Monday, September 30, 2019

Letting Go

Last year, a man asked me, "Why don’t you take showers every day?"
I answered, "If I don't have to go out in public, why should I bother?"
(Remember that retired people are home more often than the typical working person. This is something you get to look forward to. 😊)
The man nodded thoughtfully, and replied, "So you let yourself go."
"Sure," I said, glad I was in a position to make this super important daily decision.
In retrospect, I should not have been so pleased, perhaps.
What does that mean, exactly: to let one's self go? Go where? Go when? With whom? Is this like being a teenager where you have to check in with someone more mature than yourself? (See last week's post, 23 Sept 2019, Second Adolescence.)
I'm pretty sure it's not about going anywhere. In fact, it's about going nowhere: not going to work, not going to church, not going to doctor appointments. Technically, as retired people, we are letting ourselves not go.
Therefore, if we don't have to go anywhere, we get the choice of showering, wearing clothes from the day before, heck, even wearing clothes!
Besides confusion about what "letting myself go" actually means, for me there is also a gender bias that is uncomfortable. It is usually women who 'let themselves go', rarely men. Can you imagine? "He's just let himself go. He doesn't shave, or shower, and he eats Spam all day." Heavy sigh. "I'm so envious."
See? It just doesn't have the ring as saying such a thing about women. RANT ALERT: With women, the implication is that we aren't trying to impress the world-at-large anymore. We no longer wear make-up, or skirts, or deodorant. If we don't do so, then we will not be attractive. Therefore, what use are we to a male dominant society that wants all females to be eligible for breeding? END RANT.
Maybe that sounds outlandish, but for me, all that make-up, dress suits and perfect grooming was tiresome. Whatever the reason for it, as a woman who is now at home most days, I feel relieved.
I have been relieved of duty, relieved of the duty of meeting outside expectations of my appearance.
So I am letting myself go, not because I have abandoned social norms, but because I am freeing myself of them. I'm letting myself go, letting go to be myself.
This week, try letting yourself go, just a tiny bit. You might feel better for it!

Monday, September 23, 2019

Second Adolescence

A few years ago I was chatting with a man who had been a third grade teacher all his life. I knew he loved teaching, and that he was considered one of the best in our vicinity. So I was surprised when I learned he had just retired.
"I thought you loved teaching," I said, a perplexed and potentially supportive smile on my face.
He shook his head. "There's so many new regulations and paperwork we gotta do. I do love teaching, and I love the kids, but I just didn't want to learn all that new stuff."
Truthfully, I was puzzled. In the field of education there are always new regulations and lots of paperwork. Every day sees a new teaching strategy that will change the world and classrooms. Out with the old ways, in with the new. This teacher had years of experience, so he knew this cycle and had always learned the newest to add to his stockpile of tried and true teaching methods.
What had happened that he suddenly – from my perspective – didn't want to do this job anymore?
Much more recently, my brother at a doctor's visit growled at the nurse who asked him to step on the scale to check his weight. "I don't wanna do any of that," he snapped. "You already have all that information."
I asked why he was so annoyed. He couldn't answer beyond, "I didn't wanna."
I asked him to at least be polite to the nurse who was just doing her job, and suggested he change the script a little. "Try: I'm going to be non-compliant today. Write that down, and the doctor can talk to me about it if she cares."
I was reminded of the teacher and my brother when I spoke to a friend facing retirement: "I can do all that stuff that they want me to learn about," she said, then sighed. "I just don't want to."
"Oh," I replied, hearing the echo of the teacher and my sibling. "You don't wanna."
"Exactly." She sighed. "I don'twanna."
"You know who you sound like?" I asked. "You sound like a teenager. Their refrain is: I don't wanna learn math, I don't wanna come home on time, I don't wanna go shopping with my parent ever."
"Maybe," I suggested gently, "you're entering your second adolescence."
"E gad!" she erupted. "You may be right."

This article serves as warning to the rest of humanity that people in retirement are a lot like teenagers. 

I know it's horrible news, but you all out there will survive. Someday you'll be in our shoes, whether you wanna or not.   :)

Monday, September 16, 2019

A Poem on Commission

I was asked by a member of our church to write a poem about the Earth.

"What?!?!" I cringed. I'm not a poet.

Turns out, I had brought this on myself. On Earth Day, we were given index cards to write an idea for how to celebrate or save the Earth. Since I'm a writer, I wrote: "Have people write poems about the Earth."

The church member said, "You wrote it on that card, so can you write a poem about the Earth and present in two weeks?"



Since this is a writing blog, among other things, I decided to share it, in draft form, with the universe. Here is the second mostly polished draft of my poem.

A Prayer From the Earth

My sentient beings,
My darling children,
My best beloveds;

You are crying,
You are angry,
You are afraid.

You are afraid for yourselves, and
You are afraid for me who sustains you.

You do not need to be afraid for me.
I have endured for eons of your time, and
       will endure for eons more.
It seems I am tenacious.

I will tell you a story about my strength.

Once upon a time,
       hundreds of millions of your years,
I was robust.

Life thrived in my oceans and waterways.
Life was abundant and growing in my grassy swards.
Life flew in my crisp, clean air.

