A Boomer’s Painful Retrospective

Kathleen Pooler, Author

Kathleen Pooler, Author

At this age, many of us are evaluating our lives, wondering why we made so many bad choices.

In her brand-new memoir, my friend Kathy Pooler, nurse, cancer survivor, and all-around-good girl, comes to understand why she married two abusive and borderline-dangerous men. It’s a great narrative which reads like a novel. As I read, I felt like screaming “NO!” Of course, it’s easy to say that now, having earned better judgment after living through my own bad decisions.

In the following interview, edited for brevity, Kathy refers to “magical thinking,” a phrase popularized by the great Joan Didion. In general, this is when you cling to the hope that something will happen to magically change your spouse from, say, a philanderer to faithful, or an addict to drug-or-alcohol-free, if only we love them enough. If only we put up with enough. If only…

Why did you write Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse?

I started out writing a different story about a cancer diagnosis and watching a beloved son spiral downward into substance abuse but realized I could not write about that until I wrote about getting into and out of two abusive marriages…It is possible to climb out of the abyss of poor decisions and go on to live life on your own terms.

KP Pooler memoirWas there any one person who was your inspiration for your main character?

Me. I was driven by the question: “How does a young woman from a loving Catholic family make so many wise choices about career, yet so many poor choices about love, that she and her two children end up escaping from her second husband for fear of physical abuse?” It was time to answer the question that had been asked of me my entire life by those who loved me.

In the book, you say “a loving family, a solid career and a strong faith cannot rescue her until she decides to rescue herself.” Why do you feel that way?

One of the lessons I learned when I wrote this book is that…I only needed to claim and honor my own inner strength. I was the only one who could do it for myself. It sounds so simple, but it took me years to realize this.

What’s the most important thing readers will learn from Ever Faithful to His Lead?

Three things come to mind:

  • One does not have to sustain broken bones or bruises to  be abused. Emotional abuse is harmful and the impact on the children of mothers who are in abusive relationships is far-reaching and damaging.
  • Abuse impacts all socioeconomic groups. I was a masters-prepared nurse from a loving family and yet I got into two emotionally abusive marriages.
  • Denial and magical thinking can keep one from recognizing abusive behavior and taking action.

Lynne here. Whew. I’m no stranger to domestic abuse – grew up with it and married into it, twice (but I must clarify that, as with Kathy, we are now in loving, gratifying marriages). But this memoir took me back. On a lighter note, I enjoyed the references to Growing Up Boomer, since Kathy and I are the same age. Ever Faithful is an enlightening book, one that younger women would benefit from reading – before they choose life partners.

Let’s switch gears and talk about the writing life. I asked Kathy:

When do you write? Is it easier to write in the morning or at night?  

I don’t have a specific routine. The muse can strike early in the morning, in the afternoon or late at night. I’ve had times when I’ve awakened up in the middle of the night to write because the thoughts swirling in my head would not let me rest until they found a place on the page. I do know that if I do not get my quota of writing done during the day, I often end up staying up late.

Who’s your favorite author?

That’s a tough question because I read a variety of authors. But two of my favorites are James Michener for the rich detail of his historical novels and Ernest Hemingway for his sparse prose that says so much. And of course, Lynne Spreen! I mean, if Jim and Ernie were alive today, they’d want to know her secret for slapping a novel together.

Okay, I wrote that. – LMS

Where can we buy the book?  Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, my website, Pen & Publish Press.

10% of the proceeds of the sale of Ever Faithful to His Lead will go toward the National Coalition for the Awareness of Domestic Violence.

The Human Experience

July is a poignant month for my family. My dad died in July, 2008. He and mom had just celebrated their 59th anniversary, on July 17. Three years after he died, Mom broke her leg and, in July, had to move from their beloved home in the high desert of Hesperia, California. That was in 2011. She just celebrated her 89th birthday last month. In spite of leg pain and other challenges, she’s doing great (I know many of you will remember my posts about her resisting the move.)

Just before she moved, three years ago, I wrote a post that reflects our aging experience: us, and caring for our elders, and the drive to be independent. I’m reposting it here in honor of my family. I hope you enjoy it.

I spent several hours at Mom’s house today. I alternate weekends with my SoCal sister. We get Mom’s mail, water her plants, check her phone messages, and just generally make sure all is well while she’s in the rehab hospital.

The sky really was that blue today

Yes, it’s inconvenient (it’s a 90-minute drive), but it’s short-term because she has agreed to sell her house, and this time I believe she will follow through. I’m glad, but also heartbroken. To think of them – them! but it isn’t “them” anymore, is it? It’s just her – not living up there ever again. Well, I’ve held off the tears all day but I guess I can’t forever. Time moves on, and we all get old and die.

I feel conflicted. I want her to move down by me (“up” and “down” relate to land elevation) for all the logical reasons, and then all of a sudden, like right now, I don’t want her to move at all. I want her to risk it, to inconvenience and vex and terrify us with her dogged determination to stay as long as she can in the house that she and Dad built. For me to yank her away from that – and then add in the heartbreaking, elegiac, mind-numbing beauty of the high desert – I can hardly bear the thought.

Poppies grow wild in her yard

It’s an end. I’d like to think it’s a beginning, too, but who can say? Mom is healthy and vibrant for almost-86, there’s no reason she can’t have a great ten more years. But will she have the courage to start over, to walk away from that place?

