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In the past few weeks I’ve had multiple experiences – first a trickle, then a steady daily stream – that’ve revealed a heartbreakingly common theme of being human. Many Readers are familiar with the thought experiment that shows the Law of Attraction at work:  holding an image in your mind during a normal day (a butterfly, for example) and noticing how many times you see images, or the real thing, from sun-up until sundown. It’s pretty remarkable – if you can maintain playful focus on whatever you decide you want to ‘see’.

The thought experiment I’ve been living recently first started (maybe 3 weeks ago) when a dozen or so of my colleagues were tasked with choosing teams for a project. Anyone could start the process of choosing – it began, and ended via email. But as those who were anxious to pick competent and capable friends began sending out Invites, others were left unchosen.  Memories from grade school athletics:  the unsparingly-cruel team captains selecting the best, or most skilled, players so as to avoid getting stuck with ‘losers’.

If you were in the small group of misfits no captain wanted (as I was, in most sports competitions), the lesson was unmistakable and painfully poignant:  no one wants you. In my colleague-teaming situation, this played out (via groupmail) in a very public way:  who was invited to join, and who was left asking to join. Yes, we’re all adults and this is Life, but still; it didn’t feel good. After all, we all want and need to be well-regarded; to be chosen; to be Liked.

In the 26 August “New Yorker” magazine, there’s an article titled “Trouble in Paradise” by Andrew Marantz. The piece focuses on the Tech industry’s efforts to confront its ‘demons’, in terms of its perceived (and fact-based) lack of ethics. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Apple and several others are being called-out for tactics that are now collectively referred to as “Human Downgrading:  …a reduction of human capacity…and human sensitivities” (p. 63).

There’s a ton of ‘psychology’, as it turns out, behind what these platforms do, and how they do it, in their quest for more and more presence in our lives. Turns out (many Readers might already know this), for example, an individual (not a Think Tank) came up with the idea of the ‘Like’ button. The button’s designed to gather data about our preferences, but also feeds our dopamine-hungry bodies in the same way that video games do:  by zapping our receptors with alternating challenges, rewards, defeats and punishments.

But what happens when we put ourselves ‘out there’, in the arena of social scrutiny, and we are not chosen? Or, we don’t get the number of ‘Likes’ we want and think we deserve? Studies are now showing that we grow panicky and anxious, sad and even despondent. Combatting the Awful Truth of the phrase “If It’s Not Insta, It Didn’t Happen”, Instagram in Canada has removed the ‘Like’ button entirely from its application, knowing full well what this means to the company’s bottom-line.

So after my “teambuilding” (a deliberate oxymoron, here) experience, I continued to encounter friends and family members who were feeling invisible, neglected, unloved and even shamed in their experiences and relationships. I’m not trying to imply that all of these outcomes are the result of being “on” Social Media, or, Under the Influence of Social Media, but the New Yorker article presents pretty compelling evidence of a connection. The Tech Giants (the humans running this industry) themselves seem to be in growing realization that much of their money-making relies on promoting and maintaining human emotions such as apprehension, uncertainty, insecurity and a sense of inclusion or exclusion.

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Who are these people Liking and Following us, and why does this even matter so much? What might Likes and Follows be a substitute for? I note the symbolism of a simple ‘button’, like Roman Emperors of ancient times:  “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” as to whether or not a gladiator’s life should be spared. Wait – did you think that ‘Thumbs-Up’ was invented by Tech? (smiley emoji)

Talking with a friend this morning, I asked her how her job was going. She’s a psychiatric nurse at a residential facility for troubled kids. You might assume that she has both good, and bad days in this role; you’d be correct – as she freely admits. As with other people-serving professions, there’s huge potential for burnout in her job. Nevertheless, each time we chat, she says “I’m so lucky !” My friend explains:  she never dreads going to work; and, unlike some of her colleagues, ‘Fridays’ aren’t the Finish lines of end of the week exhaustion. My friend’s ‘luck’, according to her, was entering a career that’s consistently satisfying and motivating – even on bad days.

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For many people I know, work’s just a part of Adulting. My own peer group didn’t give it much thought after high school. They went to college, or, they went to work. They took jobs that were offered. More than a few of them ‘ended up’ in careers not remotely connected to their college majors. Others entered a family business, while still others took minimum wage jobs right out of high school and relied on promotions over the years. They married, had families, got divorced, sent kids off to college, planned for retirement. In the midst of all that, I can’t recall ever discussing, or being taught about the need for Passion and Purpose.

