Empty Nest: Heartache and Opportunity

“For 20 years, we packed lunches, helped with homework, and paid too many bills…”

Carl Love, columnist for The Press Enterprise

Carl Love, columnist for The Press Enterprise

So begins the lament of the empty-nester, in this case, Carl Love, a columnist at my local paper. I can identify. I’ve been providing child care for my two grandbabies for three years now, and each year is a tidal wave of diapers, teething, bottles, binkies, making breakfast and lunch, Play-Doh, stickers, crayons, building blocks, walks w/ and w/o strollers, buckling into carseats and swings, pool, park, naps, monitors, and potty chairs….

And: (take a breath) being greeted with “GRANDMA!!!” when I arrive in the morning, slobbery kisses, sharing a cup and seeing the little one learn to drink from it, reading the same book for the 3rd time in a row and sensing that someone is reluctant to leave the comfort of my lap, pushing on swings, playing in the sandbox, looking for me in a crowd, two babies crowding to get on either side of Grandpa in a recliner so HE can read the same book 3 or 4 times, stealing my Honey Nut Cheerios because they’re sweeter than the ones Mom buys, holding my hand, hugging my legs, stealing my sunglasses, watching Baby Einstein and turning around to grin with delight at the sight of their old buddy, the smiley caterpillar…all of a sudden, it ends. On the last day of Mommy or Daddy’s work year (both are teachers), I kiss the babies goodbye at their door and turn to get into my car, grateful but blinking back tears.

Such a transitional moment conjures reminders of mortality that cast a pall on the otherwise searing brightness of a late-spring afternoon. For all of the challenges, what can I do that is more precious or valuable? Now that I’ll have all that free time, what will be as meaningful? I think this is what Carl was feeling. He’s happy to have done his job well, but after so many days, months, years of a full house and schedule, living within a Short Attention Span movie, dealing with tired muscles/bones/joints and sleep deprivation, it just ends, and then what?

Somehow, it feels like the parade not only passed you by, but the cacophony faded and now you’re standing on the curb, alone in the silence. Questioning your place on the timeline, the existential questions you’ve been too busy to ask. Who are you now, with nobody to raise? And that seems to me the most exciting, frightening, confusing precipice over which to lean. The view could be sublime, if only we dare look.

Is Reinvention Elitist?

imgresI just finished Your Life Calling by Jane Pauley.  The objective of this book, according to the author, is “to inspire people…to imagine their own future in powerful and positive ways.” Pauley weaves her story into the telling of those anecdotes. She’s cheerful and self-effacing, and uses her broadcaster cadence in the narration. Unfortunately, the result is a kind of tonal flatness, no controversy or gravitas, no real highs or lows. This is probably because the book is an advertisement for her show and she wants to attract the largest audience possible.

So that’s the downside, yet there was enough in it for me to feel it was worth reading. I enjoyed the anecdotes of the many fine people who are following their passions and doing good in the world by bringing fresh water to Africa or school books to the inner cities. And Pauley offers snippets of wisdom, her own or gleaned from interviews with reinventors. For example:

*The concept of “packing for your future.” What might you take with you into very old age, that you can look back upon and think, “I’m glad I did that. I’m at peace because I did that.”

*Instead of empty nest syndrome, one woman viewed the newly available time as “a gift box that I could fill somehow.”

*Being willing to give up on some things, like running a marathon or learning a foreign language. (This is the basis of the popular “F*** It List,” a topic previously explored here.)

*”Self-discovery is not a prerequisite for reinvention. It’s the payoff.”

I like the idea of reinvention, but there’s something about it that bugs me, and that’s the only real knock on this book. It’s the largely-unacknowledged truth that only a certain economic group will ever be able to indulge in unpaid dream-chasing. This is especially true in the aftermath of the Great Recession, in which many older people decided they would never retire, and it’s not because they love their jobs. If you’ve got a nice pension or enough Social Security to support your wanderings, or your kids are cool with you living in a trailer in their back yard, you might be able to quit working and follow your interests. However, many people will never have that luxury, and I think we should recognize that. Otherwise, it’s tone-deaf of us to pretend reinvention is universally accessible.

