HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!

“…we all know how this ends, so rushing through life is senseless. As our inner life grows ever more luminous, the chatter of the speed-and-greed world slowly fades, leaving us with greater peace, tranquility, quiet and contentment.”  — Arthur Rosenfeld

“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.” – Omar Khayyam

Shadowlands, one of the best!

Shadowlands is a film from 1993 about the relationship between academic C.S. Lewis and American poet Joy Davidman, and how she challenged how he saw himseIf and his entire way of life. I just watched “Shadowlands” for the fifth time after quite a few years. Watching it this time I understood much more deeply and clearly why this is one of my most favorite movies of all time. To summarize:

The triumph of emotions over logic!

I was raises to be seriously logical and intellectual. My father, the academic, took great pride in his transition from the son of a railroad man to a college professor. He attributed that success within himself to discipline and reason, and so he taught his children to restrain from emotions in favor of rational thought and science. In the film, Joy’s introduction to the grand age-old traditions of British academia at Cambridge represent to me that world, the comfortable, safe rule of rational thought.

Enter Joy Davidson, with her refreshingly straightforward honesty in the face of Mr. Lewis’s pomp and circumstance. This was me. I played that role in my father’s life. I would challenge his beliefs all the time. I was threatening because in his world, where everyone was younger, weaker and looked up to him, I was direct and honest in challenging those things that made no sense to me. For example, his praise of emotionlessness. He once said that the word love made no sense. There was no clear definition for love, so in a way, it does not exist. This needed to be challenged! His whole life I challenged him and he didn’t like it.

In contrast, in Shadowlands, Professor Lewis comes to appreciate Joy’s candor and deeply loved her for it. She brings him back to life. She was a bright spark with her passion for honesty and saying-it-like-it is. My father never became very comfortable with me or his emotions. He only acknowledged deep feelings when he was overcome by them.

I have learned that I was raised with far too many rules about everything from both my mother and father, and I have been breaking them ever since. Mike has been instrumental in pointing this out to me and I so appreciate that aspect of our relationship!

I have learned that there is no proper way to see and live your life, only the way you choose. By setting your own rules, you learn who you really are inside, for better or worse. That can be quite satisfying. It is a major part of your own uniqueness. And if you don’t, you may discover when it’s time to die, you have not lived.

Why get a colonoscopy?

Mike is 66 and had 13 polyps removed yesterday and I had my own anxiety attack waiting for them to come out and tell me what was going on. They said it would only take about a half hour and they still hadn’t said anything to me in over an hour. He has a very bad family history with cancer in general and specifically colon cancer. His Mom died of it at age 53. Hopefully we saved his life yesterday. Still waiting for the microscopic report on those polyps, but the doc was very thorough and he said he saw no cancer. I’m freaked. Every time he makes any noise in the next room I go to see if he’s OK.

Is this enough to convince you to get that colonoscopy? Yes the prep sucks, without a doubt, but compared to colon cancer, not so much…

Boomer Regrets?

I imagine it is a rare 60+ year-old who doesn’t have a few regrets about some stupid things they did earlier in their life. It appears the most common regrets are financial mistakes that are catching up with them now. For example, poor planning for retirement, not saving enough, early withdrawals from retirement accounts, and underestimating how long we might live.

I never made much so this saying worked for me:

“The amount of money you have has got nothing to do with what you earn. People earning a million dollars a year can have no money, and people earning $35,000 a year can be quite well off. It’s not what you earn, it’s what you spend.”  ~Paul Clitheroe

Other regrets are health-related. Obesity is a common problem for Boomers. The approximate prevalence of obesity is 40.0% among American adults aged 20 to 39 years, 44.8% among adults aged 40 to 59 years, and 42.8% among adults 60 and older. Over 40 % of baby boomers are obese, up from about 29 % of their parents’ generation. This epidemic of obesity is the primary health concern for boomers today. Why are baby boomers so unhealthy? One culprit in there being so many obesity-related chronic diseases in Boomers, could be the big dietary shift that began in the 1950s to fast, convenient, processed foods with additives and preservatives. This generation also felt the need to overwork and were generally too busy, making the pull toward fast food even stronger.