Growing up when I did, I’m sure that my parents and grandparents probably would have laughed me right out of the room if I’d suggested I needed time to contemplate my Life Purpose. Moving out of my family home after high school, while I was still only 17, I took a part time job while I went to community college. I lived on a meager salary, and on my deceased mother’s Social Security (until I turned 18 and was cut-off). So busy trying to survive and make something of myself, I still didn’t have the luxury of thinking about Passion and Purpose. And yet, I got the schooling and the career that I, too, feel “lucky” to have had. How did this happen?

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As I’ve grown older, clarity around Passion and Purpose has made me realize that anyone can discover both, and everyone deserves to discover both. How often do we ask ourselves, especially as Life grows more complicated and demanding, What do I feel most passionately about? How often do we then give ourselves permission to do, and be whatever that is ? Alana Fairchild (one of many practitioners who’ve interpreted the teachings of the poet Rumi) believes that each person on our planet has her, his, or their unique “soul-light”. She writes, “Every light holds its own beauty, and every light has a particular task to fulfill. We’re given a built-in reminder of this. That reminder is our Passion.”

Honoring ourselves, honoring and trusting what our instincts tell us about our true natures is the path to discovering our Passion. Our Passion, in turn, leads us to the Purpose (or task) we’re meant to fulfill here on planet Earth. One doesn’t need to believe in or rely upon a deity or higher power to discover Passion while writing poetry, playing music, sculpting, dancing, photography, painting, teaching, building, helping a child, animal or an elderly person. The list of passionate pursuits is as endless as there are humans on the earth. Fairchild continues, “We may be fearful that with  (following our) Passion there are no guarantees of success, or that we may even be throwing away a stable life to pursue our Passion.” 

It might be true that pursuing one’s Passion, one’s dream of How Life Can Be, can feel risky at first. Some might seek Passion through a hobby that becomes a livelihood; others might keep that “day job” and allow passion a part-time existence another way. But Passion and Purpose are what’s really behind the “luck” so many of us feel in our daily work lives. What better way to greet each and every morning? It all starts with finding meaning in your own beating heart; loving your heart for its life-giving energy. Accepting that your life has incalculable meaning in, to, and for the World. What stirs you? Do that. Be that. Start right now…

(more…)

gettyimages.co.uk

More than a few people who study the subconscious mind have concluded that our dreams represent either fears or desires. Lately, my own dreams have felt like the massive, corner-to-corner ‘housecleaning’ I always say I’m going to do twice a year. My subconscious has returned to The Past. Specifically, how I used to feel, think and act ‘in love’, before I actually knew who I was. Why am I now dreaming about how I used to behave in relationship? I suppose, as I think about adventures that lie ahead of me, I fear  that I’ll forget crucial lessons I’ve learned over the years, and am therefore doomed to make the same mistakes.

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How hard is it – when we want and need Love in our lives – when we’d so much rather be part of a couple than alone – to not “settle” for less than we deserve? We hear and read that word (settle) a lot; we know what it means. It’s never a good ‘look’, from others’ perspectives. When it comes to romance and Love, we’d rather gossip (I’ve seen and heard this, even at weddings) about the person who’s “definitely settling!” than think we could ever ‘betray’ our own hearts.

What does “settling” mean? Not too long ago a friend told me he was getting (re) married. I surprised myself, still optimistic and romantic, after all these years: “You’re in love – how wonderful!” Not, as it turns out. He was feeling his age, tired of living alone, wanting a companion in his big house, and – of course – hoping for “regular sex”. As it turned out, his fiancé was in the same ‘boat’. So they married. And are already struggling to adapt to one another’s personalities.

I totally understand why people enter into and stay in relationships (even complicating things further, with marriage). Whether it’s romantic love, erotic love, platonic love, companion love, or any other variation of Love. I don’t judge them. But the dream I had last night (yes, back to the whole point of this Post) showed me that my own heart demands something more. In the dream (totally reflecting real life, some years back), I was in a Love Relationship; sort of a long-distance thing. We’d been together for some five years and I was wearing a beautiful diamond engagement ring, but in my heart I knew that I would never marry this man.

In last night’s dream, we stood holding each other in a loving embrace. He was whispering sweet words and talking about the future. I was ‘in my head’, not feeling it at all. (There had been, over the trips and visits to one another’s cities, strong indications of his substance abuse and mental health issues, and many deep dive conversations.) His words were all about our ‘road ahead’. I kept quiet, a total coward, not wanting to leave his arms just yet.

