“Writers & Lovers” by Lily King, a review

Reading a novel is so personal, rather like watching a movie. We all relate to the story in different ways, depending on the various parallels between ourselves, the author’s life and the main character. My new favorite author is Lily King. Her life, her stories and my own life experiences coalesce in many interesting ways.

I already told you about her novel “Euphoria” ten days ago. This week I was lucky enough to be the first one to check out her new book from 2020: “Writers & Lovers” from the La Veta Public Library.

For me, this book is about the complexity and confusion of being an independent woman with goals and a dream, in a world where most are giving up their dreams as unrealistic. The main character, Casey, is a 31 year old writer who is as afraid of risking her dream of being a writer, as she is of falling in love. Along the way she provides what seems like casual, but enduring insights into counseling, dealing with the sudden death of her mother, and the mysteries of love.

Much like myself, Casey’s 31st year is particularly challenging, with the theme of “What am I supposed to be doing with my life?” If a woman does not follow the traditional path of marriage and children, what then? What if you are determined to follow your own unique path wherever that leads you?

“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go…”  -T.S. Eliot

My 31st year was one of my most difficult. Like a dream, I still remember particularly well one afternoon driving through Denver on I-25, certain that my life had absolutely no meaning, but also certain that I would eventually find out why I was here. I had always dreamt of becoming a writer and yet I did not have the confidence or courage to pursue that dream yet.

Lily King on becoming a writer:

“Then I understood how hard it is to re-create in words what you see and feel in your head.” pg. 270, “Writers & Lovers”

Lily King on counseling:

“You don’t realize how much effort you’ve put into covering things up until you try to dig them out.” pg. 168

Lily King on breaking up:

“I don’t normally have to break up with anyone. Usually they do it for me, or I leave the state or the country. I don’t have to spell it out very often.” (pg. 291)

These quotes all reminded me of my turbulent 30s, and in turn showed me how grateful I am to be past all of that chaos. I am now ensconsed in such a beautiful, comfortable, safe place. Lucky me! Those turbulent times resulted in enduring love & happiness.

“Make yourself useful!” A post for overly responsible boomers

Two themes have been competing in my brain for decades:

Do we need to “make ourselves useful” all the time? Or is it OK to simply relax and enjoy our lives?

Let me begin by acknowledging that I was brainwashed as a child that everything we do should be “useful.” Laziness was not allowed, and laziness was very broadly defined. Pursuits like games, art, music, cinema, anything that was simply pleasurable and not academically motivated was a waste of time. Productivity was key, but only certain types of productivity. Now I find some of these same strict definitions among my fellow Boomers, who are having trouble getting comfortable with aging, illness and retirement.

First of all, I have studied the psychology of American boomers for years. One conclusion I came to is that we have been identified unfairly as an extremely self-centered and irresponsible generation. The boomers I know are now taking care of their parents if they are still alive, environmentally aware and responsible, and feel a strong need to feel useful in this world. That flower child, druggy image does not stick. Perhaps we are more self-aware than our parents, and more aware of our impact on this planet, but totally irresponsible, no.

Speaking for myself, I grapple daily with guilt over my own idleness even though I also struggle with hypoxia and the long-term affects of a traumatic brain injury. Besides the usual, “Why me?” questions, I feel lazy if I cannot complete at least a few household chores every day. Guilt feels like a permanent companion to my illnesses. Luckily my husband Mike is the direct opposite of my inner critic. He encourages me to feel good about simply still being here, and helps me make the most of it. He keeps our vehicles and home running smoothly…

while encouraging me to focus on hobbies that give me pleasure like photography,

gardening,

cooking and writing this blog.

Mike also understands my struggle with every day guilt, partially because he was not raised that way. He believes that retirement should be joyful and guilt-free. He believes we earned it “after slaving away our entire working life!” I can learn a lot from him.

How realistic are our memories of early adulthood?

Now to answer the question: Were we always this stupid, from my last post? The answer is, we were much dumber in high school and college. I have medical proof!

I’ve been reading a FASCINATING BOOK called “The Body” by Bill Bryson. So many new and interesting facts about this crazy body we call home. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT!

