The Wonder of True Friends

I just started reading a wonderful memoir. The way I found it is even more interesting. I had been thinking about how much I love this song by the Dixie Chicks. Take a listen. It’s well worth your while…

I found a way to explore northern Thailand as a college student in spring 1974!

Yep, “taking the long way” is a great description of my life. I have always been quite independent and, as one close friend in Salt Lake observed, ‘zealous’. When I focused on something new, I could usually make it happen, in spite of the fact I rarely had any money. As you might guess, in the midst of all of that, I have had only a few true friends, because I was always taking off to some other state or foreign country for a new adventure. When I decided it was time to go do something different, I simply did it. How many relationships can keep up with that lifestyle?

But back to the amazing memoir: “Let’s Take The Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship” by Gail Caldwell. Since I loved the title “Taking the Long Way” I looked it up and found it had been already “taken” by Gail Caldwell’s book. Then I had to find out more, so I checked it out of my local library.

This is a well-written memoir by a Pulitzer Prize winning former chief book critic for the Boston Globe. How’s that for credentials? And yes, it is a wonder to read. Here Gail eulogizes the kind of close, true friendship that one rarely finds in one lifetime. What are the chances of finding that one true friend who practically knows what you are thinking and what you may say next? She also beautifully describes the way so many of us writer, introvert-types jealously protect our independence and solitude. Gail begins by defining herself as “a gregarious hermit” and then wonders how she finally met “someone for whom I wouldn’t mind breaking my monkish ways.” Ah, don’t we all know that fine line between loving our freedom and yet deciding to let one worthy friend into our life.

Friend in Chinese

I found this memoir particularly poignant because I only have a few true friends in my life right now. Only one friend made the effort to stay in touch emotionally when we moved down here five years ago, and Mike is the friend of a lifetime for me. What does that mean? For me it means absolute trust that this friend loves and respects me, to the extent that we can easily disagree and argue, but love and loyalty is always solidly beneath. That bottomless loyalty is the greatest prize in my life. I need to know that this is someone who would never betray or doubt our intimate life together, and will certainly be there at the end of my life if possible.

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What matters most to you in retirement? Do you need to feel useful?

retirement living for yourself

Before I went to read (The 4 Things That Matter Most in Retirement) an article over at Next Avenue, by an expert on “the difficult transition from work life to an encore career in later life,” I made a list of what matters most to me as I turn 64. What’s on your list?

  1. Health and physical comfort (I live with COPD and quite a bit of pain)

  2. Lack of major worries like physical safety, money, feeling secure, etc.

  3. Being surrounded by love and family

  4. The enjoyment of being present with the natural world that surrounds me

  5. I would want to add a mindfulness and gratitude practice here

I find the author of this article assumes too much, assumptions I made before I hit the ground face first in a serious bike accident and then turned 60. Assumptions like I would feel and be as healthy as I had been most of my life, or that I would be ready to take on a “new career in my third age.”

After a traumatic brain injury and COPD, a second career is out of the question for me. I do continue to write here for two reasons, I enjoy the brain challenge and I like to interact with others in this way. I find one major issue for many as they retire is the desire to “feel useful.” I know some need to feel useful much more than others. This I attribute to early brainwashing that says,

“You have no right to be here unless you are useful or productive in some way.”

Do you remember the first time you felt useful? When was the last time you felt truly useful? Do you need to feel useful to feel good about yourself?

I was raised with a strong work ethic. Feeling useful and especially “productive” has been what my life was about before we retired to rural Colorado in 2014. In the past few years, as my health declined, I fought a hard battle with myself and eventually came to the conclusion that being here and finding ways to be content was enough. Those of you who have the “feel useful” gene know exactly what I’m talking about here. How have you dealt with it?

Acceptance releases everything to be what it already is.

laura and rasta on insulation 2014 (2)

A Memoir of Retirement: From Suburbia to Solar in Southern Colorado by Laura Lee Carter, M.A. Librarianship, History and Transpersonal Counseling, is a book which answers the question: “What’s it like to move to the country to retire?” In June 2014, we packed up or got rid of most of our worldly goods, sold our nice house in suburbia (Fort Collins) and took off to stay in an old miner’s house while we built a direct-gain passive solar home with spectacular views of the Sangre de Cristos, just west of Walsenburg in Navajo Ranch, Colorado. It was not without fear and trepidation that we landed here, ready to invest our life savings into Huerfano County, the place of the orphans.

 

Inspiration for uncertain older writers (like me!)