The thing about dreams:  I always seem to wake up from this ‘movie’ in my head when it’s either just getting really good, or, when my heart tells my subconscious, “That’s enough of that!” Last night I woke up before I had to say anything negative to my lover. The dream was a total flashback, a psychic “do-over” scenario with a question waiting at the end for me, when I woke up:  “Here’s this guy, so perfect for you in so many ways; except for the substance abuse and really concerning mental health issues. Are you going to “settle” when your heart is screaming ‘Run for the door!?’ ”

In Love, how do we know, for certain and for sure, what our non-negotiables and deal-breakers are? How can we be sure that we know, understand and accept what we’re ‘in for’ in a committed relationship, and not feel like we’re making excuses for not receiving what we really want and need? Rhetorical question, right? Because we  know that each one of us asking these questions has to look deeply into our own hearts, eyes wide open, stripping away any romantic fantasy or feelings of desperation before the decision’s made. Real Happiness and joyfulness  is always a better option than bargaining-away our deepest needs and even values. Whatever that ‘Happiness’ means…it’s worth holding on to, waking or dreaming.

bfi.org.uk

I’m pretty much always in the process of considering the plight of women in the World. From just about every angle you can think of:  career, family, personal happiness, health and fitness, self-image, hopes and dreams. And also the perspective that the World – all corners of it – has toward women:  so vastly different, depending upon geography, politics, religion, and social structures that determine who has power and influence, and who doesn’t.

As I grow older, my perspective and understanding about how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go, has broadened and deepened. I have to admit:  I’m not feeling as hopeful about our progress as I’d like. My feeling’s based on two assumptions. The first being that all women want and are actively seeking respect, equity and access in all areas of their lives, personal and professional. (I’m in denial; make that, I cringe when I think that any woman might inherently feel like a lesser-being than a man.)

My second assumption is that all women recognize how truly complex they are, and that they aren’t restricted or limited in whatever, or  however many roles they choose over the course of their lives. I’m not as hopeful as I’d like, because I continue to hear women in key Life Stages say that they feel conflicted, exhausted, frustrated, anxious, fearful and guilty about decisions – already made, or in the works – that really matter to their health and long-term happiness.

Younger Readers may not be fully aware of how significant the efforts and accomplishments of their mothers and grandmothers were in improving the lives of women. The right to vote; the right to have a career and a family; the right to play any sport and to join the military. The right to control our own reproductive systems (a little slippage in this area, recently).  The (dubious) right to smoke. The right to wear pants at school, as opposed to a dress and petticoats (let that one sink in for a minute – in the 8th grade I was threatened with suspension from school for doing so). Undeniably, the list of struggles and victories is longer than can be presented here.

No doubt about it, we’ve been  formidable in asserting ourselves in different ways, for decades now. Even though key concerns (such as equal pay, and demand for control over our own bodies) still exist, women’s voices have continued to protest injustices that are based solely on our assigned gender. So…why are we not feeling stronger, clearer, more powerful, resolved, secure, and more focused in who we are and what we want our lives to be?

In her book, “Women & Power”, author and scholar Mary Beard offers some very important ideas. Beard’s research traces how women’s minds, bodies, emotions, aspirations, learning, and self-expression have been subjected to both formal and informal constraints and manipulation since ancient times. And not that much has changed. She notes that, for example, even a current – admittedly brilliant — female presidential candidate for the U.S. 2020 election is being referred to as “strident”, in the volume and projection of her voice. Do we put such limitations on men’s voices?  Of course not. We expect them, and even need them to be viewed as vocally aggressive.

Mary Beard, thetimes.co.uk

Beard’s point in her book is that women have been indoctrinated, right down to our very DNA – boots, to conform to what our social and religious groups say about how we should ‘behave’. We’ve internalized messages for centuries. Despite how “liberated” we might feel we are, many of us succumb to all kinds of horrible thoughts and feelings for simply wanting motherhood and  a career. Many women don’t feel, and have never fully felt empowered or supported in making important life choices freely, outside the confines of social norms. More importantly, they’ve never really been taught and encouraged to reflect on their deepest desires and the options for fulfilling them. After discussing that the above ‘programming’ (my word) is really all about who’s going to have the most power and influence (certainly not women!), Beard closes her book with a simple statement: 

“If women aren’t perceived to be within the structure of power, isn’t it power itself we need to redefine?” Let’s get that ball rolling, shall we?

pri.org

My friend Josh and I were recently comparing notes on e-trading. Day-trading, to be specific. Josh spends most of his free time doing it: up an hour or two before the market opens, studying and investing. I’ve done a little of it, and have been successful on a small scale. But I’ve noticed that e-trading messes with my peace of mind. It makes me even more nervous than I already am. I told Josh that I’d swapped out morning e-trading for morning Blogging. No adrenaline rush; no financial ‘score’, but quiet, meditative mornings and no losses.

