Monday, December 17, 2012

When Do We Take a Stand...and Mean It?!!

Maybe it's because I know Newtown, having spent several lovely days among this lovely community.  Maybe it's because the first school I administered was a primary school, K - 3.  Maybe it's because I am already grieving a personal loss, but I have been glued to CNN to watch the coverage of this latest tragedy.  Feeling oddly reminiscent, too reminiscent, of the assassinations of the 60's, 9-ll,  Oklahoma City, Columbine.  Tragedies heaped upon the innocent.  Alternately raging, sobbing, applauding the courage of reporters who have challenged some of the inanity they were hearing, grateful for the respect they are showing the community, in awe of the dignity and compassion expressed by family members of victims, and despairing that this has happened yet again.

Above all, wondering whether this time we will have the courage and the resolve to address the underlying, systemic problems that contribute to this madness.  Granted, no one is asking me for my ideas.  Granted, I have my own biases.  But I have some questions I wish would be raised by someone of influence and authority.  I have some questions that could lead to different kinds of discussion than whether or not we should be arming our teachers!
  • What kind of society do we want to live in?  A violent, armed, fearful society?
  • What can we learn from other countries who are not as violent as we are?  Like Japan.
  • What have we already learned from previous tragedies that could help us identify potential dangers?
  • How much more information do we need anyway?
  • How do we support our "leaders" (perhaps demand?!) to get beyond their own interests to work together, to get beyond their bi-partisanship?  How do we become more responsible followers who are willing to sacrifice some of our own interests?
  • What can Newtown teach us all about becoming caring, supportive, responsible communities?  
  • When do the needs of the whole trump the needs of the individual?
  • What can we do as individuals to impact the quality of our society as a whole?  Simply labeling us as a violent society or describing what we are seeing as "reality" that must be accepted serves only to make us more fearful, more frustrated, more isolated.
  • How can we encourage, develop the critical thinking skills and the communications skills we so desperately need in order to address these larger issues together rather than against one another? 
  • How can we use social networking venues to promote responsible, thoughtful action...not knee-jerk, reactionary, simplistic actions that produce more (sometimes greater) problems!?!?
  • How can we defend controlling cars more than we do guns?!
  • Where are the systems thinkers that could help move a national discourse to consider the scope of the disease - right now it seems that we are arguing over the size of the bandage to put over the tumor!
  • When do we take a stand...and mean it?  

Friday, December 7, 2012

In Praise of Good Guys

My brother-in-law died yesterday.  Because we have lived a continent apart, we were in each other's company for perhaps only 3 weeks out of the 30 years I have known him.  But my sense of loss this morning is great.

You see, Gary was one of the good guys, a genuine nice guy. He had a gentle Jimmy Stewart disposition. Worked hard all his life.  Took pleasure in simple things.  Always played the hand he was dealt with grace and equanimity.

He adored his wife of 43 years, his children and grandchildren. It was this love that fueled his arduous fight with lung cancer this past year, enduring months of treatment with his usual upbeat, glass half-full optimism.  Never complained.  

He was loyal and honest, a steadfast man, accepting of everybody, tolerant of foibles that would have irritated a saint.  Even when he didn't like someone, he expressed his opinions without rancor or disdain, simply as his opinion. Never nasty, never demeaning.

This world could use more good guys.  I will miss this very decent man.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Best Laid Plans...etc., etc.

I had it all planned - a special holiday season.  I made lists of possible day trips, restaurants to try, movie matinees, stocking stuffers.  I delighted over invitations to celebrate, each an acknowledgment that this has truly become our home, smiling each time I added another date to our calendar. Even included baking cookies, something I haven't done for years. Mom's chocolate chips and snowballs for sure. My intention - to do something everyday that would make Christmas 2012 the most memorable yet.

It was to be launched with brunch on Thanksgiving Day with old friends, followed by an afternoon spent decorating our 6+ft. Christmas tree. Now, that tree is a thing of beauty, a testimony to whatever creative talents I have.  Gold and copper ornaments amassed over the years (even a couple from my childhood ), plumes of gold tinsel, tiny birds with feather tails peeking out from unexpected niches, glass icicles that shimmer when the lights are lit, and as a topper, an angel that has graced every tree of our marriage.

My planning, my lists, my anticipation grew all month. Like a kid with an Advent Calendar.  With each new Hallmark holiday movie I became more eager to begin, even considered putting up the tree before Thanksgiving, but couldn't convince John, who does well to tolerate my exuberance, to lug it out from the garage and struggle with the lights any sooner than he had to.