Now, if somebody would come along and write a book about “How I Reinvented Myself While Working Three Minimum Wage Jobs and Enduring Chronic Illness,” that would be noteworthy. What do you think? Am I being too cynical? 

Web-Addicted Boomer Goes Offline for One Day and Lives

Like all baby boomers, I grew up in the days of carbon paper and white-out. So it’s funny to find myself, at this age, more or less addicted to the Internet. I spend way too many hours online. Maybe you do, too.

How many is too many?

It’s too many if you have a hard time breaking eye-lock from the small screen long enough to pay attention to the people you love and/or live with, if you’re late to everything, and if your to-do list chronically goes unfinished. I am guilty of all this and more.

I love the Internet. It’s so much a part of my life, for information and community. I wouldn’t truly say I’m addicted, but I am habituated. I’m on two computers and a smartphone all day long, checking email or social media, handling little tasks or answering a million questions. Like:

  • when is Jersey Boys going to be at my local theater?
  • where is my new doctor’s office?
  • how hot is it going to be today?
  • can Elon Musk invent a way to stop wasting flared gas? (I tweeted him)
  • must compliment my local paper on new Home section
  • must share this/that/the other article with my networks
  • must entertain resulting comments from said sharing
  • how many tablespoons in 1/4 cup?
  • how long have the Sunnis and Shi’ites been fighting?
  • ideas for new blog posts!
  • must order that from Amazon
  • must see what Goodreads friends say about this book
  • etc. blah blah blah

Once in pursuit of the above, I fall down the rabbit hole, chasing other pretty stuff. Although it’s fun, the time expands as I read one thing after another, commenting and/or sharing, and hurrying, always hurrying. Because I’m aware of time slipping away, I’m anxious to get off the computer and go do what I do in real life. (Sound familiar?)

But that’s the problem. This is real life. Used to be we would separate Online Life from Real Life, but no more. Online is our Barbershop, our Cheers. We all know each others’ names.

As enjoyable as it is, I really need to work on my next novel (and pay some attention to my sweet hubby), so on Sunday, I decided to stay offline and see how it felt. To prepare for this foray into unknown territory, I made a list of offline things I could do. I’m so unused to going natural that I wasn’t sure I would know how to act.

offline funSo, that was last weekend. How did it go?

Fantastic! I worked on the yard; organized a bunch of recipes; read in a leisurely way; sat on the patio and listened to birdsong; with my darling honeybun, watched Michelle Wie finally win a major; meditated; and wrote in my journal (with fountain pen, in cursive, on paper).

The main difference between a regular online day and Sunday – the Lord’s Day, the day of rest – was that I did feel more rested, grateful, present, and in control of my time. Reading was especially rich, being able to savor the meaning and depth of the writing, whether fiction or non-. I liked it very much, and felt more at peace. Strangely, time seemed to expand and last longer, but I was never bored.

It was beautiful. I’m thinking of making it a twice-a-week thing, at least.

Do you ever feel like you’re online too much?

Boomers Aren’t Old, Right? Right?

Remember Gloria Steinem’s quote on my home page?

To be defiant about age may be better than despair – it’s energizing – but it is not progress. Actually, after fifty, aging can become an exciting new period; it is another country.  

Many of us boomers don’t like thinking of ourselves as old. Nope, we’re in midlife (guilty – see website subhead). Age is just a number, because we “still” (fill in the blank). I mean, you can’t be old if you went hang-gliding last weekend. But if you face the reality, you’ll be happier, says Ronni Bennett of Time Goes By:

Ronni Bennett

Ronni Bennett, blogger and wise woman

On blogs, forums, commercial websites, health-related sites and more, it is amazing how many people debate this question.

Invariably, someone will say he or she (usually she) or a friend looks and acts younger than they are (whatever that means). Or someone drags out that hoary old aphorism, you’re only as old as you feel…And the all-time favorite of everyone who refuses to acknowledge the passing years – age is only a number.