Josh had questions, so we talked a little more about Blogging. How many Posts had I written (since I began on April 27, 2019)? How many Views was I getting? Hearing my answer to question one, Josh asked, “Where the —- do you get your ideas ?!” Eyebrows raised. My response was frustratingly (for him) simple, I think:  Just by Living Life and being observant: of my own feelings, and the feelings and experiences of those around me.

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It’s true. Most of the time I write because I’m listening to, thinking about, or feeling something that needs exploring. As I get into the topic (I never know whether or not I’ll Publish until I finish), I have to feel like I’m learning something new about myself, and about Living Bravely, as I put it on my Main Page. I have to feel like what I’ve learned might be of some value to other people.

Every once in a while, however, a topic comes into my mind and heart that feels extremely personal. I write to soothe and release something that’s causing me pain; like finally digging out a thorn, gifted by the rose bush I pruned a week ago; deeply stuck and aching.

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I’ve always loved animals – especially cats and dogs. (As a kid I also had birds, rabbits, snakes, fish, lizards and wild creatures rescued and nursed back to health.)  When we moved into the house where I currently live, the large yard seemed perfect for pets: two puppies from the animal shelter; two weeks-old kittens rescued from a parking lot and a soccer field. As time goes by, of course, these spunky little creatures, full of life, mature and grow old. It’s never easy to hear, when a pet you’ve had for well over a decade tells you “it’s time to go”.

Having faced this reality with one of my cats on Wednesday of this week ( a lot of tears and a lot of tissues; a very compassionate veterinarian), I hadn’t even recovered emotionally when one of my dogs collapsed two days later. She’d been severely arthritic and now couldn’t move, whimpering in pain. Bless You, Dr. Mobile Vet: the super nice guy came that very morning.

“All Creatures Great and Small” telegraph.co.uk

But I wasn’t ready for the reality- check he gave me. The vet watched me with my dog, trying to help her stand — her hind legs kept buckling — so he could examine her. With a kind, and sorrowful face he looked down at us and said, “This is Assisted Living. This isn’t the way you, or your dog, want to live. Am I right?” His words outed me. I’d become a Care Provider to my animals – first my cat, then my dog – not even noticing that no one was happy or thriving. Enormous energy expended, in just trying to keep them alive and comfortable. This very experienced, wise and compassionate man (Patrick) then gave me a gentle lecture about what I needed, versus what the cat and the dog needed. I know it sounds simple, but, whether you’re providing care for a loved one or a beloved pet, perspective gets skewed and boundaries get blurred; it’s partly why care providers – especially those who’re caring for family members – become crazed with emotional and physical exhaustion.

When we deeply love a person or pet whose Race is Run and it’s time to stop, the Heart is seldom clear about the exact right time to say ‘goodbye’. This week I had to accept that my own reluctance to ‘let go’ was far less important than honoring Life and its natural cycle. Even as they left my Life, my animals were gracious in their last lessons about Love.

thedailymash.co.uk

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One of my aunts passed away recently at age 89. Up until her last week of life, Aunt Helen somehow found the energy to saddle-up one of her nine horses and ride her acreage. Her horse-related injuries included several broken bones and a few concussions over the years. According to family lore, this was because Helen wasn’t fussy about breed, conformation or habits:  mostly she just came across a horse that needed rescuing and adopted it. She had some beautiful animals. Some, as I learned, with seriously bad habits.

I only saw my Aunt Helen once a year as a child, when we made the drive across the U.S. from the west to the east. Whether or not I asked for it, “going riding” was always a ‘thing’. I dreaded it. My first experience was with a horse she called “Dancer” (apt, considering what this animal did when you tried to board him). After Dancer, I always tried to eyeball and ask for a slow, heavy mare for my mount.  But Helen chose according to which horse “needed” riding; a bit of a ‘giveaway’ about what was to come. So it was that I learned about, and had the full-on experience of, a Barn-Sour horse.

returntofreedome.org

“Barn Sour” has since become part of my personal lexicon. I may not use it in polite conversation, but I’m definitely thinking about its meaning in certain situations with friends and family, when I listen to them talk about their attitudes and experiences related to growing older.