Then, on the Monday before Thanksgiving, I fell.  Wrestled with the vacuum hose and lost. Landed on my right knee -  on the unforgiving tile floor - barely missing the coffee table or the metal corner of a side table.  After my initial shock and embarrassment - how could I be such a klutz - and reassuring my terrified husband that I hadn't heard a pop, no bones seemed to be broken, I mentally went through my lists, crossing off the tree, eliminating the parties and the day trips, indulging in one inglorious, adolescent, self-pity party.

In the long days that followed, it became evident that I had injured my knee. To what extent we weren't sure, but I knew that the shooting pains meant something was wrong.  Being a holiday week, typical health care was difficult to come by.  I was able to get advice as to avoiding any further damage, but couldn't see an orthopedist until this week.  So I concentrated on staying off my feet and managing my morale so I wouldn't go down the rabbit hole of dark imaginings and rampant anxiety.  Hobbled around on a cane, and popped Alleves. Kept apologizing to John for being a burden - my declaration, not his.  Kept reminding myself that we have managed much bigger  challenges than this.  That it could have been so much worse.  That other people do, in fact, have it much worse.
And wondered why I had to work so hard to manage my thinking. 

Yesterday, I saw the orthopedist.  The good news - no break, no tear.  Only significant stress and inflammation.  No need for crutches or the wheel chair I had conjured up.  Just a few more weeks of taking it easy, more Alleve and hobbling a bit.  And rethinking my lists.  Maybe not all the events, but some - which ones?  Maybe not the tree, but surely wreathes, and reindeer and candles.  Maybe not the day trips, but restaurants and movies.  This may not be the special holiday I had envisioned, but it will be memorable.  And there will be chocolate chip cookies.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Heeding My Own Advice

My mother called it "contemplating one's navel" - and she had little patience for it - thinking too much, especially about things that can't be controlled or changed.  Needless to say, she didn't keep a journal, couldn't understand why anyone would go to a therapist.

She would use that phrase whenever she thought I was worrying about something or spending an inordinate amount of time and effort to dissect a situation or struggling to make sense out of nonsense.  I would bristle and defend myself.  I used to wonder how she knew that I was, in fact, overthinking, musing, worrying, deep within a maze of my own construction, bumping up against imaginary walls.

I've come to realize that it must be pretty obvious to anyone who is around me for any length of time.  I withdraw, disengage - journal much more than usual, make and remake list upon list, draw mindmaps - and double back again.  Get caught up in circular conversations in my head.  Just like a lab rat in a maze.  Not something I'm particularly proud of.

The good news, I manage to get through a maze much faster these days.  Only a month this go round.

The bad news, the sad news, it took Hurricane Sandy to snap me out of it.  Seeing the devastation, entire neighborhoods destroyed, children lost, lives disrupted perhaps forever. The water, the mud, the fires. Anguish, grief, unbelievable loss.  Every day another wrenching story. A sobering reminder to get a grip! Quick! "There but for the grace....."

Outwardly, nothing much has changed here in St. George.  Yes, it's cooler.  But my vote still won't count.  I know I will worry whenever John so much as coughs.  I can't seem to lose these ten pounds.  TV continues to annoy me.  Strangers will persist in calling me dear and honey. And whenever I enter a room and can't remember why, I still won't like it.

But internally, the walls of this maze have collapsed. The moment even a brick appears, I remind myself of the advice I so easily give someone else - to consider the alternative.  Now, I'm not so naive as to expect I'll never construct another maze and wander around a bit, but  I may just have a couple posters made - CONSIDER THE ALTERNATIVE - so that it doesn't take another disaster to snap me out of it!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Great Question

I've been journaling a lot lately, more than usual actually, not that you'd know it by my blogging; but those pages, in my virtual journal, are not intended for public purview.  (In fact, I need to put it in my will that they're to be burned!)

I've had the long hot, unstructured days of the Utah summer and the impetus of some introspective reading to ponder a few provocative questions - questions that require significant reflection and potentially painful honesty.  Questions whose answers can be contradictory on any given day, and freqently muddled.  Occasionally, however, if I persist, press through the muck and the mire, I am rewarded with an "AHA!"  So, I keep journaling.

A particularly provocative question, by the author, Patti Digh, has been at the center of my ruminations. "What is the magic yardstick against which you measure your life?"  I've devoted more than a few pages to this question, partly because the standard of measurement, now that I've retired, is still morphing. And perhaps, because I really never took time to consider as broad a question until these past few months.  Too busy, too caught up in daily demands to think this philosophically?!?

I've dissected the success (or failure) of an event or a project; lost sleep considering the quality of a relationship; analyzed ad nauseum why I may feel the way I do at any given moment or think the way I do about a given issue, or person, or myself, but never this particular question.

