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.

 

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“The Bookshop” is a lovely little film

Although I have no intention of turning this blog into a book and film review center, I just keep seeing so many wonderful small films I cannot quit thinking about. You see, I have to wait until these films become available through my local public library before I can enjoy them. I admit that I’m behind the times, but that does not diminish my enjoyment. Yesterday, I found this 2017 drama written and directed by Isabel Coixet and based on the novel of the same name by Penelope Fitzgerald, brought back so many poignant memories from my own life.

the Bookshop 2017Set in the small coastal town of Hardborough, Suffolk, in 1950s England, Florence Green, a WWII widow, sets her sights on making her home and opening a small bookshop in an old, abandoned property. This has always been her dream. Along the way we observe the ins and outs of being new to a small village much like my own experiences since we moved here in 2014. She does make a few good friends, most notably an old, bookish recluse gentlemen played by one of my favorite actors, Bill Nighy (he reminds me of my husband a bit) and a young girl named Christine, who she hires to assist her in her shop.

From the very beginning the scenes in this film remind me of my upbringing and lessons learned. At the beginning Florence has a special dress made to wear to a party put on by one of the richest and most influential local residents, Mrs. Gamart. Her dressmaker convinces her that this red dress is just the thing, in spite of her inner wisdom that says no. At the party Florence is completely uncomfortable and conspicuous in her red attire, reminding me of my Mom’s advice from time immemorial: good girls don’t wear red.

The young girl Florence hires to help her, Christine, reminded me of myself around her age, especially her belief that “boys are repulsive.” In the end, the innocent Florence, who is full of pluck and courage as she pursues her life goal, must learn the hard way how horrible some people can be, reminding me of how appalled I was when I was fired from my final job as a reference librarian at Regis University in 2004.

cool brain bookshelfFrom the very beginning of this film I was reminded how strongly I feel about promoting intelligence and freedom of information, going back to my first jobs as a Government Information Librarian in the 1980s. I see myself now as a crusader for books, the power of words, writing, knowledge and intelligence. I have found that there can be a tendency, especially in small towns and in rural America, to criticize those who are better educated. This does not serve any of us.

Education is the only way for us to maintain a healthy democracy. Ignorance is NOT bliss.

A Review of “Where the Crawdads Sing” from a Naturalist and Psychotherapist’s Perspective

I just finished reading this novel yesterday, and I would name it the best nature-focused novel I have ever read, this from a reviewer who idealized Jane Goodall as a teenager and wanted to grow up to study animal behavior just like her, in nature’s most beautiful and wild places. The author, Delia Owens, shows such sensitivity and intelligence in describing the natural setting as well as her main character, Kya.

where the crawdads sing

Kya was left to raise herself in the swamp country of South Carolina, to fill her days with survival skills as well as precise observations of the natural world around her. She loves her animal friends like the gulls. They are her only companions. We slowly see how Kya is uniquely qualified for this vocation as a natural loner who lives to be encapsulated in pure nature. As she grows and spends time with only a few other people, she learns to read and then she learns more and more about animal behavior.

Chimpanzee 2012 filmOne aspect of Kya’s life I found easy to relate to, was how she observed or read about animal behavior to inform her about human behavior. This comes through clearly as she describes the behavior of the lawyers during her trial. Ever since I saw the short nature documentary film Chimpanzee in 2012, released by Disneynature, I see most human behavior through that lens. Most human behavior can be understood by observing chimps in the wild, where they can truly be who they are. Males are naturally more aggressive, females protective of their young. Try watching a football game sometime through this lens and you will see that we are not so different as we think!

After decades of city living, I moved to a home in rural Colorado five years ago, where I find myself quite close to nature. Here I so enjoy the experience of observing changes in myself and how I see and feel the world around me. The best part is the complete silence here and with less reason for fear and daily vigilance, the natural world has unfolded before me, showing that we were made to live close to nature, not close together in cities. I have learned that city life can literally drive us mad. The perceived threats are everywhere in cities so we naturally keep our guard up at all times, not a healthy or natural way to exist.