It hurts to think of losing it, because for ten years, Hesperia was my home, too. It was a difficult time, when I worked harder than any human should have to, and delayed my dreams, and saved everybody.

The memories are good and bad.

As a young single mother, I took my son Danny (now 33) on his paper route some weekend mornings when the snow made it impossible for him to ride his bike. One morning I ran over his foot, but the deep sand saved him and after we got over the shock, we laughed. And then newspapers stopped hiring kids and kids stopped getting up early and riding bikes and getting their first paychecks.

On the negative end, my previous marriage ended there. And Dad died up there! I wouldn’t live there now. Couldn’t. But I miss it.

When Dad and Mom build the house in the ’80s, they preserved the native juniper trees

But I digress. Today I worked my butt off, getting Mom’s house all spiffed-up for Amber to look at next Saturday. Amber might buy it. That would be nice, to know it’s still in the family. Amber is a dear friend of my step-daughter. So we would know the house that Dad and Mom built in the ’80s would be well cared for.

It was so beautiful up there today! I swear, when you live in such a place as the high desert, and especially on a spring day like today, you feel a sense of hope and optimism about rearing kids, growing your own food, having quiet and privacy and clean air and astounding skyscapes. You can pretend that you’re living life on your own terms. I imagine this is what people seek when they move to Idaho or Montana or the Dakotas.

This picture hints at the mountains they can see out the back AND the front of the house

Mom’s coming home to my house tomorrow. I started out being excited, and I still am, but we’ve had a couple of conversations since the hospital said they’d cut her loose, and I realize I’m a bloomin’ amateur. I see that Mom’s looking for ways (already) to cut corners and speed things up; and now I understand it’s not about reveling in the relative luxury of my house as compared to a rehab hospital. It’s about my house as stepping stone to – you guessed it – her house. I think she’s just biding her time until she can go home, and once she’s there, who knows? And my other sister, the one who hasn’t yet adapted to her new home near Canada, would do almost anything, including promising to take care of Mom, to be able to come south and thaw out for a couple of months.

So I rearrange furniture at my house to make Mom comfortable, to encourage her to stay, but like an inadequately compelling acquaintance, I know I don’t have much pull. Because I suspect she’s going home for good, even if she doesn’t yet say it. And the tears and frustration and anger of her children and grandchildren are nothing compared to the incense of creosote and sage calling to her from the high desert.

Turn up the volume and you’ll hear the wind chimes in her back yard.

 

 

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?

The Most Surprising Discovery of My Life

I’m a little sad today. Yesterday marked the end of another year of babysitting, and even though I have a weird sort of empty-nest heartache going on, it’s time. I’m ready. So is Bill. He’s been with me every step of the way.

Let me point out that nothing could be more gratifying than the privilege of sharing this time with our grandkids and their parents. For me, that’s as essential as air. I couldn’t live without them.

But there’s a reason Mother Nature favors the young when it comes to procreating. Bill and I are in our sixties, and childcare is harder for us, physically and mentally. The last few months, we’ve relied on TV and fast food more than we’re proud of, and I’ve felt my patience wearing thin.

[Read more…]

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.

IMG_20130907_190338_024

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?

How Terribly Strange to be Seventy

V. Putin by Sculptor Sherry Cavan

After a career as a social science professor, Sherri Cavan became a sculptor post-retirement. Her Vladimir Putin trio above was meant to illustrate three kinds of power – the Fool, who gains power through his antics; the Predator, obvious; and the Beauty Queen, who seduces.

Sherri and I met last March on a cruise ship. She was doing Tai Chi, alone on the darkened dance floor on Deck 14. Unbeknownst to her, I was lurking in a corner of the bar, tapping away on my laptop. When she finished, I introduced myself and asked about Tai Chi. She said she’d started for the health benefits. Same with sculpting, to exercise her right brain. We talked for almost an hour. I was entranced by her energy.

Smiling an impish grin, she leaned toward me. “Do you want to know how old I am?”

I said, “Yes, but I’m too shy to ask.”

She was seventy-five, and I could tell she was proud of it, a model of confidence and joie de vivre in older age. I wanted what she was having.

As we began our goodbyes, she said she’d recently learned to play the ukulele. For a woman cruising alone this was a cool way to socialize, as uke players tend to bring their instruments on trips. She’d jammed with a group on the beach in Waikiki a few days earlier. After I got home I saw an article about how ukulele is hot right now.

I loved Sherri’s wit, humor and curiosity. If she wanted to know something, she went out and learned it. I felt drawn to her aliveness. Sherri is exceptional, but she represents a wave of change in regard to aging. My husband has made lots of friends on the tennis courts, men in their mid-seventies who are gourmet cooks, singers, world travelers, speakers, writers, and government activists. Remember how we used to see old people when we were young? Here’s a reminder: the lyrics to Old Friends by Simon and Garfunkel. They wrote it as young men in 1968.

Old friends, old friends sat on their park bench like bookends

A newspaper blowin’ through the grass

Falls on the round toes of the high shoes of the old friends

 

Old friends, winter companions, the old men

Lost in their overcoats, waiting for the sun

The sounds of the city sifting through trees

Settles like dust on the shoulders of the old friends

 

Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly

How terribly strange to be seventy…

I wonder if we’re aging more slowly these days. Not just older people; on the other end of the age scale, young people seem to take longer to mature. Maybe it’s all the preservatives in our food. Better living through chemistry.