at both the University of Utah and University of Colorado at Boulder at the beginning of my career. I enjoyed this role because I was raised by parents who wholeheartedly believed that girls need a good education to impact the world in any meaningful way, and the United Nations has always supported that goal financially. As a UN librarian I learned that education was the best predictor of whether women could advance in less developed countries.

malalaAsk the famous freedom fighter Malala Yousafzai. As a young girl, Ms.Yousafzai defied the Taliban in Pakistan and demanded that girls be allowed to receive an education. She was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in 2012 for her non-traditional behavior, but survived and went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize:

“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”

Little did I know then that I was also talking about some rural pockets of poverty and ignorance in our own country.

tara westoverThis week I read a POWERFUL memoir of a woman who advanced from no early schooling until age 17, to a PhD from Cambridge University in the UK. By writing EDUCATED: A Memoir, about her extreme battle to educate herself and in that way find her true Self, Tara Westover is educating the rest of us in how hard some girls and women must fight to simply NOT follow in their mother’s footsteps.

Tara learned from a very early age that she would have to fight for everything she would ever have, first with her father and then with her older brother. Growing up in a violent and severe fundamentalist Mormon family in rural Idaho she eventually discovered:

“Not knowing for certain, but refusing to give way to those who claim certainty, was a privilege. My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.” pg. 197

The battles Ms. Westover fought for her own education, freedom and independence nearly killed her a number of times, yes in this very country of ours. The extreme courage and intelligence she expresses so well in this memoir is an inspiration to all worldwide who strive everyday to simply be themselves and breathe free.

There are so many brilliant ideas and lines in this memoir! To paraphrase just one:

Guilt is never about them. It is fear of your own wretchedness…

Authenticity: Confronting the hard work of being present in your own life

How refreshing to be surrounded by women at all stages of personal development like I was the other night! It reassured me once more that the soul surgery I have done on myself, which then led to the creation of my various books on midlife transformation, was truly not in vain.

Here’s an example of that writing from my book: Find Your Reason to be Here: The Search for Meaning in Midlife

pupa tp butterfly life changing

Often we need to feel our deepest pain before we are willing to risk the painful process of growing up. Breakdowns can empower us to grow into our highest self.    A few years ago I presented a talk to a group of unemployed people in their middle years. When I was finished, the first person to raise her hand asked me, “Do you believe we have to hit bottom in our lives before we truly begin to change?” My answer at the time was, “I did.” 

The fact is that most of us will not begin to change until we become uncomfortable enough to admit defeat. Most of us need to be absolutely convinced that the “plan” we’ve had for life is simply not working. The way this usually comes about is through major life changes that demand our complete attention. Divorce, serious illness, the death of a loved one, and long-term unemployment, especially in our 40s and 50s, seem to be the most common events that lead to the end of our naïve belief that we have control over everything that happens in our lives. And these events become ever more common as we age. These unforeseen and often unforeseeable occurrences can inform us in no uncertain terms that changes in our plan are now in order.

Sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.

We may first try to defend against the onset of pain and confusion by denying or ignoring this sudden lack of certainty or security in our lives. We may seek to escape into bad relationships, drug addiction, religious faith, or even artificially extreme feelings of independence, as we defend against our need to include others in our lives.

Eventually we may discover that, even though it seems completely counter-intuitive at this tough spot in life, accepting and embracing the chaos and uncertainty we feel surrounded by is our first, best step towards peace. Stop, sit down quietly, and begin to feel the enormity of this apparent crisis, which may also be one of the most important opportunities of your adult life. Can you trust in the power of your own psyche to survive this crisis and in that way heal itself?

caterpillar butterfly quote

Know that this is the beginning of your own personal rite of passage into older adulthood. This is the natural, normal stage of human development studied by psychologists since Carl Jung, when he experienced it himself. Recognize that you are not the first to feel chaos and uncertainty in your middle years. You are in a well-documented transition period of personal change, growth, and human evolution. And the best way to move through this life stage smoothly is to embrace the new information and knowledge you will be given.

By allowing this in, you have the ability to access the unique instruction this moment has for you. Instead of attempting to run from it, embrace the uncertainty. Begin to believe this moment is giving you access to your own unique brand of power, one you may have never known or acknowledged before. Begin to see that you alone know, somewhere inside, what needs to happen next. Spend the time necessary to listen to the small, still voice within, the one you may have been ignoring for decades. Recognize this voice—perhaps for the first time—as your inner guide, brimming with accumulated information and wisdom. This source knows where you need to go next. It will instruct you in how you must change, grow, and evolve into your best self in this moment. The sooner you begin to believe in its power and trust this valuable inner resource, the sooner you will follow its instructions and find more structure, certainty, and peace in your life.

My main complaint about rural living

I really do try to stay positive. I have even been occasionally accused of being pathologically optimistic. Yes, me! I know complaining isn’t particularly useful, but after four and half years of trying hard to find a few good friends here, I need to talk about this issue.

friends help friends pandasFirst of all, I am a master at spending time alone. I have a healthy appreciation of  solitude. I love to let my mind wander wherever it wishes without any outside distractions. I have kept a journal since junior high and lived alone most of my adult life. I am fundamentally a loner who has spent years learning how to welcome special relationships into my life. I now have an amazing partner. We connect very well, and I love talking to him about just about anything for hours. But I also need a few like-minded friends….

making friendsFriends who write and appreciate good writing and art. Friends to talk about films with or gardening or what birds they’ve been seeing at their feeders lately. Friends to share my hopes and fears with, to talk about philosophy or psychology or history with. Friends I respect and who respect me. Friends who understand the solemn bonds of friendship. Friends like I still have up north in Fort Collins.

I cannot find friends like that here, and I have really tried! So many here come and go with the seasons, others work all the time and don’t have time for friends. Many are older with serious health problems, and most apparently already have their friends and don’t want anymore. Yes, there seem to be as many excuses as people I have met.

Please don’t respond to this post with, “I haven’t had any problem making friends here.” If that is your experience good for you! I need friends who are there for more than small talk. I don’t just want to talk about my husband, or the weather or finding services here. I seek a higher level of discussion exemplified by this blog. I seek those who think about deeper issues like meaning, life, death, philosophy and psychology. Please let me know if you can relate to this plea. Perhaps we could be friends.

Happy forget your mistakes and start over day!

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A brand new year just for you!

There’s a great hashtag on Twitter today: “Start over in 5 words.” Yes, I know, we can’t usually erase all evidence of the many stupid things we’ve done and start over, but just for this one special day let’s try it! And since I seem to be stuck in “life review” lately, Why not?

I can think of literally a million stupid things I’ve done. Ah, let me count the ways I have proven my own stupidity… but then, many have done the same to me. I see my twenties as a whole world of stupidity now. How was I ever SO NAIVE? I got taken advantage of in just about every way possible, mainly because others could get away with it! They must have been amazed to find such a apparently smart and yet stupid girl. I, of course, blame this on my parents (hahahaha…) Unfortunately the stupidity didn’t stop there, as you will know if you have ever seriously looked back at your life from your sixties.

This brings us to my favorite reward for decades of aging: SELF-COMPASSION. Get into to it and you will see that you weren’t really all that stupid, just inexperienced in life. You didn’t see any of that coming! Hell, you didn’t even know yourself back then. We were all messed up in our twenties and probably lucky to just survive them. Reward yourself for your survival and the fact that you now thrive in a whole new world of loveliness. At least we learn in life and can now celebrate the rewards of so much self-struggle.

be kind to yourself

Forget your mistakes for this first day of a whole new year and celebrate your lovely survival to enjoy this day!