It's a question I wish someone had asked me at other crossroads in my life.  I might have gotten over my divorce sooner.  Not been so hurt or angry when I didn't measure up to someone else's yardstick.  Not tried so hard to measure up.  I would have questioned not only whose yardstick, but why it sometimes felt as though the yardstick was longer for me than others around me.  I might have taken more satisfaction in my accomplishments.

As the saying goes, however, that's water over the dam.  One of the greatest opportunities of any transition is the chance to take the time to recalibrate the yardstick.  Perhaps to redefine the standard of measurement!  To answer this question, and others of a similar depth, consciously, clearly and confidently.  I'm taking the time and making progress.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Oh, I Get It!

"Your library is your portrait"     ~ Holbrook Jackson
I came across this quote while searching for a quote to stimulate a journal entry and, intrigued by the idea, decided to examine my library for what it might say about me.  Like a portrait or photograph.  What would it convey to a stranger looking at it for the first time?  Who would he/she think I am simply by checking out my books? (Is this why I check out other people's libraries - to get a better sense of who they are?)
Interesting exercise!  Obvious, I think, that I learn by reading.  Not everyone learns this way, I understand.  But I have books everywhere.  On shelves, in baskets, on table tops and piles on the floor.  And at least half are non-fiction, even on my Kindle.
I love to have choice, options, plenty of resources, multiple resources. No wonder it's been so challenging to cull my library, why I'm still at it after a couple years of schlepping shopping bags full of books to the local library.
My history is as evident in my books as in the wrinkles on my face.  Books from my teaching, training and coaching days; one shelf devoted to the non-fiction that has made the biggest impact on my thinking.  Topics I've studied vigorously.  Others long abandoned.  Some I think I should be interested in, but finally admit I'm not.  A record of interests past and present, some attempted, some not. (Why do I hang onto those cookbooks?!)
My abiding curiosity about the human condition is apparent in the bevy of self-help and psychology books that date back to the 60's and 70's, as well as in a preponderance of novels marked by strong and interesting character development.  No science fiction.  No romance novels.
But most of all, I finally get it - get why this culling process has been such a long drawn out affair.  Why some people can't even consider it.  Books have kept me company during the loneliest periods of my life.  Still comfort me on those nights I can't get back to sleep.  They've provided validation for unpopular opinions, challenged my biases, offered distinctions that cleared the cobwebs of anxiety and confusion, and  raised questions and insights that have led me down paths I might never have traveled.  Their authors have been friend and mentor, critic and coach. They've brought me to tears and called forth waves of laughter.
What would it say about me if I could give them up easily?
Yup, interesting exercise.

Friday, August 31, 2012

"Hope Springs"

I hadn't thought about her for years, but since seeing "Hope Springs" recently, she's in the forefront of my memories.  Her name was Jane. I say was because, although I lost track of her,I know she's deceased.  If there is a heaven, she surely has made it.

Jane was 30 years my senior. Soft-spoken,serene, raised a Quaker, she moved through the world with a quiet charm and grace. She gave meaning to a word we didn't use to describe people in the 70's - she was grounded.

I wasn't grounded. One year after a painful and contentious divorce, I vacillated between anger and anxiety. Jane welcomed me, not with pity, but with compassion and an appreciation for skills and expertise I felt had abandoned me.  As we worked together to produce a critical thinking course for a pre-adolescent religion class, she became my anchor, a touchstone for calm and reason. I so admired and respected her. And I envied her - with a capital E.

Jane was married to a well-respected and well-love physician who obviously respected and loved Jane. Greeted her with open affection. Had a pet term of endearment. Touched her frequently. Listened attentively. Everything I had wanted in a husband, and didn't have.

One afternoon, sharing a glass of wine with them in their beautiful and comforting home, I confessed my envy.  There was a quick glance between them, a smile, a nod.  "Oh, honey, it hasn't always been this good."  They then proceeded to give me a quick synopsis of the rocky road they had traveled to get to the state of wedded bliss I was privileged to observe.

A tumultuous road. Nearly divorcing three times until their grown children, weary of the perpetual angst, called for a family intervention - another term uncommon in the 70's!
Their message, their demand - figure out what it takes to be happy together or divorce and get on with life.

With the help of a good therapist, (I now picture Steve Carrell), Jane and Doc came to realize that they carried so much baggage because they had never learned to fight well. Oh, they "discussed" things, increasingly argued, but their arguments were never resolved to  their mutual satisfaction. Usually, it seemed, to Doc's satisfaction. So, after almost 40 years of marriage, raising 4 children together, steeped in Quaker tradition, Doc and Jane learned to fight to a mutually safisfying conclusion.