So this particular day on Helen’s farm  (I must’ve been about 9 or 10), a beautiful, crisp autumn in late November, my aunt had saddled up a new horse she’d just gotten:  for free, I’m guessing. Not fully understanding horses, my experience with them being pretty limited, I was still able to sense the horse’s hesitation as I climbed into the saddle. He was a jet black gelding whose eyes told me “I’m so not into this.” Nevertheless, I and two other riders (more cousins) started out down the country road bordering Helen’s property. We’d ridden for maybe 30 minutes when suddenly my horse stopped so abruptly that I was pitched forward in the saddle. Satisfied that I was almost unseated, the horse then spun on his back legs (visualize a quarter horse’s lightning-quick moves when the rider’s roping a steer), a complete 180 degrees, and shot forward ( away from the other horses) at a full gallop. Totally stunned, I’d dropped the reins and instinctively grabbed the pommel of the saddle.

art.uk.org

The horse ran like its tail was on fire. Ripping high speed through the forest (the shortest route it had calculated, in its deranged mind), we seemed to reach the barn where its stall was in a matter of seconds. As soon as the horse was in eyesight of the barn, he came to a dead-stop. I leaped out of the saddle and looked at him. You know what I was thinking, even as a kid. But his eyes were calm; he wasn’t even breathing hard.

My Aunt Helen came out of her house when she saw me and the horse. I had twigs in my hair and scratches on my face, but she had a good, long laugh. “Barn Sour”:  A horse, for whatever his or her reasons, panics when it gets too far from the space that represents comfort, familiarity, food and safety. If given the smallest chance, it’ll bee-line it back to where it really wants to be.

Sometimes people can become Barn Sour as they get older. Travel may sound like a good idea. Plans are made, tickets are purchased, then excuses are made for why they “can’t really leave” after all. Those reasons might be legit:  an elderly parent suddenly needs care. But many people become so emotionally tied to personal ‘spaces’ and routines that it becomes impossible for them to venture beyond the orbit of familiarity.

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I catch myself, now and then, thinking about the Risk involved with any new situation or adventure. I’m aware that, as time passes, the World itself presents more Risk. And as I think about all of the places I could go, and the things I could try, I admit to myself that I’m absolutely vulnerable to becoming Barn Sour:  there are just too many enticing comforts, and diversions right here, in my comfy little space. And so many very accomodating industries want to keep me feeling that way:  unlimited streaming of anything, food delivered to my door; even Peloton Digital agrees I should stay home. But will I?

I gave up experimenting with Dating Sites a really long time ago. As in years ago. Turns out, the Interweb isn’t quite done with me in that regard. I used to take it somewhat seriously, scrolling through pages of pictures and profiles – especially after hearing about Real Life Success Stories within my own circle of single, divorced or widowed female friends.

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But my own experience brought me  a lot of really lonely, sad men (as in clinically depressed); really angry men; really young men who had clear mommy issues; and men who seemed to be shopping for a woman exactly like they would a piece of furniture. None of this truly important stuff gets revealed in a person’s Profile – intentionally. I get it. But, seriously? The Truth is going to come out during the first meeting, so…why go through coffee, or drinks and dinner and strained conversation that has to end with an awkward handshake? No thank you.

Even though I’m no longer on any of these sites, the Internet Jackals have found, and have been circling me, regardless. I’m thinking that there must be an algorithm for my gender and age, education and marital status, so that what little is actually there in cyberspace flags me as “prey”. If the men now reaching out to me (via Twitter, lately) weren’t so immediately obvious in their gushing compliments in limited English (I’m referring to two apparently Eastern European “Engineers”, living and working on “oil rigs out in the Baltic” that latched on to me about two weeks apart), I might be more amused, than irritated.  

thetimes.co.uk

But the typical inference that I must be vulnerable to, and desperate for over-the-top seduction ( really bad poetry, in some cases) makes me want to respond back with expletives. I want to take some kind of action to defend and protect myself from these Internet Lotharios (bottom line, wanting cash, I’m sure). Whatever that might be. I’m still spit-balling ideas at the moment, since I’m expanding (not shrinking) my Interweb Presence.

One of the last “social-networking” sites I visited really had me feeling hopeful. Its purpose was to connect people actively engaged in what used to be called New Age pursuits:  what we might refer to today as Conscious , or Mindful Living.  Unfortunately, this was and still is one of those sites – Readers might know of others – that, even though you delete your account, actually keeps your information in a vault somewhere in cyberspace. Every now and then unsuspecting former members might receive the message:  “Hello! Look Who Likes You!”