For example, one of his most memorable moments while researching this book, was when an English surgeon peeled back a sliver of skin a millimeter thick from the arm of a cadaver for him and said:

“That is where all your skin color is. That’s all that race is – a sliver of epidermis.”

But the section on the brain was even more interesting! Brains have always interested me. But then when I got a couple brain injuries, I became even more focused on learning more about how they work.

OK, so here’s why we did some really stupid things in our teens and early twenties and now remember them far too fondly:

“The brain takes a long time to form completely. A teenager’s brain is only about 80% finished…[and] a region of the forebrain associated with pleasure, grows its largest size in one’s teenage years. At the same time, the body produces dopamine, the neurotransmitter that conveys pleasure, more than it ever will again.”

I knew before that our frontal lobe isn’t fully developed until our twenties, thus less impulse-control, but I have never heard that our teens and twenties were our best chance to experience extreme pleasure. Now, as we age, do you ever wonder if your memory is playing tricks on you? Could those early memories be real? This finding suggests our memories of the best sex in our life in our teens and twenties could be correct! Who knew?

This explains a lot. Memories can be so uncertain and unclear. They can also be manipulated and change through time. So find ways to enjoy your memories, but don’t count on them all being correct.

How to cheer yourself up!

Here it is 2020 World Mental Health Day in the midst of too many good reasons to feel bad. Mental health is one of the most neglected areas of public health. Close to 1 billion people are living with a mental disorder, 3 million people die every year from the harmful use of alcohol and one person dies every 40 seconds by suicide. And now, billions of people around the world have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is having a further impact on people’s mental health.

Five Warning Signs of Mental Illness

Long-lasting sadness or irritability.

Extremely high and low moods.

Excessive fear, worry, or anxiety.

Social withdrawal.

Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits.

Unfortunately, I have plenty of experience with these signs, but that also means I have experience in dealing with them successfully. After years of depression, five years of great counseling in my thirties, and a degree in counseling psychology, I have learned how to take better care of my own mental health. That is not to say I don’t have my down days, especially under the present circumstances!

Here are some ways I have learned to combat the blues:

Never underestimate the power of finding a GREAT therapist. I know it isn’t easy shopping for the best therapist for you when you feel bad, but trust your feelings in selecting the right person to help you over this difficult time in your life.

Mental health days have been important to me throughout my life. While in therapy and feeling deeply sad about understanding my past, my therapist encouraged me to take a day off now and then to be with my feelings. This was essential in helping me feel better. I was severely co-dependent at that time. I remember one day I said to my therapist I felt bad about feeling sorry for myself. She quickly responded with:

“At least you are feeling something for yourself!”

Then, when you start feeling better, start taking mental health days to celebrate feeling better! A few times I needed to call in and say: “I’m feeling too good to come to work today!” No not really, but that’s the way I felt… I remember one day I went out and bought myself some great new furniture. Now, every time I look at that dresser, I remember how great it made me feel to give myself a nice gift.

These days I have been trying a new affirmation out. Every morning when I wake up the first thing I see is my little sign across the room that says:

Today I’m going to love my life!

I find that when I focus on what I am grateful for, I truly have so many reasons to love my life. Consider the fact that we are alive in a great country at one of the BEST times in human history. At least you weren’t born in the 17th century, when “life was nasty, short and brutal.” Today many Americans have the opportunity to live long, pain-free lives. We have the benefits of medicine and science helping us to improve our lives and the lives of others. LUCKY US! We truly do have good reasons to love our lives, and if we don’t we are quite free to change them! This is what I learned from my own midlife crisis. Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.

If none of this works, try chocolate. It works for me!

You’ve got to go crazy sometimes, or you might go crazy!

The Coronavirus Marriage Test: Who the hell am I living with here?

With all the conversations about how sheltering in place has led to binge-eating, binge-drinking, and increasing mental health challenges, one topic I have latched onto is divorce in the time of Coronavirus. Of course, forced proximity for long periods of time can breed contempt, but crises like these also cause us to suddenly come to terms with our pending mortality.