By their accounts, they learned the hard way - by finishing the old arguments.  Jane, with a twinkle in her eye, illustrated by pointing out the pock marked fireplace, bearing the battle scars of a complete set of dishes destroyed in a fit of frustration and with a dose of satisfaction. Left unrepaired to remind them of their commitment to be happy together. Whatever it took.  Recalling that scene I still smill. I still sit in awe of that level of commitment.

Commitment is what I think "Hope Springs" is about. Not the humor conveyed in the publicity trailers. Although there are comedic moments, this is most definitely not a comedy.
Not even the sexual frustratrations of a long and increasingly unfulfilling marriage. Although the sexual difficulties are the emphasis of the movie, and heads up, there are a couple scenes that could be uncomfortable.  At the heart of this drama is a couple who, like Doc and Jane make a commitment to finally learn how to be happy together. Whatever it takes.

So, I enjoyed "Hope Springs".  I'm pretty sure not everyone would.  It has, in fact, received mixed reviews. I doubt it will earn the amazing Meryl another Oscar nomination. But it is a courageous film, calling for vulnerability on the part of the cast and the audience.  It is a mature film.  Certainly thought provoking. Asking not what it takes just to stay married, but the level of commitment to be happily married.

And who knew that Tommie Lee Jones could be a romantic hero?  Hope springs!

Friday, August 17, 2012

How Quickly We Forget

A sign of the times? With the exception of a few guest appearances on TV by some Olympic gold medalists, the games are "last week's news." All the hoopla, the real and fabricated rivalries, the daily medal count, the endless commentary, the dissection of each performance, the statistics, the broken records - over. The pomp and circumstance, like the flame, extinguished.

I do love the Olympics, especially the summer Olympics, but not for any of the above. Rather, it's the human element that grabs and holds my interest. The individual stories of dedication, discipline, and drive. Dreams realized and dreams crushed. Arrogance and humility side by side. The commitment of not just the athletes, but their families, and coaches, and communities. The incredible sacrifice for the sheer possibility of - in most cases - simply participating.

So, the two moments from these games that I place in my album of Olympic memories have nothing to do with gold medals or broken records. Not even anything to do with US athletes, but rather with two individuals whose names I can't recall, and in the case of one of them, the country she represented.

The first, the young South African runner, competing in a semi-final heat, finishing last, but finishing - on prosthetic blades he's worn since losing both legs as a child. Cheered on by the crowd and embraced by the winner, it didn't matter that he finished last. He finished. And realized his dream of competing against able-bodied runners in the Olympics and making it to the semi-finals. No medal, no beating his chest, no self-congratulatory boasts. Just humble acknowledgment, satisfaction, and appreciation.

The second image - one I caught accidentally. A young female runner, the first woman representative of her Arabic nation. No skin tight leotard for her. Again, finishing last, but finishing. Her own record, though. The first woman - from an Arabic nation!

I've thought about these two young people often this past week. About their courage, persistence and tenacity in the face of overwhelming obstacles, obstacles most Americans can't imagine. Driven, not by gold medals or breaking records, or potential endorsements, but by some inner desire to do their personal best. And in doing so, accomplishing what so many would consider impossible.

I'm chagrined by my ruminations over how to spend my summer. So thank you, wherever you are, for your inspiration.  For reminding me, once again, that what I complain about or fret over is often merely inconvenient or uncomfortable!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Delayed Reaction

July in St. George - the dog days of summer. Daily temperatures between 100-115, driving the snowbirds north and full time residents in search of cooler climates for vacations. Putting many community activities on hiatus for July and August - activities that occupied much of my time these past months.

This abrupt cessation in activity, a regular occurrence every summer in St. George, is new to us, and I have found it disconcerting to say the least. With our house in order, and major projects complete, I felt adrift.  Initially reacted with uncharacteristic angst and anxiety.  I slept poorly, watched a lot of mindless TV, got lost in computer games. Finally, bored and frustrated with myself, I turned inward and dove into my personal journal, writing page after page of "what is going on here?" Surfacing every day just a little clearer, a little more focused.

My conclusion, duh!!!  In retrospect, so obvious. If I were observing someone else, I could have called it in a heartbeat. Having no children, no longer a career, no all-consuming projects (like moving in), no special avocation, and suddenly very little external structure, I'm finally facing retirement straight on. This transition is far from complete.

So, now I'm deep into the my journal considering questions like:
  • What, if any, issues have I been avoiding related to retirement?
  • How much freedom is too much freedom?
  • How many choices are effective? Should I be deciding or continue exploring?
  • When is enough, enough?
  • Of the several activities I pursued last fall, which do I want to continue and why?
  • I most enjoyed my drawing class and suspect drawing could become a true avocation, not just a what's holding me back?
  • What if I carve out a studio niche? 
  • How about returning to college rather than take community courses?
  • How can I contribute more to this community that I have grown to love?
  • How will I use this gift of unstructured time to create more structure for myself - driven more internally than externally?
Next summer, the only challenge I'd like to consider is how to deal with the heat!!