OG Romantic Icon, Olivier as Heathcliff

And so it was, (yesterday) that a completely fabricated ‘person’ was delivered to my Inbox. This time, the “Engineer” (how is this career a ‘thing’ now??) lived less than 20 miles from me (supposedly), instead of on a rig in the Baltic. I decided to read his ‘message’…which was an Ode to my picture (still visible, apparently) and profile (how the hell was he still seeing something I’d deleted ?). He ended his Ode by asking me to text him (a New York number, 2,500 miles away from where I live) so that we’d have a “private and intimate way of getting to know each other”.  Of course:  ‘private’ and ‘intimate’ – the stuff of romance novels.

Curiosity got the better of me. I’ll admit:   I wanted to know if this guy was a “Dimitri’ or an ‘Alek’, so I asked him to share his real name. As though my question had cast a magic spell, complete with fairy dust, the man, the profile, and the internet presence was gone in mere seconds. Feeling satisfied that I’d outed yet another scam, I decided that “Ma” (a pretty bizarre nickname, right?) was actually an AI bot. His photo was too ‘Perfect Man’:  like the enemy-android (in his chiseled-face human form) from the Terminator I film.

metro.co.uk

The point of all of this thinking about fake Internet Lotharios and their motives is not to alarm myself or any Reader. It’s just a reminder of how complex the Interweb experience can be. Some people enjoy a good game of ‘cat and mouse’:  they expect such weirdness and deception  and resolve to have fun with it.(I’m thinking about all of the people on YouTube who’ve taken the time to record and then call back ‘fake’ debt-collectors in the hope of ‘besting’ them.) It’s one thing when you go seeking It – whatever that edgy Cyber Thrill is. But it’s another feeling entirely when It comes prowling for you, disguised as a human being.

Time for me to Level Up, once again:  revisit my Privacy settings and bolster my sense of humor. Aside from all of the really good things it can be, cyberspace is also an amusement park “ride” that’s not for the faint at heart. As the signs always say, Ride at Your Own Risk.

As I pass the standard “mid-life” markers, I find myself laughing more often, more ironically, and with more gusto. Laughing at myself, mostly. No, I don’t think it’s generic old-age loonies; instead I think it’s an accumulation of wisdom overheard in my younger days finally getting through to me. There’s a group of women that visit me, as memories, from time to time. I can still see their faces and hear their conversations on topics that were totally disconnected from my reality at the time. Not anymore. I’m remembering, and I’m listening more closely than ever.

While in college in my early twenties, I taught an aerobics class on weekends at a gym exclusively for women. The proprietress (“Ginny”) was a statuesque former beauty (you could still see it in her bones) somewhere in her seventies. She walked like a model, wore a silver bouffant wig, tons of bangles on her wrists, and kept a bottle of vodka in her personal locker. I liked her, a lot. Most of Ginny’s clients were well past middle age. Some of them were in their eighties. They were a different breed of gym-rat back in the day: always dressed in fashionable gym-wear and always in full makeup, perfumed and wearing jewelry. Perspiration was to be avoided.

These ladies eased-into their “workouts” by having coffee with Ginny when the gym opened, around 7 a.m. on Saturday. When I got there a little before 10, ready to teach my class, Ginny was in high spirits (Coffee Lace, as they say in the south, I always thought.) and usually welcomed me with a bangle-jangling hug and cloud of fragrance. During stretches, the women continued to talk amongst themselves non-stop. After about 20 minutes of low-impact Step, I’d guide them through a mild bit of circuit training. Through which they all talked. I don’t think anyone there (besides myself) ever broke a sweat. That wasn’t what this gym was about.

Menopause. Cheating husbands. Feeling ‘invisible’. Slowing metabolism and weight gain. Sagging body parts and wrinkled skin. It was pretty much the same loop every weekend, and fairly easy for me to tune-out. Not only did I tune them out, but I actually thought “What bizarre conversations they have, and what boring lives these women lead.” I had the total impertinence and smugness to think that their concerns could never in a million years be my own one day.