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Now that I live out in the country, I feel like I have finally begun to live in harmony with each sunrise and sunset. Now I notice the birds’ songs as spring arrives, free from tension and anxiety, a feeling I have never felt before. That often unconscious and yet ever present stress felt in cities is simply gone.

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)

“Can You Ever Forgive Me?” a story for every frustrated writer in the world!

Anyone for Melissa McCarthy playing a serious role? Oh come on, you’ll love it!

Most of us started out as frustrated writers, doing our best to publish anything just so we could finally proclaim, “I am now a writer.” I know I struggled mightily as a freelance writer before I realized the dilemma before me. Everyone said I needed to “find my voice” but that could not happen as a freelance writer, when every editor was changing my pieces to their voice! It finally drove me so crazy that I started a blog over ten years ago… but back to Lee Israel’s dilemma.

forgive meLee Israel “made it” as a celebrity biographer in the 1970s and 80s. In 1991, she was 52 and ready to write her next book when her agent, played wonderfully by Jane Curtain, informed her that nobody wanted to read her books anymore. To me, her dilemma was the classic writer midlife crisis story. Israel’s life collapsed around her. She went on welfare, and found herself unable to pay a $40 vet bill for her beloved cat Doris. Desperate for any kind of income, she stole several letters from an archive at the New York Library for the Performing Arts, hiding them in her shoe. She sold them to a rare book store for $40 each and later claimed she felt no guilt about the act, as the letters “were from the realm of the dead – Doris and I were alive”. That way of thinking describes Lee’s character to a T.

Yes, she got caught after a few years and suffered for her crime, but I so understood her desperation as a writer today. Who is reading books anymore? Who is spending time thinking about anything for more than a millisecond? We live in the land of the permanently distracted now and it’s only getting worse.

Lee was one tough old introvert writer. She later wrote Can You Ever Forgive Me?, her fourth and final book, while working as a copy editor for Scholastic magazines. The memoir was a defiant statement, although the sincerity of her appeal for forgiveness remained much in doubt. She wrote at the end: “I still consider the letters to be my best work.”

What I like about two movies I almost didn’t see: Bohemian Rhapsody & First Man

Bohemian RhapsodyAfter I watched the Oscars, I decided to see a couple movies that I had skipped over before. I skipped “Bohemian Rhapsody” because I figured it was a concert movie and I wasn’t completely sure who Queen was anyway. I know I can be pretty out of it sometimes… I skipped “First Man” because I have never been that interested in space flight. It sounded like a “male movie” to me. Mike convinced me to reserve these two at the public library, just in case we were missing something good. He was right. As most of you know,  Bohemian Rhapsody is a 2018 biographical film about Freddie Mercury, lead singer of the British rock band Queen. When Rami Malek won the Oscar for best actor, they were exactly right! What an amazing performance! What an interesting character!

What I liked best about this film, besides watching tremendous acting and great music, was the way the makers included a truly sad part of our history as human beings.  The way gays were treated back then, and especially if they contracted HIV/AIDS, is an embarrassment to all of us. I thought the writers dealt with this issue very well in this film.

First ManThen I watched “First Man” last night. The two things I took away from this film: exactly how courageous our first astronauts were, and the price they and their families paid for that courage. Who knew that Neil Armstrong had a two and a half year old daughter who died of a brain tumor in 1961? Although Neil Armstrong was obviously the hero of this story, I focused on his wife, played wonderfully by Claire Foy. Didn’t these guys get any kind of counseling for what they were going through? Their wives sometimes seemed like the real heroes, sitting at home with their children wondering if they still had a husband. And when their husbands did come home, how traumatized were they? Since back in the sixties men were raised to hide all emotions except anger, the wives bore the brunt of all of those confusing  and repressed feelings. I was left wondering if either our astronauts or their families had any idea of what they were getting into when they signed up for this mission.

If any of this sounds interesting to you, see these two excellent films!