Another strong regret? That they didn’t travel more when they were younger. I was brain-washed from an early age to save, save, save, but also belonged to a traveling family. I had a free trip to Bangkok at age 19 and I took it. Then it was trips to Asia regularly until I lost interest. I also enjoyed a number of trips to the Caribbean and Mexico, and a trip to Paris and Italy in the 1980s. I also took another free trip to Cuenca, Ecuador before we moved down here.

My regrets lean more towards some of the relationship choices I made in my 20s and 30s, ones that set me on a path of destruction for decades. Put simply, I trusted the wrong people because I was young and stupid. Even my first marriage at age 39 was stupid, but lucrative 🙂 Which brings me to a few of my favorite quotes from that period…

Sometimes I sit and wonder, what was I thinking? But then I try to give myself a break and summarize with live and learn. And that’s really the point, isn’t it?

WE MUST LEARN FROM OUR MISTAKES!

I finally got marriage right at age 50, and when it’s right, IT’S RIGHT! After being hard on myself forever for not producing more or having more to show for my life, I met a partner with a great attitude. His opinion?

Get to it! Embrace the imperfection and enjoy the ride!

The irony is that he is a perfectionist and yet he chose me! I have never figured that one out, but we are committed for life now, come sunshine or rain. My revised opinion of regrets is very similar to what Willie Nelson said in his interview yesterday:

“If I changed anything in my past, I wouldn’t be where I am now… and I love where I am now!”

Why am I a writer?

I began thinking about this around 5 am this morning. I have always known that I enjoy the process of writing since my first “essays” written around age 7. Back then I was fascinated with Native Americans and their ponies. What I would give to still possess those short, but well-illustrated stories I wrote! I also loved to read. My favorite memory from grade school is the day my teacher Miss Miller had me stay after class, so I could visit the sixth grade library to pick out my books. I was only in third grade! It helps to have parents who are teachers.

For as far back as I can remember, I have been reinforced for my writing. Everyone said I was good at it. And I have read probably a million books in my sixty-five years on this planet. I picked up a lot of vocabulary that way. Often I knew the words and how to spell them, just not how to pronounce them. Writing always felt like a freeing experience for me, a place where I could express myself without any outside reaction or response. That’s why I began keeping a journal around eighth grade. I still have all those journals. I value them greatly. Perhaps because of that early experience I now find that:

Writing gives me access to my deepest thoughts and feelings…

When I feel the need to understand myself, my intentions and my deeper emotions around a certain topic, I find that if I write about it, new insights present themselves. I do understand how others find this type of personal expression through painting or other forms of art, but for me the solution is always writing.

I fell into writing professionally around age 50 when I was forced to abandon my chosen career in librarianship. Strange as it may seem, I had to be coerced into writing as a career, even though I loved everything about it. When I lost my livelihood, I hired an excellent career coach in Fort Collins who challenged me to just try writing for others. I was soon hooked. I worked as a freelance writer for a few years, selling my work and enjoying the process. However, I found a deep contradiction. In writing, it seemed like everyone was telling me I need to “Find my own voice.” How does one do that when the editors of the magazines I was writing for took away “my voice” when they edited and sometimes even messed up the articles I was writing? When I was totally ripped-off my “American History” magazine, with no kill fee or anything for the article they had requested from me, I gave up on freelance work entirely.

Luckily at that time I learned about blogging from a woman in my writing group. It was a pretty new concept back in 2006, but this woman had found great success, so I dug in and learned everything I could about WordPress.

From my blog “Midlife Crisis Queen” (now removed from the Internet) I built quite a nice platform and a great following, which led to nice book sales and some notoriety. But when I moved down south and we began building our solar home out in the country, I felt the need to diverge into new endeavors.