Turns out, as I laugh at myself these days, I do so in the company of these women — now long-gone, most of them. I remember the 85 year old who always washed her face in ice water and never used any other moisturizer than Crisco (I kid you not). Nowadays, almond, olive, apricot and other oils are “de-rigueur” for skin. Then there was the woman who told me that my metabolism would some day slow to a sluggish crawl; that I wouldn’t be able to snack on nachos at midnight without packing on the pounds. My, my — do tell. Finally, there was the woman who complained that becoming Invisible was the worst part of aging for any woman (she eventually became one of the Red Hat Ladies, which I didn’t “get” at the time, but now I do.)

No question that in Western culture we value youth above all things (next to celebrity and celebrity-athletes). But there’s a time period of ‘limbo’ for women — before our kids start joking about pushing us out in a canoe or leaving us on an ice floe — in which Invisibility is a definite problem. Doctors try to convince us that 20 pounds is ‘normal’ weight gain, post-menopause. The fashion industry follows suit by creating Mom Jeans with Tummy Panels to console us. Eye doctors tell us, “Get ready for cataracts — they’re inevitable!” With the aging process, apparently, comes a whole complement of things we’re to assume we must accept. To my thinking, this is the very definition of the Invisibility that my gym-lady was describing so long ago. “You’re a woman, you’re growing older, your body is going to hell but it’s really ok because no one cares, unless you can compete, which you obviously can’t.” Reinforcing this invisibility is the husband who trades his wife in for a model “with fewer miles on it”. Not just a cliché, but a common reality.

What’s a woman to do, when facing Invisibility? Start wearing a red hat, a crimson lip and leopard stilettos? Commit to a strict Paleo and prep for a 10k? Give up cocktails and chocolate? Resolve to find summer and winter-weights of sweatpants? All women will face versions of these questions, and more, as they age. Speaking as one well-into this phase, I can offer two pieces of advice: the first is that Invisibility has distinct advantages, and becoming older brings a certain wisdom and cunning that comes in really handy, when used correctly.

My second piece of advice is to know — or learn — what feels right to you (body weight, fitness level, diet, makeup — clothing- accessories) and jump on that, with all you’ve got. Challenge doctors, dentists, stylists, nutrition and fitness “experts” if or when their suggestions clash with your own inner knowing. Learn to flow with aging according to your own rhythm and sense of well-being. I don’t have a red hat, but I do have a very dramatic, femme fatale black cloche with an iridescent peacock feather perched jauntily on one side. I don’t wear it that often because, when I do, the ‘drama’ of the hat attracts a lot of attention and questions about where I bought it. Sometimes I enjoy that, but sometimes I enjoy being invisible.

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There’s a time-worn idiom in the English language that I’ve always loved (English Lit. undergrad, I love all forms of word-play). This idiom is a verbal visual of someone painting a floor (I guess that was common, back in the day of rough-hewn floors) ‘blindly’, not realizing that his back’s against a wall: no way to leave the scene without stepping on wet paint and ruining the floor.

“Painting oneself into a corner” means, You did this to yourself; a blind move; a stupid move. The kind of move we all make in our lives – some of us many times over. The actual mistake can be harsh words that can’t be taken back; it can be bluff and nonsense about our skills; it’s very often a lie told that is sure to be discovered as a lie. Finding yourself in a corner, with no way to back-out unnoticed (without paint on your shoes and having to re-do the floor) is embarrassing on many levels:  it’s feeling exposed and foolish. For a minute, it’s hard to know just what to do. Then, the urge to get out of that corner becomes critical and there’s just no choice. You’re going to leave a mess, and be stuck with paint on the soles of your shoes.

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As human beings, we all say and do things that are ignorant, or that reveal our “tunnel vision” toward a situation. Our ego gets in the way and the resulting ‘corner’ we find ourselves in escapes our attention until it’s too late. Then, we  immediately feel the absurdity and humiliation of our predicament. (Anyone who’s ever embellished their resumé and then been asked about a particular aspect of it during an interview has lived through this idiom.) It’s clear to everyone watching or participating what’s happened. It’s usually pretty clear, also, what needs to happen next. But this is what’s so very hard for most of us (unless we’re toddlers, then it’s totally easy-peasy denial).

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Acknowledging that the predicament we’re in is of our own making, and reconciling this within ourselves is awkward. Even though making mistakes and ‘owning’ them is part of Life’s process of learning and growing, self-forgiveness — especially with a harsh Inner Critic –requires reflection and peace-making. But that’s only Part I. Part II is the way in which the person or people we’ve hurt or deceived react.