In my beginnings I had been so alone, so lonely.
By that time, I was filled with the joyfulness of abundant life.

How proud I was.
How lucky I felt!

As you, my darlings with brains, have learned, joyfulness and pride are fleeting.
In one single moment, everything changed.

On that day, a huge rock, (from what you call outer space), hurtled through my atmosphere.


Let's hold hands, darlings, for this next part of my story
       is blacker than your darkest night frights,
       more horrible than your worst monster imaginings,
       more heartbreaking than any loss you have suffered.

Remember, as you become fearful, that I am here
       to tell you about this terrible time.
I am here because I survived.


The alien rock burst through my atmosphere –
       the atmosphere I had built up over millions of eons and
       that supported all the life I was so proud of.

It burst through and slammed into me.

It was bigger than my moon.

It was as uncaring.

It sent dirt flying across me, clogging all my waterways.

It sent ocean water smashing across me, drowning all the land.

It sent sulphur into my air, poisoning my atmosphere.

This strike by an outsider was so  powerful that I could have gone reeling --
       away from the moon,
       away from the sun,
       away from my home.

But by some miracle, I did not.

I was still home, circling my sun with my moon circling me.

But I was mortally wounded.

Nothing lived, nothing was sustained by me.
I was near death.


Life as I had known it, ended that day.

What little survived, was poisoned by sulphurous air.
Time, by any measure, ceased to exist.



My fatigue was excruciating.
Yet, molecule by molecule, the sulphur dissipated.

Water dripped and slid and splashed through my roughened landscape.

Somehow, I was tenacious.

One day a tiny blade of grass poked up through dirt from across the globe
       and made oxygen.

Another day a tiny lizard popped out of its egg that had tumbled in the ocean
       and made its way to shore,
       to live beside the blades of grass.

Another day a lizard's front legs sprouted wings
       and it flew up high.
Life forms grew.

I began to heal. I was healing. I healed.


I was different.
No more giant, egg-laying dinosaurs (as you call them).
But instead, hairy mammals who bore their young live and chattered at them.

Instead, new land forms and new oceans.
Instead, varied, vigorous, innovating life.
Somehow, out of my near destruction, came you, my darlings,
       my best beloveds.

It seems I can't help but sustain life.
I am indefatigable.


And now, because you are aware, you are afraid.
You're afraid that with so many of you,
       you are draining my resources.

You are.

You're afraid that you are poisoning my waterways and land forms.

You are.

You're afraid you are depleting my atmosphere.

You are.

But you are not an uncaring alien rock.

You have not come close to destroying me like the rock.

Even now, at this most desperate moment,
       you are aware of me
       and you care about me.

You have the power to correct the destruction you have wrought,
       and you are using that power every day.

Do not despair.

My darlings, I have faith in you.

Now please, have faith in me.

I am tenacious.

I am indefatigable.

I endure.

I heal.

So will you.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Learning After 50

After I turned 50 years old – that age when supposedly I could no longer learn – I learned these three major things:

  1. A new language: Romanian.
My spouse and I went to Romania for Peace Corps service, where we began with three months in language and culture training. I achieved Intermediate Level Fluency, which I am very proud of! This meant I could communicate with the average Romanian, read signs, and function successfully every day.
In our Peace Corps group, 10 of us were over 50. At least 5 of us achieved some level of fluency and stayed our entire service time of 2+ years. We often bragged about how much we were learning despite the prognosis that we couldn't. Brain science had not yet taken off. We could only use our own experiences to counter that deadly prediction.
  1. How to plot a novel.
Yes, I am sorry to report that I, a novelist since I was 16, did not learn this most crucial skill until after I was 50. I blame myself. Like Calvin, of the comic strip "Calvin & Hobbs", I had terrific confidence in myself. Just as he surely could drive a car at age 6, I could publish a novel at any age without all that pesky growing up.
Finally, in despair about ever getting published, I considered what I could improve about my writing – if anything!
After careful reflection, I realized that I was awesome at dialogue, okay at character development and narrative, but really stunk at plot. Most of my stories were lovely conversations that went nowhere.
Since that troubling revelation, I have bought every book on plot that I can find and I studied them. And studied them. And studied them.
Now, hopefully, I am okay at plot.
  1. How to survive depression.
Specifically, I was diagnosed with Situational Depression, prescribed Prozac, and saw a therapist weekly. So many stressful life events had piled up on top of me, that for about two years, I was unable to function beyond feeding myself. The following three years, I reduced my visits to the therapist (who is over 65!), eliminated my prescriptions, and began to participate in life beyond myself.
This was significant for me. The therapist said I had PTSD, but I didn't agree, still don't. Other people have been through far worse than what I endured, and they deserve that title and the treatment for it. Still, the therapist compared me to those people.
If this had happened to a 50-year-old woman in 1986, she might have received some sort of psychotropic drug, and maybe be institutionalized. Remember, as I stated in the last blog post, at that time, therapy was considered a waste of time for elderly people.

I am so lucky to have lived beyond 50, and to live today when brain science is helping all of us to live longer, healthier lives.
If you know a brain scientist or doctor, hug them (with permission). They are saving the lives of the silvering generation!