Do I really want to spend the rest of my life with this person?” Just like a big fat midlife crisis, the fear of sudden death can lead to positive life changes.

From my perspective, this sudden forced increase in intimacy is like instant retirement. As I think back, one of the most important reasons for my divorce at age 45 was the realization that this marriage would not survive either a sudden, serious illness in myself or long periods of unrelenting time together. Our love was not that strong and my “wasband” at that time was a total blamer and shamer. These days he reminds me of our esteemed President Donny dumb dumb. The man never heard of the concept of taking responsibility for his choices or actions, EVER!

I eventually came to call my first marriage ‘criticism central.’ That is when I knew I had to get out!

But then on the other hand, it is good to know that our recent enforced togetherness has in some cases led to resolution rather than dissolution. Some couples in the process of getting a divorce now say that being stuck together caused them to resolve their differences and decide to stay together. They dismissed their case.

Like I said, sudden intimacy, much like retirement, either improves your opinion of your partner or makes you want to yell, “Get me out of here!”

I am happy to report Mike and I still don’t hate each other….

A Celebration of 65!

Somehow, I never saw myself looking forward to turning 65, but I feel great about it. I am now happier with my life than I’ve ever been. I find aging liberating! One important lesson I have learned through my past 64 years, is how great challenges can lead to great awakenings.

My first major lesson in this was when my life fell apart around age 49. A few years after my divorce I lost my job, which then led to to the end of my 25-year career as an academic librarian. Depression and devastation soon followed. Then I got creative and started my own version of a dating service as a distraction from my sadness. That turned out to be lots of fun and then, through those efforts, I met my new husband Mike.

Having time to think, seek career counseling, and experiment opened my mind up to everything new I had ignored up until then, like the career I had always desired. I became a writer, with books and a killer blog called “Midlife Crisis Queen!”

Five years after that Mike’s job got sent to China, so what did we do? We sold our beautiful home in the Fort Collins suburbs and moved down south to rural Colorado to build a passive solar home with a killer view!

Even in the past few years I have worked hard to change a few difficult bad diagnoses into a total appreciation of health. Yes, I struggle to breathe at times, but I’m still here enjoying our new home with its fantastic sunrises and sunsets everyday.

This week my father died. My Dad, Dr. Jack L. Carter, led a truly amazing and powerful life. He believed fiercely in SCIENCE and came to be known as a proselytizer for scientific and rational thought. He taught biology and botany classes at Colorado College for decades, wrote BSCS high school biology textbooks, and then started writing his own books like “Trees and Shrubs of Colorado.” Yes, his death is very sad for my family and others who knew him, but it helps me to appreciate my own life even more.

Daily I appreciate the fact that I have lived long enough to see how life works. Yes, life includes periods of great pain and suffering. That’s the challenge that makes the successes even more joyful!

That’s what makes me want to go on…

In 2018, 1.5 million Americans attempted suicide

U.S. suicide rates have risen in recent years, while rates in other nations continue to fall. Our suicide rate increased 33 percent from 1999 through 2017, and this rate has increased more sharply since 2006. Suicide ranks are now the fourth leading cause of death for people ages 35 to 54, and the second for 10- to 34-year-olds. It remains the 10th leading cause of American deaths overall. Suicides have increased most sharply in rural communities (like mine), where loss of farming and manufacturing jobs has led to economic declines over the past quarter century.

What can we learn about why our suicide rate continues to climb? According to the American Psychological Association (APA) The reasons for why suicide rates rise or fall is challenging, in part because the causes of suicide are complex:

“Suicide risk factors include health factors such as depression, substance use problems, serious mental illness and serious physical health conditions including pain, environmental factors such as access to lethal means and stressful life events including divorce, unemployment, relationship problems or financial crisis and historical factors including previous suicide attempts, a family history of suicide and a history of childhood abuse or trauma.”

“At the individual level, there is never a single cause of suicide. There are always multiple risk factors,” says Christine Moutier, MD, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “That confluence of multiple risk factors makes it a trickier business to explain a population-level rise.”

What can you do about this?

Those who have attempted suicide say,

“All I wanted was for one person to see my pain and say something kind.”