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Questions, I've Got Miles and Miles of Questions!

A few years ago, I read The Answer to How Is Yes, by Peter Block, in which he posed that we are asking ourselves and our organizations the wrong questions, and thus arriving at inadequate, frequently poor answers/solutions.  He postulated six more potent questions, the last of which I found to be the most provocative.

"What is the question whose answer would set you free?"  Even though I couldn't come up with a good example of such a question at the time, I filed it away, satisfied that I would recognize one when I heard or saw it - or better yet, posed one myself.

Well, I've stumbled upon a great example, for me at this point in my life.  For others who are in the midst of a transition, I suspect.  Wish I'd come across it at other turning points in my life!  The question? 

"What is it too soon for, too late for, just the right time for? ~ Dawna Markova 

Haven't got an easy answer, but that's one of my criteria for a good question.  No quick or glib or superficial response will do.  The question persists, niggling at the corners of my mind, burbling in the background like our water fountain, surfacing when I least expect it.  Demanding an answer. Even as I engage with it in my daily journal, as I have on several occasions, I end up with cursory or partial answers, and yet more questions.  Why do I think it's too late?  Who says so? Why am I hesitating? What if.....?

 And then, another question from the archives - What would you attempt if you knew you would not fail? ~ Robert Schuller

So, for the time being, just hanging out in the ambiguity, trusting that within this, no, these questions, is the kernel of something interesting and exciting for the future. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

My attention was captured by the first trailer I saw. Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson - a cast of wonderful British actors in one film.  I wondered, however, if it was a chick flick and an aging chick flick at that. Could I convince John to come with me - he who loves special effects and has difficulty understanding accents?

Fortunately, word-of-mouth endorsements have been building in our retirement community and I reminded him that he had enjoyed "Midnight in Paris".  So we attended a Saturday matinee with perhaps a hundred other folks of our generation and, surprisingly, more than a few younger.

It was an appreciative audience, grateful I suspect to see performers of such depth and breadth depicting our generation, woefully neglected in the cinema, as capable of not only managing change, but generating it.  Capable of healing the past and orchestrating an invigorating future.  Riding a motorcycle through the teeming traffic of Jaipur?  Looked pretty invigorating to me.

It is a sweet and compassionate film, presenting its characters - the elderly British and the young Indians - as well as India itself, with sensitivity and respect. (Judi Dench's character, Evelyn, easily could become a poster child for how to age with dignity). 

So, whatever the critics and pundits may say about this film, we loved it as did that Saturday audience, youngsters included, who left smiling, chattering, many eager to tell friends and family they have to see it.  I, for one, intend to see it again!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Still Meaningful after All These Years

This year marks the tenth anniversary of my battle, no, war, with cancer.  I was operated on in April, 2002 and had chemo over the following months.   Now, summer in Vegas is brutal.  Throw in the brutality of chemo - well, I fought every day just to remain remotely optimistic.
Admittedly, I read a lot of lightweight, escapist novels when I wasn't watching old musicals.
I think I saw every Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly movie ever produced and know the words to every song in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" and "The Sound of Music". 

I also read several books on Buddhism and Taoism, and anything that promised to provide some inner peace, some sense that life would be even better when I got to the other side.  They helped. I read a lot! Therefore, when I recently created a home for the books that have mattered the most to me over the years, I was surprised to see that only one book from that period made the cut.

Most days that summer is a bittersweet memory, popping up again only when I have my bloodwork or hear of a friend or acquaintance waging the same war.  But I wondered as I put the book among its neighbors if I would find it as moving, as impactful as I did 10 years ago.  I wondered why, this book, of the many I read that summer, was so important.

So, I've started to reread I Will Not Die an Unlived Life, by Dawna Markova.  Although the title seems most appropriate for someone with a life-threatening disease and Markova was dealing with leukemia at the time, it is the larger theme of the book that should speak to more people, that speaks to me again at this time in my life - recovering passion and purpose.  I'm fascinated by the questions she asks of herself and her reader, wrestling with them in my journal.  And moved by her honesty, her compassion and her eloquence.  Beside being insightful and courageous in recounting her own journey, she is a beautiful writer. Her metaphors are magical, her stories engrossing.

It is a fine book that can remain relevant 10 years later, that can have meaning during the hard times and the good.  When I am done with it, it will be returned to that special shelf.

