A Great Tool for the New Year

I always feel energized by the arrival of a new year. It’s like a clean slate, twelve sprawling months ahead for reaching my dreams. Do you feel that way, too?

If so, maybe I can help by sharing my own plans and a great book recommendation. My goals are to lose weight and become a best-selling author in 2014, which is the year I turn sixty.

Hey, a girl can dream.


Re: the weight loss, I’m a recidivist Lifetime member of Weight Watchers. I like the program because they taught me how to eat during the craziness of menopause. But I’m not plugging them – any program you stick to will work. So, how do you do that?

To prepare myself, I picked up a great book, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. In it, I learned:

  • Habit is more powerful than addiction
  • Your brain resorts to habit because it conserves energy, which is then freed up for survival
  • Scientists now agree on proven strategies for developing new habits or changing old ones.

To change an old habit, Duhigg reports, you learn to recognize the cue that triggers the routine that leads to the reward. Then you leave the cue and reward alone, and change the routine. In other words, you don’t try to rewire your brain not to want what it wants – you just go about getting to the reward a different way.

This intrigues me. To test the theory (so you don’t have to), I’m going to work on one of my worst habits: I crave a glass of wine around 3 p.m., which usually leads to a cascade of consequences like eating too much for dinner, etc. That’s an old habit I need to change.

On the other hand, creating a new habit, Duhigg says, requires a slightly different approach. You create a cue and reward (which must be cultivated into a craving). Then the routine connecting the cue and reward is the desired practice, like exercise or meditation. In other words, in order to create a new habit of meditating, I’ll have to invent a cue and reward that make me want to repeat the routine.

I know this is vague but why load you up with details before I test drive the theories? But if they work, how cool if you could develop a foolproof strategy for making yourself into the person you’ve always wanted to be? The future would be unlimited! 

So here’s my plan: I’m going to get started, and right around the first of January, I’ll report back to you about my degree of initial success, so you can decide whether Duhigg’s methods hold promise for you.

As for the best-selling author plan, I’ll be working on some strategies (like better time management, and daily meditation to enhance my creativity). One thing I’m not very good at is asking for help, so here goes:

If you read Dakota Blues, and liked it, would you mind telling a friend? And if you haven’t yet tried it, I’m getting really good reviews on Amazon, so you might want to check it out. People say it’s empowering, inspiring, and joyful. Also, it contains tips, strategies and wisdom, delivered in story form, for living your best life after fifty. Here’s the link, and I hope you love it.

What are you planning for 2014? Why don’t you share your aspirations in the comments below?

You Have the Power, Part 2

Getting comfy at Dakota Blues book signing: left, Jo Anne Gill

After the book signing on August 25, a half-dozen of us sat around, drinking wine and BS-ing, the best kind of sisterly gathering. The topic was looks. Specifically, what we do at our age to look good, and what constitutes “good.” The gathering happened in Indio, in the looks- and wealth-obsessed Coachella Valley, home of Palm Desert, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage, and La Quinta; those monied resort towns.

Astrid Bender, Author

We agreed we should try to feel good about how we look. But we’re trained to try to look younger. It seems every other billboard in the Valley is for body work.

Tammy Coia and Pia Rose

We all want to update our thinking, so we can feel satisfied with our looks even if we’re older, and not automatically equate looking good with looking young. My wise friend Dorys said the reason we do this is we’re in competition. I asked for what? One woman laughingly said for men but that wasn’t really true anymore  – we’re beyond that now. If the men are smart enough to see how cool we are, far out. If not, hell with it.

Joanne Hardy, left, and Dorys Forray, our hostess, right

In some cases we are competing with younger people in the business world, whether as employees or purveyors of a service or product. In that case, you want to look younger because employers equate that with a better employee. It’s a mindless prejudice , but it’s out there, and like my shrink used to say, if you’re in the game, play to win.

Melitas Forster, at 94 our blogger emeritus

But my friends and I kicked this around: if we’re not trying to get a job or something (i.e. manhunt) that benefits from looking younger, why do we hold that up as our goal? Why don’t we just try to look good for our age?

Dorys said it’s because we have a metro mindset. In the Coachella Valley, we’re competing with Los Angeles and New York. We all agreed we need to change our thinking. That’s where the strength of age comes in – we ‘re strong enough to say, “I don’t need to look young. I’m not competing.”