The 66-year-old writing that essay refuses to accept herself as a senior because, she reports, she and her friends are active, some “still” work, others exercise, read, play with the grandchildren and volunteer. But the people at the home where the writer volunteers “are seniors for sure,” she says with some certainty, because they are “limited in what they can do.” She doesn’t say what the limitations are but it’s not hard to guess.

What she is trying to do with that statement is separate herself, as too many healthy elders do, from people of the same age who are disabled, infirm, demented or even just a little addled, never considering that there but for the grace of God…

This defensiveness is, we know, the result of fear. Fear of aging which, if you take a step back for a longer look, is just a smoke screen for fear of dying. I understand that (but)…perhaps think awhile on how much time and effort it takes to pretend you’re not old. Surely you must be exhausted from it. Surely you can imagine what a relief it would be to just – well, be.

Me? It took me years of trying to arrive at liking my old age, liking myself as an old woman but I arrived and nowadays I look forward to enjoying that achievement for many more years…

Right now, I want you to know that it’s worth the effort to shed the pretense of youth. Shed the mistaken idea of the woman above who apparently believes being old doesn’t happen until you can’t work, cook, play tennis, volunteer, exercise or play with grandchildren any longer.

But she is wrong to define old age only as the arrival of infirmity. If we are willing to be honest, old age is the natural progression of life from childhood to adolescence to adulthood and, now, elderhood.

Why waste these years trying to be something else? Do you really believe you can rid yourself of wrinkles, gray hair, a poochy belly, mashed potato thighs, saggy skin and all the other physical manifestations old age with drug store potions and wishing? You don’t need to be a Buddhist to appreciate this next thought from Buddhist writer and teacher Lewis Richmond, from his book, Aging as a Spiritual Practice.

Lewis Richmond

Lewis Richmond

“As long as we keep comparing ourselves to a younger, better self (who may have been better only in hindsight), we shortchange the possibilities for becoming an older, wiser one.  The wisdom of adaptation begins in the willingness to let go of who we used to be and embrace who we are now.”

Lynne here. Thank you, Ronni and Lewis, for showing us a way forward into a more peaceful, powerful mindset. This last third of our lives can be more satisfying and gratifying than we ever imagined.

Linda Ronstadt Tribute

Last April, Linda Ronstadt was inducted – finally! – into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You probably know she is ill, and as a result, doesn’t sing anymore, and couldn’t attend. So her friends did it for her. I was moved by this sweet rendition of Different Drum, sung by Carrie Underwood. It touched me to see this talented singer from a younger generation doing such a good job of the song, and brought back memories of my own youth.

And her other friends – what stellar girlfriends to stand up for you, and what histories they have themselves.

If you’d like to know what a superlative talent Linda was, listen to this tribute by Don Henley, which really puts her greatness into perspective:

My personal favorite was the album Canciones de Mi Padre which, as Henley says in the above clip, went double platinum in one day. I hope you enjoy the memories. This is a link to the entire one-hour program made from Canciones, which was featured on Great Performances in 1989. Enjoy.

My very best to Linda Ronstadt.

Birthday Reinvention!

For my sixtieth birthday I’m celebrating by giving my blog a facelift! It may be off-air for a week or two, but after that it’ll be better than ever, with a sharper look and more features. In addition to blogging about the amazing second half of life, with all the wonder and weirdness of middle-age and beyond, I’ll be posting book reviews, and talking about the writing and marketing process. My goal is to make the website easier to see and more enjoyable to navigate. So don’t be concerned if AnyShinyThing.com goes dark for a few days or weeks. This is the season of resurrection, after all.

I wish you the most joyous Easter and Springtime. Here’s an uplifting video from Laura Carstensen, a social scientist who spoke at TedX Women, for your viewing pleasure.  See you soon! XOXOXO

 

Enjoy Your New Perspective

Have you ever had the experience of feeling your perspective change, in almost a visceral way? After watching this video, I’m a changed person. You might end up that way, too.

OVERVIEW from Planetary Collective on Vimeo.