Any intervention can prevent suicide. I remember back in 2004, when I was divorcing (loss of 75% of my income!), I lost my job and then career, and I could find not one more job in any area at age 49. I set up an appointment with our Unitarian minister just to talk and I told her, “I just need one thing to go right!” Because it felt like everything was going to shit.

I learned two important lessons from this breakdown to breakthrough moment in my life. Action is the greatest antidote to despair and suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary predicament. The action I took, although it seemed a bit crazy at the time, was to start my own offline dating service. This led to meeting lots of others who were feeling lost and confused in the middle of their lives. Eventually it led to meeting Mike, my midlife best friend and lover. He then helped me begin a new career as a writer, which led to my blog “Midlife Crisis Queen” and my books.

If you are feeling lost and depressed start anywhere. Make your mess your message and spread the word, all is not lost just because you feel unhappy right now!

And remember, You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take!

Accepting the sadness of aging

MY PARENTS IN BETTER DAYS….

In one week my parents will celebrate their 68th wedding anniversary. I rejoice in the fact that they are still with us and together. I celebrate that fact, and yet the most difficult emotions I experience lately are watching them struggle and slowly fade away from their previous levels of clarity and vitality. This is so hard for them. They are still clear enough to understand what is happening to them. They have both lived long, positive and productive lives. We all must accept our eventual demise, and yet I resist.

I also know that resistance is futile. I know in my mind that acceptance of the realities of life and death are so fundamental, and make it all easier in the long run. But how can my mother die? How can my Dad, who has always been the wise teacher to so many, be at the end of his life? When I speak to him about this he says that as a botanist, he sees himself as an old Oak tree and he knows that old trees must die to make way for new seedlings. So philosophical and yet so sad.

My sister Diane Carter recently received recognition from Long-Term Living Magazine as one of the ten most influential people in the past 40 years in the field of long-term care. She gives her all every day to help my parents negotiate the American medical establishment and protect them from its many shortcomings. She understands what is happening to our parents and explains it to me. I know it is all real and true and yet I still hate it. This is the toughest reality I have ever faced, but face it I must.

Just about every person I know now is dealing with some version of this sadness. Perhaps the best we can do is to be there for each other as we face the end of an amazingly vibrant and caring generation, our parents.

Here’s another way to look at death:

”To fear death, my friends, is only to think ourselves wise, without being wise, for it is to think that we know what we do not know. As far as we can tell, death may be the greatest good that can happen to us, but we fear it as if we knew quite well that it was the greatest of evils. What is this but the shameful ignorance of thinking that we know what we do not know?”   – Socrates

Things you may discover as you age…

Here’s my list. Have some fun creating yours!

I love feeling loved and married.

Just feeling no pain feels GREAT!

Breathing can be such a pleasure.

Pets are a blessing!

Sitting in the sun on a cold winter’s day is heaven!

Even small towns can be FUN.

Good friends are very hard to find.

Gratitude is everything!

Being in ‘reality’ and escaping it are both fun and necessary.

Finding purpose and meaning are both overrated: Enjoy yourself!

Letting go of your past is the first step towards enjoying your present.

Silence is GOLDEN.

Letting go of judgment and replacing it with compassion sets you free!

I LOVE harp music.

Since the Solstice…

RASTA! My best friend for the past 10 years.

I’ve been feeling a little lost since the summer solstice last week. We had company and while they were here my puppy Rasta began to look very ill. It turned out to be eye problems, with probable glaucoma in one eye. He was barely moving and looked terrible. I had no idea how painful glaucoma can be! We are now giving him painkillers and thinking about taking him to a dog ophthalmologist. (Who knew?)

This was all so traumatic for me. Rasta and I are very close, and in a place where I have so few real friends, I depend on him so much. Since we lost Charlie our cat just a few weeks ago I have been thinking about death too much I guess. Just about everyone in my family is elderly and have a number of health challenges including myself. When did my whole world change? When did I begin wondering when my dog, my family and I will die? Nice summer solstice theme, huh? I do feel fortunate to have had my parents and siblings for so much of my life…

I often am surprised to find out how old I am. How about you?