For one thing, I had chosen to change lifestyles. For another, midlife had passed me by!

Living away from cities is exactly what I needed. I have expanded my voice to include photographs of sunrises and sunsets as well as life close to nature. I like to call it “getting off the grid, mentally.” I learn everyday the lessons we can only learn by leaving “the chatter of the speed-and-greed world” behind.

Now I write for myself, and if others find it useful, so be it…

The Process of Growing Up: How generations may diverge and then re-connect

I greatly enjoyed the intelligence and wisdom of a recent interview with actor Steve Yeon on CBS Sunday Morning, February 7th 2021. He is a Korean-American actor, age 37, who weathered the influence of heavy parental pressure, and then transformed that character-building experience into an amazing career for himself. I especially related to his observations, because I have been a front seat observer of this process in my own family for over 65 years.

Mom took this: Dad with us three kids

Steve’s response to boatloads of pressure to become a doctor from his first generation American parents was to take a few biology classes and in that way, show them that this just wasn’t going to work. I suppose I did the same thing, just a lot less consciously, failing a few classes at Colorado College where my Dad taught in the 1970s. My siblings tried other responses to my Dad’s pressure to become a scientist of some sort. My brother John told my Dad (a college professor!) “There’s no future in college!” after high school and then disappeared from our lives for decades at a time. My sister Diane rebelled at first, but then found ways to work within my Dad’s parameters of success. She has been quite stellar in her chosen field of nursing and Long-Term Care.

I found the research on this topic fascinating. It seems that when we relentlessly demand certain career choices from our kids, some may become compliant, but this apparent “compliance replaces the development of problem solving, judgment and autonomous thinking… Without the space to find their own way, teens fail to develop an inner-directed sense of self to anchor them” (Levine, 2006). “Alternatively, encouraging teens to think and advocate for themselves, make their own choices, and experience natural consequences of their decisions fosters the development of identity, values, responsibility, and competence.” The Paradox of Pushing Kids to Succeed” by Lynn Margolies, Ph.D.

This was true for me. With so much pressure from my Dad, I felt inadequate to make my own choices, and boy did I make some bad ones in my teens and twenties! I especially did not develop the ability to “advocate for myself” until much later in life, when I had no one else to advocate for me.

I don’t recall my mother ever pressuring me to become anything in particular. She just wanted me to be a good person. I guess that is the way she saw her role as mother. Her mother, a career woman most of her life, finally became quite supportive of my career goals when I started working on my M.A. in Librarianship. I believe she decided since I wasn’t getting married, she should help me get a good job. She also gave me my homemade quilt at age 24, something she would normally give to me at marriage.

My parents were teachers and did support my choice of librarianship, but I always said I would be a librarian until I knew what I really wanted to be. That turned out to be a writer, which I began in my early 50s. I enjoy writing so much that I couldn’t care less if nobody reads it! I will continue to write until the end of my life… Did I mention stubbornness is our strongest family trait?

Some more wisdom from Steve Yeon: “Generations miss each other right now.”

As a middle boomer (born in 1955), this pandemic hit as my father was on his death bed. This experience last March threw my Mom, his wife of 69 years, into depression and confusion. As she put it, “My leader is gone.” His death threw me into many thoughts about my upbringing and how that process develops over a lifetime. I see it now as first trying to live up to what your parents want you to become — a process of letting go of all that in your middle years, and then a return to re-connect with your parents as they prepare to leave us.

My Dad was first and foremost a renowned botanist, naturalist and teacher. That was his life’s work. I was reminded of that fact this week when I learned that the third edition of Dad’s book: Trees and Shrubs of New Mexico just came out, edited and printed by the Gila Native Plant Society of New Mexico. He always hoped that his kids would get as excited about nature as he was his whole life. And, as it turns out, my older sister Diane became a nationally renowned Elder Care expert, my brother became a high school science teacher eventually, and I became a writer, photographer and gardener of Colorado native plants.

See, sometimes it all works out in the end…