Friday, May 25, 2012

I Hope You Dance

I've come to believe that one of life's greatest challenges is to stay grounded in the present moment; at least, it is for me. Granted, it can be vital to deal with the past and an uncertain future can scream to be shaped and secured, yet, it is the present moment that bears the unexpected gift and opportunity. And I almost missed it last night.

It was the first auditions for So You Think You Can Dance, a show I have grown to love; but the real action starts when the top 20 young dancers have been chosen, so it was tempting to skip for now.  However, It is also one of the few shows John and I enjoy watching together; so I chose to at least give it a shot.

Now, I can become easily distracted by an incomplete chore, an upcoming event, a niggling worry, something else I'd rather be doing.  My mind wanders, I fuss and fidget. I get up during every commercial. Last night, thankfully, I stayed engaged and was rewarded by examples of grace and commitment, of kindness, dignity and sensitivity. And pure, unadulterated joy.

There were, of course, the young dancers, many delusional, I fear.  Some quite talented, and a few AWESOME - with a combination of talent, skill and passion. They are why I watch this show and am never disappointed.  Last night, however, it was a judge who captured my attention and my heart (for other afficianadoes - Nigel).  Quite unexpectedly, too, as I have an historical bias against him shaped by what I have considered to be past inappropriate behavior and comments.  Last night, he blew it all away with three exchanges.

One, with a young autistic man who has a desire to dance, but alas, neither talent nor skill.  Nigel let him down gracefully, treating him with great dignity and respect, commending the young man's courage in performing before a crowd and encouraging him to continue dancing.  It was a demonstration of kindness and consideration we could use more of. 

The second, when another young man said he was auditioning so that his mother, in the rear of the audience, afflicted with a rare eye disease that was destroying her vision, could see him perform on stage before it was too late. Nigel brought her forward, gave her his seat and held her hand. Whatever else happens in this competition for her son, they will have that moment etched in their memories. And so will John and I.

The last, the moment I most treasure. A young mother of two, also in the audience, was to perform. Nigel call the youngsters, aged 2 and 6, up front to watch their mom.  When she finished, quite successfully, she commented that her two-year old daughter also loved to dance.  Well, even if you didn't see it, you can guess what happened next.  Up on stage the toddler hopped, resplendent in her little pink tutu,  - and proceded to twirl and dip and point a tiny toe. To dance with joyous abandonment, present only to the music and some inner imperative to move. An infectious joy that touched the judges, the audience and the two of us.

I've thought of that toddler frequently today. Of her delight, her complete absorption in the moment. Of the parents who have obviously encouraged and nurtured her. Of what it might feel like to dance with such abandon, such joy, such presence.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Transitions 101

A couple months ago, motivated after reading life is a verb, by Patti Digh, I went on a clearing, simplifying campaign, determined to put the finishing touches on our move here. Although to outside eyes we looked settled in, I knew there were boxes still unpacked, stuff crammed under the bed and in closet corners. Plus, from past transitions, I have come to believe that any true beginning requires a genuine ending. 

So I set upon my campaign with a vengeance. The result is magazine spread worthy, if I do say so myself. Every shelf organized, boxes labeled in fancy fonts ( label fanatics, you've got to get the Epson 300, such fun.), furniture repositioned, artwork exchanged.  Several trips to Catholic Charities, who may petition to have us declared saints!

Among the book shelves, organized by genre, of course, and balanced with favorite mementoes and even a degree of space, there is now one special shelf. It is home to a dozen books whose titles comprise my personal study guide to dealing with transtion. A dozen books that had been scattered throughout the house. Read over 35 years, dog-earred, underlined, one or two tear-stained, they provide a chronicle of changes managed well and not so well, as surely as any photo album. 

Seeing them on one shelf has inspired me to reread a few. I wonder if they will be as meaningful to me today? What would you add to this list?
  • If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him, by Sheldon Kopp
  • The New Diary, by Tristine Rainer
  • A Room of Her Own, by Chris Casson Madden
  • A Conscious Life, by Fran and Louis Cox
  • Flow, by Mihalyi Csikzentmihalyi
  • Choice Theory, by William Glasser, M. D.
  • Gift to the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
  • The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron
  • Transitions, by William Bridges
  • A Simpler Way, by Margaret J. Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers
  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, by Jean-Dominique Bauby
  • The Answer to How Is Yes, by Peter Block

The e-reader? Well, my most recent read, life is a verb, is stored on my Kindle. I may just have to get it in hardback - to place on the shelf.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Worth Remembering

Our 29th anniversary is quickly approaching. It's far too easy to see the passage of time these days - in the lines in our faces, the grey hair (or loss thereof), the widening waistlines. I am reminded every time one of us forgets what we were going to say, where we put our coffee mug, the name of a favorite movie.