Kathryn Jordan, Author

One of us, Kathryn, lives on an acre of land, in a house built in 1948. She has horses and chickens, and the property borders one of these wealthy, cosmopolitan cities. Although she’s very stylish, she doesn’t try to look like she’s twenty. She said, “I don’t live in that place. I may physically live right next to it, but mentally, I don’t live there.” Kathryn lives wherever she wants, because that place is in her head. She creates that place, that world. She defines that world to her own satisfaction.

I thought that was an enlightened point of view. We can move away from that place in our head. We can live anywhere we want: the land of hyper-competition or the land of mental peace.


Thanks to Tammy Coia, the Memoir Coach, for sponsoring this gathering. Your community of women writers is a loyal and supportive group, and I am honored to be part of it. I’m also excited to be speaking at the Women Inspiring Women Conference on January 26, 2013.


Here’s a bonus for you from Debra Ollivier, who blogs for HuffPost 50: Five Big Misconceptions About Growing Older.


Also, I’m rededicating myself to a passion of mine: I’m going to find good midlife (age forty and up) fiction and publicize it. I want to create a gathering place for books and readers who want to read about the experience of the second half of our lives. If you read or write one, let me know. I’ll add it to my Midlife Fiction – Book Recommendations page. I hope you’ll help me build this into a fun, lively, and awesome resource for all of us.

Backstabbing Women, Part 2

I’ve spent my life denying it, but now that I’m older, I have to raise the white flag. Women can be backstabbers. Before you respond in horror, let me explain. [Read more…]

Boomer Achieves Lifetime Dream

After wishin’ and hopin’ and plannin’ and workin’ and prayin’…

After earning a self-created, home-cooked degree in How To Write A Novel (with a minor in How To Build a Platform)…

After writing and throwing away hundreds of pages that just weren’t quite good enough…

After years of answering my friends and family: “Almost!” and “Pretty soon!”

Two big things happened.

I discovered a passion for the topic of aging powerfully, and

On July 17, a date that would have been my mom and dad’s 63rd wedding anniversary,

I published my very first novel!

Dakota Blues is about:

  • midlife reinvention,
  • the quest to find meaning and empowerment in the second half of life,
  • the need to feel a connection with our ancestors,
  • dealing with the issues that hit without warning as we age,
  • whether we’re too old at a certain point to start something new,
  • whether it’s selfish and ungrateful to want more, and
  • finding the courage to change later in life.

Or, putting words into pictures, here’s what you’ll find in Dakota Blues (available now in paperback, and on Kindle in the second week of August, +/-):

I can’t tell you how much this means to me, to have reached this goal, and to have done it at fifty-eight. This is a time when many of us are rethinking our lives, and wondering whether to break through the age limitations placed on us by an earlier set of beliefs.

This is what we’re supposed to be doing, folks: chasing our dreams like there’s no tomorrow, excited as kids, refusing to lie down and let the culture of low expectations steamroll us. This is how to live in the second half. This is how to live, period. That’s what my character, Karen Grace, struggles with, and that’s what Dakota Blues is about.

I hope you buy a copy, and if you do, I hope you love it enough to add a rating to the Dakota Blues page on Amazon or Goodreads. Ratings mean everything in this online, digitized society, where there’s far too material to sort through without help.

Thanks for standing by me while I struggled. I hope I can do the same for you someday.

PS Today is the fourth anniversary of my father’s passing. I hope he can see what I’ve done. I miss him more than I can say.


Two Guys Who Inspired Me

But first, I have a confession to make.

I started this blog as a way of marketing my book. There, it’s out. If you feel like dropping me now, I understand.

But something interesting happened to this blog a couple years ago. I found my stride, opened my soul and started pouring out my thoughts about wanting to age powerfully instead of apologetically. The more I called out, the more you answered. We’ve gathered around this electronic campfire in increasing numbers. Some days I get hundreds of visitors, all tuning into the issues that you and I find compelling.

Although most of us are women of middle age and older, we are men, too. We’re wondering how to navigate these last twenty, thirty, forty (God willing) years. How to find the joy and not crumble under the onslaught of change. How to savor the journey, and stop apologizing for our age.

I was at a writing conference a while back, and I was moved by a couple of speakers, one old, one young. The first spoke about accomplishing something in older age; the second, about selling your stuff without selling your soul:

Dr. Frederick Ramsay, Author, Professor, Minister

Frederick Ramsay started writing in his mid-sixties. After two bouts of cancer and one stroke, this human dynamo produced 13 books in 10 years – or maybe it was 10 books in 13 years, but who cares? It’s taken me 10 years to write ONE. Anyway he stood up on stage at this conference and said, in effect, I have to hurry, man. I don’t have a lot of time. He said it plainly, with a strong voice, and it didn’t sound sad or pitiful. It was real, and powerful. This awesome, thoughtful, funny man is using his age to fuel his fire.