As you watch The Overview Effect, you’ll see glorious, fragile Earth from the International Space Station, with a narration by some of the astronauts who filmed it. At about the four-minute mark, you’ll see thunderstorms, and then the aurora borealis. At about 6:30 you’ll hear that the astronauts, while not working, tend to lose themselves in “earthgazing.” At 11:10, astronaut Edgar Mitchell says he was both excited and troubled by a certain effect he’d experienced in space, and upon his return, asked a local university if they could find a name for it. They did. It’s called salva corpus amanti, which, in this context means, “You see things…with your eyes but you experience them emotionally and viscerally with ecstasy and a sense of totally unity and oneness.”

This morning on my way to an appointment, the fog was breaking up, still drifting over newly-green fields in our rural area. Sun began to come through, as well as a bit of blue sky. I watched the cars in front of me rolling along, and I marveled that they stuck to the road instead of floating off into space. I considered my priorities for the day and realized how unimportant they are, and I am. We little ant-people, bustling about on our lovely blue planet, rarely stop to realize how small it all is. This is the after-effect of the video, for me. As I watched the film and heard the transcendent music, I felt tenderness and gratitude for Earth’s generosity, and fear for her vulnerability. I’m sure that my being almost sixty adds depth to my appreciation. Enjoy.

RIP Nelson Mandela

I had a post ready to go, about reaching for your dreams in the new year, but somehow it seems disrespectful in view of Nelson Mandela’s passing. Instead I will cherish the feeling I’m left with, of being motivated to reach higher, to do better, and to be a better person. My condolences to all who loved him. Mid-Friday update: I just became aware of a beautiful, thoughtful post about Mr. Mandela. I recommend you check it out here.

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Happy Thanksgiving

Twenty-five people are coming to my house today. We’re serving turkey and ham. My guests’ ages range from 19 months (hide the breakables! no candles!) to eighty-eight. Everything’s set up. I invited my mother and two sisters to come by this morning for a champagne-and-strategy session, because they’ll be helping me keep this thing on the rails later today. I’m grateful I can do it, and for the health and goodwill of my family. And for you, dear reader. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, wisdom, guidance, humor, tips, tricks and anything else you’ve volunteered through the years, not the least of which is, simply, your presence. We’ll get together again next Friday. I can’t wait.

Little Difference between Young and Old

What if there is no meaningful difference between people of different age groups? We tend to stereotype based on age, but the similarities between the groups might be more numerous than the differences. Here are some common ones:

  • Naivete or innocence: A young person may be exploited due to lack of experience, but other ages fall victim as well.
  • Independence: Young people can’t live alone or drive a car. Some older people are in the same situation. Commonality, not distinction.
  • Appearance: Older people may start to look funny, but remember those pictures of yourself as an adolescent? You say the younger people will outgrow it? So will the elders.
  • Dreams: Older people set out on the path of new dreams at every age. And some younger people just aren’t interested.
  • Frailty and illness: An older person may have physical limitations, but when I was in elementary school, a classmate missed a whole year due to rheumatoid arthritis. She was infirm. She was very young.
  • Death of friends and relatives wounds all of us.
  • Intellect: do I even have to explain?
  • We all go through physical and hormonal changes in life. Think of your own pubescence. Now think of menopause. Was either more fraught?

Yes, some characteristics are more typical of a certain age group, such as physical decline, but we certainly have a lot of commonalities. Why do we ignore those in favor of artificial differences?

I think because it’s easier. We stereotype people, throwing them into groups, because it saves us from having to see a person as an individual. We label them for our own convenience, but labels might dictate how a human is perceived or treated, leading to a huge waste of potential, not to mention heartache. Besides, labels and stereotypes change over time. One hundred years ago, in the United States of America, women were forbidden to vote. Everyone agreed they were insufficiently intelligent or rational to handle that responsibility.

Maybe someday our perceptions about age will change, too. We might come to think the differences between young and old are so trifling as to be immaterial. Why not start now? Let’s focus on what we all have in common, and beyond that, get to know each other as people. And as far as allowing those labels to limit you, stop right now. Decide who or what you want to be, and become that, regardless of age.

Your time on earth is finite and precious. Don’t waste it trying to comply with some soon-to-be-antiquated standard of behavior.

I’ll be away for the next two weeks. Enjoy your Thanksgiving! See you on December 6.