I had the opportunity today to watch and listen to someone – an older family member – realize he’d ‘painted himself into a corner’ — with snarky words aimed at a much younger relative who in no way deserved them. Within a matter of moments it was clear to me that – at his mature age (almost 70 years old) – the older man was still nurturing an ancient wound ; a grudge, to be exact; and had no way to explain (or back out from a painted-in corner with any dignity) his misplaced anger.

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What needed to happen right then?  “I’m sorry” would have been really good — perhaps even preventing the need for any further explanation. And what was the response from the other ‘side’? Sadly, but wonderfully, even though an apology never came, the recipient of the nasty words responded with grace by not acknowledging the misplaced anger. The younger man left the older man in his ‘corner’. Like a few people I’ve known in my life, I’m guessing he’ll stay in that corner until the garish red paint he splashed all over the floor with his words dries completely, and he can slink away. Even when Grace is extended, sometimes people don’t recognize it, or don’t feel they deserve it.

The Truth is, we all deserve Grace. We can wait, and hope it comes somehow, or, we can summon the courage in ourselves to ask for it.

I’ve always been intrigued by Thought Experiments:  the kind that place you in stressful situations and reveal your deepest values when faced with various dire circumstances. Many of us have had some version of a Values class, or training; or maybe we engaged in such Experiments to pass the time:  “You have to leave your house in an emergency and can only take what you can carry in your arms; what will you grab?”  “You’re cast adrift in the ocean and can only help your spouse or your child survive (one or the other); who will you save?”  

I can recall many years ago, when now-global celebrity Oprah Winfrey had barely begun airing her television program, one of her guests was a psychologist who ran selected audience members through these two scenarios. Although I didn’t watch her program routinely (it aired while I was at work), the show must’ve been on when I was on holiday, because I happened to tune-in while scrolling through channels. It was memorable, on several levels.

I can still recall the wild uproar ( audience members – mostly female — were literally on their feet ) when one woman in particular told everyone in the studio that day that she would most definitely save her husband, as opposed to her drowning child, if forced to choose. Now, Winfrey’s a pretty cool head, but she didn’t seem prepared for the reaction of the crowd as it processed this statement. (The woman’s rationale, as she tried to justify her choice over the din of the audience, was “I can always have more children, but I could never replace my husband!”)

I wonder if Security had to escort the woman from the building at the end of the show? Seldom have I seen so many women – a few even in tears – look like they might tear one of their own limb from limb. It was a Thought Experiment run amok, in my opinion:  there wasn’t really room for discussion after that – just an enormous tidal wave of emotion that Winfrey immediately tried to quell with a commercial break.

Our value systems are, in large part, uniquely personal. It’s clarifying and even helpful to explore and talk about what matters to us; what’s really important in our lives. Doing so during pivotal moments, or times of stress, can facilitate wise choices and prevent mental or emotional ‘overload’.

As human beings we share in collective value systems that are deeply tied to our cultures. In the above scenario, where the unfortunate woman became a target for admitting that she could withstand losing her child, but not her husband, onlookers left no doubt in anyone’s mind that her choice was a major Taboo. In most of the world’s cultures, children are automatically bestowed with  a kind of sanctity that adults are not; regardless of any religious backdrop for  this fundamental belief. Which really makes me wonder about the ongoing digression from care and consideration for our most vulnerable in society: those that we’ll rely upon as we all inevitably age.

Several important people throughout history (Gandhi, writer and novelist Pearl S. Buck, and political U.S. presidential candidate of long ago, Hubert Humphrey, to name a few) have stated their values publicly, when it comes to protecting the “weakest members” of society. Using various words and phrases, these three proclaimed that the morality of any society could be gauged by how it treated “those at the dawn of life, and those at the sunset of life”:  children and the elderly. (Gandhi, by the way, also included all animals when he defined those needing and deserving extra care and protection.)

Here in the United States, I wonder about the difference between our espoused values, and the values that we actually act on in our daily lives. I noticed that a particular politician in the U.S. recently cried-out about gun violence, only when it became apparent that his young daughter could have easily been a victim, due to her proximity to the killer during a recent mass shooting.

What do we really believe? Do our fundamentally-human beliefs apply to ourselves and our families, or to all humans of the world? How often do we act on our deepest beliefs? As I look around, I just don’t see the shock, outrage and protests that were so evident in Oprah’s audience, so many years ago. Not that I’m suggesting the attack on the woman, in that instance, on that day, was warranted. But there was a response — albeit to a fictitious scenario. We have the real-thing, right now, right here in our lives. I’m really feeling my own response and wonder if — hoping others — are too…