On the other end of the age scale is Jeremy Lee James. He gave a voice to my emerging hesitation about marketing my work via social media. Jeremy was teaching a workshop called First Principles: A Writer’s Website and Winning Tactics. He said he worked on the preso for three weeks, but a couple of days before the conference, he trashed it all because, as he said, it made him feel dirty.

Jeremy Lee James, Internet Guru and Philosopher

This dude knows everything about SEO optimization, Google analytics, and all the tricks to get a high return on your internet marketing efforts. And he was prepared to share those tricks with us. Instead, he came to that workshop and told us about a different path he wanted to follow instead. Make your blog – make your online presence – art. Give a gift to humanity. The business, the income, the commercial success will follow if it’s meant to. If it doesn’t happen, you’re not on your true path and you should find something else to do. I couldn’t believe this commercial wizard was telling me something so organic, but it resonated. I appreciated him for it.

Although I only met these men that one time, I consider them mentors. They provided thoughtful guidance, and I feel empowered as a result. Don’t you love when that happens?

Are Aging Rockers Irrelevant?

McCartney then

I saw that headline atop this story a few days ago and of course my first reaction was anger. But then I read the article, and this comment by the writer, Lee Zimmerman, touched me:

McCartney now

Young people don’t have a monopoly on zest, enjoyment, adventure… Sure, energy and enthusiasm may wane as we get older, but the primal urges that stir our psyche — especially when it comes to the music that moves us — continues to create a bond. At a certain age, it transitions from a rallying cry into nostalgia, allowing the music of our memories to exert a powerful grasp… Perhaps more than ever.

Heart, then

Heart, now

Do you ever find yourself next to an elderly person and wonder who he used to be? Do you ever take a minute to think that behind that crevassed face and stooped posture is a person who once leapt for joy, cashed his first paycheck, fell in love, and maybe raised a family?

Behind the looks, implies Zimmerman, is an artist whose years of experience could only yield greater depth of creative expression, topped by the sweetness and bite of nostalgia. How could their music be any less wonderful than it was in their youth?

Don’t poison what is with regrets about what was.

Is that even possible? Sure, looks aren’t everything, but they’re a lot. The beauty of youth suggests power: strong backs, flexible knees, supple dendrites, powerful voices. (Did you know the reason elderly folks’ voices get high and thin is because the collagen in their throats dissipates? Yep. Like everything else.)

Thing is, you can’t let it get to you. You’re still here. You have to respect your life! Wring the value and the blessings from it.

Besides, trying to judge yourself on society’s standards is a game you can’t win. Here’s an article about how fashion designers are now using 13-year-old models. Seems the 16-year-old girls were too big, what with having passed puberty and all.

When our culture declines to the point of preferring a little girl’s body over that of a normal, grown woman, I’m opting out of the fashion zeitgeist. Declare victory and go home. As the computer said, the only way to win is not to play.

I mean, I get the concept of “aspirational.” I don’t necessarily want to see a model who looks like me. Where’s the challenge to improve myself? But 13?

Stevie now

Stevie then

I make fun of More magazine once in a while (“This is what 4o+ looks like!Right.) But I like the editor, Lesley Jane Seymour. If you read between the lines of her monthly editorial letters in the magazine, you definitely sense her frustration in trying to serve us. Her readers want to see real models, but they also want to be inspired by what might be possible. It’s a thin line to walk.

Aging is a bummer, no question. Bodies break down. My mom has been through so much in the past 18 months. Broken leg, follow-up surgery when the pain wouldn’t stop, cataract surgery, removal of a basal cell thingy on her face that required reconstructive surgery. I drive her to all her doctor appointments, and after surgery I usually stay with her. We’ve experienced it together, for better and worse.

Mom, then                             

Mom, now

Yesterday she chipped a tooth. I said, “Thank God you didn’t need a root canal.” She said if that had been the case, she would have sat down and shot herself. I told her it would have been a murder suicide. We laughed so hard we had to hang up.


Improve Your Life, Part 2

I was going to write something fun this week to give you all a break. We’ve been examining some pretty heavy social issues lately, and I wanted to make you laugh.