I see reminders of our history in every corner of our home. The wall art John had before we married that he insisted (and I resisted) be placed over the fireplace. I admit it - it's perfect there. The slipper chair I had before we married that I insisted (and he resisted) be kept in the living room.  And he admits it - it's perfect there.

The etching we bought for our first anniversary at the art fair in Santa Barbara. We were sure the fair itself was a fortuitous gift designed just for us, only to discover it was a weekly event. Mementoes of trips to Hawaii and Italy. Furniture and accessories from the store in Las Vegas that came to know me on a first name basis. John was always convinced that my car turned into the parking lot automatically whenever we approached it. Photographs and artwork from friends, past and present. Gifts from our parents and siblings.

Reminders of almost three decades of facing challenges, expected and unexpected. Reminders that we have managed the changes and transitions of our lives together, for the most part, with grace and courage. That we are learning how to manage this transition together, too. 

Sometimes I get myopic and worry too much about a possible future alone. I forget to celebrate that I am fortunate to have such a good partner on this journey right here, right now.  Worth remembering every day. 


Sunday, April 22, 2012

How Could I Forget?

I thought I could manage this transition with my hands tied behind my back. Divorce, remarriage, several major moves, cancer, career challenges and changes, parental care-giving, death and dying. I've known my share. Retirement, should be a breeze.

In fact, I thought I'd been doing a remarkable job so far, managing this transition more gracefully than any other previously. Proud of myself, maybe just a bit smug. After all, we'd moved from Vegas within 27 days, downsized from two homes to one, created new routines, signed up for classes, taken up hobbies long forgotten or intended, and all in less than a year. Told friends and family that I'd never felt so content. And meant it.

How could I forget? Forget that just when you think you're well on the road to a new beginning, you can expect the proverbial bump, even a massive pothole to remind you to slow down, maybe take an alternate route, or even turn back.

I've been reminded.  In February, I began to notice that I was feeling "out of sorts", sleeping erratically, restless, frequently frustrated or annoyed, easily disappointed or angry.  At first, I credited the shift to receiving distressing news from a family member, and then to having read some deeply thought-provoking books, and then to both.  Whatever the catalyst, I pulled back as I am wont to do, and filled reams of journal pages. Revisiting again and yet again, what's going on? Why now? What should I/could I do to move through this? 

I finally stepped back and regrouped, realized that I needed to create the space and time to face more deliberately this massive change in my life, in our lives together.  This complex transition we simply call retirement.  To experience more fully what I have understood intellectually - that this may be one of the most significant transitions of my life. To slow down.

To allow all the emotions - emotions too easily masked or denied by a busy schedule of doing.  Not just the pleasure of meeting new people, the satisfaction of interesting new experiences. Not just the relief of leaving Vegas. But also the pain of great loss - the sense of worth and contribution I've known over the years of teaching and training; the unsettling uncertainty of future health challenges; the anxiety when I meet another widow or widower; the nagging everyday worries that aging brings.

To pay more attention to completing where I've been so I can move forward as gracefully as I'd like, as I thought I'd been doing.  So, while away from this blog, I also have been reorganizing, starting as I usually do, with my environment.   Literally attacking the last visible phase of letting go, making those decisions I've put off, getting rid of yet more stuff we no longer need, or use, or will use.  Attacking even those ultimate guardians of the past, my closet and the garage.

And as I continue to sort and donate and toss, rethinking. What activities do I want to continue? Relinquish? What adds genuine value? How can I use what I am learning to support my husband, my family and friends who are facing their own transitions?  How can I still make a difference?

So...if you've visited this site before, you'll see that I'm reorganizing it, too.  If this is your first visit, I hope it won't be your last. I promise I won't be so lengthy in the future.  And to any and all who venture here, whether deliberately, or accidentally, may my reflections be of some assistance - or at least, interest. May we learn from one another - how to thrive, not merely survive, in the midst of transition.

Are you in the midst of a significant transition in your life?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

If Not Now, When?

A week ago today, my birthday, the beginning of not just another year but another decade. Striking how different this birthday felt from last year's.  I had just dissolved my business of 25 years, was anxious about selling a house in the depressed Vegas market, wondering and worrying about how we'd get to St. George, what retirement would hold for both of us.

Today, only one year later, we're settled, both comforable, both enjoying continuous ed courses, meeting new people.  Checking out restaurants, catching matinee movies on an impulse, developing new hobbies.  Becoming better companions than ever in our 29 year marriage.

No longer any caregiving responsiblities. Secure. Healthy. Engaged. Content.