Where Crawdads Sing

Have you heard yet the story of Delia Owens? I happened across her story on CBS Sunday Morning yesterday and felt new encouragement. She’s 70 and a loner from way back. Her new and first novel is Where the Crawdads Sing, although she has published non-fiction before (like me). This novel is tough to categorize; it’s a love story, a murder mystery, a courtroom drama, and an ode to the outdoors – all in one. It took her the better part of a decade to write, inspiration coming whenever it came.

I love the way she waits for wisdom even in her sleep:

 “I sleep at night with a little pad of paper in my bed with a flashlight and a pen, and I wake up in the middle of the night and write something down,” she said. “Something that I think is brilliant! And then when I wake up in the morning I’ll look at it and half the time I can’t read what I wrote.” A thousand such moments became little scraps of gold, like this one:

“Sand keeps secrets much better than mud.” That one made it into her book.

I found her whole story so inspirational. I also constantly find ideas or quotes popping into my head, especially in the shower, the source of my greatest inspiration. I must have a million snippets of paper like that, and never use these in my books, and the freedom of writing fiction also excites me.

We’ll see if any of these ideas go anywhere, but in the meantime, I love the fantasy!

Puzzle, a near-perfect midlife movie!

If the best measure of the perfect story is to show realistically how the main character can change and grow, than this is the perfect product. I’m happy to see more films recently focused on introvert loners who blossom out into the world in a beautiful way, and this is one of those. We all have unique skills we may not know we have, this is that story.

Puzzle_(2018_film)Agnes (played by Kelly Macdonald) has had no opportunities to develop herself or her unique skills. She is a middle-aged housewife with no self-confidence living in a small town. She is devoted to her church and her husband and grown sons’ needs, hardly ever noticing her own. That is until she realizes how much she loves doing jigsaw puzzles. So she makes a trip into New York City to buy new puzzles, completely out of her comfort zone. While there she happens to see a sign requesting a puzzle pardner. Agnes is a true introvert, not comfortable with strangers, but she loves doing puzzles so much she takes a chance and meets up with Robert (played by Irrfan Khan).

They eventually enjoy many deep, intellectual conversations as Robert keeps encouraging Agnes to become her full Self, brilliant as she is. As he does her priorities change. She discovers the rebel within who soon becomes angry and assertive, discovering and caring most about her own needs for the first time in her life.

Who knew there is a national and world jigsaw puzzle competition? Who knew that “puzzles are a way to control the chaos of the randomness of the world.”

An appropriate sidelight: “Kelly Macdonald’s career began while she was working as a barmaid in Glasgow. She saw a leaflet advertising an open casting session for Trainspotting and decided to audition, winning the part of Diane…”

LOVED this great quote from Wikipedia about this film:

 “They [the puzzlers] fall in love out of their mutual respect and for the ability to see countless random events in their lives taking the shape of a perfect picture similar to the fragments of a jigsaw puzzle. This is due to their realization that at the end of the day there are only right choices no matter how many wrong pieces might have been fit into wrong places. This helps them to discover their inner selves…”  Wikipedia on Puzzle (2018)

How we steal the bright side from ourselves everyday: Try some cognitive reframing

reframing your life

The most fortunate are those who have a wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder and even ecstasy. — ABRAHAM MASLOW

Although I learned this psychological tool decades ago, I am always re-learning its usefulness in my own life. What is cognitive reframing? Here’s a definition from an article by social worker Amy Morin:

“Reframing is a technique used in therapy to help create a different way of looking at a situation, person, or relationship by changing its meaning. Also referred to as cognitive reframing, it’s a strategy therapists often use to help clients look at situations from a slightly different perspective.”

I have found that choosing a “different perspective” can also be the opposite of what I automatically go to in my own mind.

The point is that we can and do choose how we see ourselves and our lives everyday. 

If we were raised with a critical or negative view of ourselves and how the world works, the way we will see our lives may be destined to be critical or negative, but that is not the only way to see ourselves. That is not the only reality behind our circumstances.

Here is an example from my own life:

In my present life I may tend to focus on all of the difficult challenges Mike and I have faced since we decided that we needed to leave Fort Collins behind for many good reasons. I may choose to focus on how much money we left on the table by selling our Fort Collins home before prices went way up up there, how expensive and stressful it was to build down here in a rural area, etc, making me critical of our past decisions. Or, I may choose to see exactly how fortunate I have been in spite of many tough misfortunes in the past few decades; to be here now, retired comfortably and happily, and most importantly together!

In addition there are the greater misfortunes of Mike’s horrible experience with CFS for decades, my inability to find another job in libraries at age 49, my traumatic head injury at age 53, and many more difficulties that just come up as we age. Considering all of these factors, we are more than fortunate. How can we be anything but filled with GRATITUDE that we made it to this soft place to fall in this beautiful place?