But I just finished the book Ask for It, and in the chapter called The Likability Factor, authors Babcock and Laschever say that for all our efforts at becoming more assertive at the negotiating table, women have to take care not to offend.

Offend? I thought, are you sh#@ing me? Apparently, they are not.

Behavior that seems too aggressive typically doesn’t work for women and often backfires…We’re not just guessing here. Multiple studies have shown that using a “softer” style can improve a woman’s chances for success when she negotiates.

The authors didn’t want to believe it either, so they constructed their own study to see if it were really true, and they not only confirmed that men punish women for being too aggressive, but women do too.  To be fair, women on the power side of the table punished everybody for acting assertively, both men and women who pushed too hard for higher starting salaries, raises, or a cheaper price on that yard-sale sofa.

Good to know, huh? And right now you’re thinking, thank God the old peeps are dying off, because the younger women are much more egalitarian and fair in dealing with our own gender.

Wrong. 80% of the test subjects were under forty.

While you may think that this response to a woman being forthright and direct sounds outdated, research has shown that it is surprisingly current – even among men and women in their late teens and early twenties. The average age of people who participated in this study was twenty-nine, which means that it’s not just baby boomers who react negatively to women negotiating in an aggressive manner.

As disheartening as is this evidence of gender bias at the negotiating table, I’d rather be aware of it than not. At least now we know how to act. And it doesn’t have to remain this way.

…Using a sociable, friendly style may help you get more of what you want and deserve. It may help you rise into senior positions where you’ll have more influence over the culture of your organization, your profession, and perhaps even the larger business world. And then you can use your influence to make it more acceptable for women to ask for what they want in whatever way suits them.

The authors suggest we effect change ourselves. Have you ever criticized another woman for acting pushy or coming on too strong? Rather than roll your eyes at a her for behaving in a forceful way, say out loud, “That’s great that she’s going after what she wants.”  Little by little, we can change the outdated norms for how society wants women to behave.

Oprah Struggles to Reinvent Herself

O Magazine was started twelve years ago. How many articles do you think Oprah Winfrey has published about reinvention? Yet it seems even for the Big O, it’s not that easy. (Boomers everywhere hide a half-smile of schadenfreude.)

Used to be the only time we had to invent ourselves was in our late teens, early twenties.

“What are you going to do with your life?” was the big question. Now we have to recreate ourselves every decade or so due to job insecurity. Capitalism depends on creative destruction, and the United States is the envy of the world in the way our CEOs can toss workers into the garbage whenever the balance sheet needs more black ink.

Most of us are vulnerable. We’re the little guy, Joe Employee. We don’t have much power, unless you’re one of the few remaining union members and even they are pretty much toast. Witness the tens of thousands of highly trained and educated teachers who stay home every day, losing their edge as opposed to educating the next generation. But I digress.

Little Guy, take heart. You’re not alone. It seems Oprah is flailing about in her new life-phase. (Warning: mute this article because otherwise you’ll be force-fed an annoying commercial.)

Apparently Oprah’s reinvention has hit a rough patch. Her new cable channel is sucking wind. I feel her pain because I’ve been there, stepping off the cliff from where you are golden into a place where you are tin. You feel as if you’re twenty years old again, but not in a good way. In your new incarnation, you have little power or authority, and must slave away to rebuild it. But this time you’re forty or fifty or sixty or more.

In my late forties, I left a profession in which I’d established a twenty-seven year history and threw myself into freelancing. After ten years of trying and failing, changing my mind, feeling lost and/or depressed, wasting time, wasting money and learning things I’ll never need, I’ve finally figured out my new career. Apparently I’m a teacher and a writer. I’m so happy, it’s obviously the right choice.

From my new vantage point, I’d give younger people this advice: think of yourself as a small business. You may have to reshape it or carry it to an unexpected place, but this will be less jarring if you plan for it. What would you do if you were suddenly tossed from your current job?

Burnish that business called You, Inc.

WHILE YOU’RE EMPLOYED, learn everything you can, network with those who can further your career, keep your eye out to alternate but related industries, think of side businesses you can build in your spare time for emergency cash, and save your money. Living within your means is the ultimate power over the unpredictable future.

For the older people, my peers, this is something you’ve already discovered. If you need tips from your contemporaries about reinvention and finding work in mid-to-later-life, here are several:

I wish you success and contentment, and I hope you’ll take some comfort from knowing that the great Oprah is struggling, too.