So, if not now, when? The question that hit me this morning. Nothing to prevent me from -
  • learning Italian
  • exploring Utah in an RV
  • reading all of Jane Austen (never have!)
  • learning to line dance
  • taking a calligraphy class, or ceramics, or photography or...
  • taking a cruise to Alaska or...
  • visiting Venice?
Yup, if not now, when?


Monday, January 30, 2012

What's a Girl to Do?

Have really been chewing on the question of when enough is enough. And wouldn't you know it, in the midst of all my considering, observing, deliberating, pondering - I came across two seemingly opposing points of view.

The first, on a tv show on the local education channel. The topic - simplification. The premise - that we have too many choices, more choice with less available time. The solution - reduce the number of choices by resisting advertising, shopping where there are fewer choices, and creating and following few and simple routines.

The second point of view, from a book titled life is a verb.  The topic - living more intentionally.  The premise - that we limit ourselves by doing and thinking the same things, playing it safe.  The solution - every day for 37 days do something that takes you out of your comfort zone. See a movie you wouldn't typically consider, listen to music you wouldn't typically choose, try a new restuarant, learn about a topic that challenges your current thinking, etc., etc.

Too many choices? Not enough? What's a girl to do!? Well, I really hate either/or. So in the spirit of both/and, my solution (at least for now) is to significantly limit the number of choices related to material "stuff"  by simplifying our environment, limiting spending, developing simpler household and personal routines...while ALSO listening to music I'd never entertain before, taking a drawing class, reading genres of writing I've avoided in the past, trying out alternative routes, even cooking occasionally! far, so good!

Monday, January 16, 2012

So Many Questions, So Little Time

        "Judge a man by his questions, not his answers."   -  Voltaire

Love this quote, and love a good question.  One that provokes deeper thinking, a challenge to static opinions, a quest for new possibilities. Especially, of myself.  Questions that further understanding and new learning.  Sometimes I go in search of them.  Other times they pop up at unexpected times and from unexpected sources.  Usually, they serve me well.

So, I find myself pondering several questions regarding this issue of considering alternatives:
  • Why can/do I generate alternatives more easily in some areas of my life than in others?
  • Why is the generation of alternative approaches or possibilities so satisfying in itself?
  • Do I/when do I hang out in possibilities to avoid a difficult decision or to avoid having to take action?
  • What criteria can I use to judge when/if I have too many alternatives to consider, or, conversely, too few?
  • I dislike, even distrust, either/or thinking - is this at the heart of why our political "debate" infuriates me so much?  Why I also see the polarization as frightening, rather than merely frustrating? 
  • Under why conditions am I willing to consider alternatives (whether opinions or recommendations) posed by others?  Under what conditions do I shut down or dismiss outright?  What are the implications - for me, for my relationships?
I want to hang out with these questions for awhile, just pay attention, notice, reflect.  Not settle for the obvious or easy answers.


Monday, January 9, 2012

When Is Enough Enough?

Normally reflective, I become even more so over the holiday and this year, having a nasty head cold, confined to bed or huddled under an afghan in my favorite recliner, I have given a lot of thought to this seemingly need/drive I have to create alternatives, to consider options, to seek other possibilities.  Some of what I have to share will probably make anyone who knows me say "DUH, that's obvious! You haven't known this before?!" I have, but I don't know that I've considered some of the implications that have become clearer - and that I want to address. So, here goes:
  • Being raised by strict parents and educated by even stricter nuns to think and behave by limited rules and imperatives, I resist anything that smacks of 'because I said so.'  I particularly resist dogma and polarized options.  Either/or, right/wrong, good/bad, all/nothing - too simplistic, too limiting. No wonder I have so little patience with our so-called political debate. Why I am close to despair about the lack of public discourse. Why I can't bear the talk shows, the political pundits.
  • Conversely, my experience in the 60's, meeting foreign graduate students for the first time, exposed to alternative cultures, differing opinions in an atmosphere of challenging thought and long-held beliefs, I developed a deep appreciation for learning from and with others that persists to this day. Aha - so that's why I'm so pleased with the little book club I've found. The discussions there remind me of these earlier conversations.
  • Later,trained in skills of critical thinking, committed for years to teaching youngsters to think critically, I love open-ended, provocative questions. I enjoy the process of examining issues from different perspectives, and see the cost to our reluctance to doing so in our public life.
  • And, seeing alternatives and having several choices before making my own decisions has become my measure of personal success and independence.
All understandable, benign, certainly has served me well in difficult times. But I am seeing some of the I declutter, remove 15 books on the same topic, toss projects begun but incomplete, donate clothes I've rarely worn, contemplate yet another diet.  And in the midst of it all, I came across this little quote, "Happiness is a place between too little and too much."  So I leave this entry with the questions foremost in my thoughts right much is too little"?  How much is too much?  When is enough enough?