That is how reframing works, and it can be used in all parts of your life on a daily basis…

laura and rasta on insulation 2014 (2)

leading to overwhelming feelings of gratitude, a feeling we could all use more of!

Colorado Rocky Mountain High!

You belong somewhere you feel free…

A Revealing “Empty Chair” Exercise

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An amazing combination of evening light and clouds last night!

I had the best time yesterday staring out at our incredible view here in southern Colorado. I was also looking at Mike’s chair, which was empty because he was in town visiting friends. Having quite a bit of experience with Gestalt and “empty chair” therapy, I suddenly thought,

“If you could have anybody from your present or past sitting there right now, who would you choose?”

Charlie cat end of 2018.JPG

Charlie Cat relaxing in Mike’s chair

This of course requires a good imagination and sense of pretend, but it can also be quite revealing. I ran through the list in my mind quickly, people from my past who I miss and would love to talk to now. Sad to say, none of them made the grade.

You will never believe who came up for me! I would LOVE to sit down with Barack Obama and discuss our world today. What it must look like to him, after trying so hard to correct injustices from our past and improve the lives of average Americans. How does that feel to him? How does he see Trump?

An honest discussion would be so fascinating!

Do you have four really good friends?

Laura standing at build site before slab 2014

The topic of the lead story on today’s CBS Sunday Morning, “Going It Alone”, is one of my favorite life-long lines of research: loneliness. There we meet a man who, at age 27, chose to not speak to a single human being for 17 years! He eventually concluded, at age 72, that if you have four really good friends, who understand and appreciate your authentic self, you are truly lucky.

According to a recent Cigna study, loneliness is at epidemic levels in our country.

Their 2018 survey of more than 20,000 U.S. adults revealed some alarming findings:

  • Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent).
  • One in four Americans (27 percent) rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them.
  • Two in five Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful (43 percent) and that they are isolated from others (43 percent).
  • One in five people report they rarely or never feel close to people (20 percent) or feel like there are people they can talk to (18 percent).
  • Americans who live with others are less likely to be lonely (average loneliness score of 43.5) compared to those who live alone (46.4). However, this does not apply to single parents/guardians (average loneliness score of 48.2) – even though they live with children, they are more likely to be lonely.
  • Only around half of Americans (53 percent) have meaningful in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family, on a daily basis.
  • Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) is the loneliest generation and claims to be in worse health than older generations.

How much do YOU need quality connections?

This all brings back my own gradual transition in my 30s and 40s from a true loner, who didn’t trust anyone completely, to a happily married woman in my 60s. After a traumatic betrayal in my 20s I also gave up on people. I did allow a few acquaintances in after counseling in my early 30s, but trust was not my best quality.

My first marriage was a lonely tangle of struggle, criticism and disempowerment. I gradually realized that I would probably be spending the rest of my life alone unless something changed. What changed was a divorce in 2001 and then job/career loss in 2004. Living on severance with only two good friends I saw maybe once a month plus my dogs, I faced loneliness most of the time, providing ample opportunity to consider my options for my future.

At age 49 I decided loneliness was my worst problem and I did not want to live the rest of my life if it was going to be this lonely indefinitely.

Mike snuggling with Rasta 2013

My solution? Since I could not find another job in libraries, I started my own offline dating service where I interviewed local midlifers who were also looking for love after widowhood or divorce. In that way I studied our group problem and decided it wasn’t just me. Then when I found many more cool single women looking for partners, I joined Match.com to attract more cool men for my women. Yep, the first man I met this way was my future husband and partner in crime, Mike. We have been joyfully married fourteen years now.

How to Believe in Love Again! blog sizeMike supported me in a way I have never experienced before, with unconditional loyalty, affection and appreciation. He offered full support to my dream of becoming a professional writer at age 50, back in 2005. This I did with enthusiasm, first as a freelance writer, then as a blogger and finally as an author. In fact, his support led to my second book: How To Believe In Love Again: Opening to Forgiveness, Trust, and Your Own Inner Wisdom, the story of how I transitioned from a sad, miserable loner to a trusting, loving person who admits to a need for support from others. 

Since then I am rarely lonely, but moving to this rural area in 2014 has been a challenge in that department. I so rarely meet someone here I can truly relate to, partially because of differences in upbringing and education levels. In the past I made friends at work and in my exercise classes. I still miss a few good friends I made at the Senior Center in Fort Collins.

I’m now retired so I have tried to make friends in my La Veta yoga class, which I attended for a few years, but to no avail. I have also tried a few other groups like writing groups, support groups, etc. No friendships have emerged. Quality connections are hard for me to find in this environment, but I will continue my efforts. Afterall, I just need one or two more friends to have “four really good friends!”