Being "Set"

I try not to consciously compare myself to others in my age group – in any major category of ‘status’ (health and well-being, financial stability, the successes of our children out in the world). But sometimes the differences smack me in the face, urging me to take a look at The Good Stuff in my life. If anyone ever asked me, I’d share that my achievements feel somewhat random and accidental:  I’ve made some big blunders along the way, and am grateful that I didn’t do more damage to myself or those I love.

Talking recently with a friend (who also lives across the street from me), added to my sense of gratitude. And wonderment. A “There, but for the grace of God” moment. We don’t know each other that well, but more than just superficially. His cancer-scare. The current downward spiral of two of his adult children. The recent death of his father – a pillar in his world, now ashes in an urn on the mantle. Over time, I’ve discovered that my friend’s outward appearance of Success (a beautiful house; a cabin in the mountains; a wide array of vehicles; four- now adult- children that had apparently never given him much concern growing up) is only a small part of his Story.

We’ve all heard and read about Glass Half Full, and Glass Half Empty people. Even though Pop-Psych tends to rely on super-simplistic ways of organizing complex human stories, sometimes it does ‘nail’ it. What I recently learned, however, is that the human heart can actually talk itself into either perspective. So, my friend/neighbor (calling him Dan, here) and I were discussing the stage in life – so adverts, articles and even greeting cards would have us believe – where ‘carefree living’ is finally accessible. I call it, being “set”. Money in the bank; work that you love; vacay when you choose; a comfortable home space; and of course, health and well-being.

But the unspoken truth is that being “set” is really more about the heart than the head. You might think that you have all of the trappings of it, but then something or someone ‘tanks’ your happiness in a way that causes a re-think. So it was, with Dan. It wasn’t his own personal situation gone awry, but the decisions and actions of one of his adult children that suddenly put Dan into a tailspin. When he put his angst into words, it came out like this:  “This isn’t how it’s supposed to go! At this stage of Life, my children are supposed to be a comfort, not a worry!” (I couldn’t help but think – Wow:  did I miss the Memo guaranteeing ‘Golden Years’?)

Turns out, Dan’s 30-something son appeared to be “set”, then did a 180 and nose-dived into personal and financial crisis. The (married, with children) son had boomeranged back home, needing all sorts of emotional and material care. Dan stepped-up, as he felt he needed to do as Papa, and took-charge. But then, once he’d taken charge, he resented having his Peace obliterated by an adult who had the emotional power to pluck heart strings.

Trying not to feel smug – that always provokes a humbling ‘poke’ from The Universe – I listened to a perspective (Dan’s) that reinforced what I’ve learned along the way. Being “set” isn’t what media, especially social media, would have us think it is. It’s like the difference between ‘doing’ and ‘feeling’:  the former producing something; the latter being fluid and kind of ephemeral. Turns out, whatever feels like it should be ‘in stone’ seldom is. Careers, love affairs, seemingly ‘successful’ (whatever that means) adult children, friendships; and, stages in life that we’re led to believe will be ‘carefree’.

Over this past weekend I traveled to California’s beautiful Central Coast and watched – for a long while – the surfers enjoying what appeared to be very decent waves. Wet-suited (our Pacific being notoriously cold), tenacious (no matter how many times they were tossed under Winter’s gray-blue waves they popped up like corks) and exuberant as they deftly (and not so deftly) tried to stay poised and balanced for The Best Ride.

A Softer Light

tuigarden.co.nz

As I travel about my city running errands, I notice what many people also see – so many businesses laying out change-of-season reminders, enticing us to buy the decorations that help everyone enjoy the seasons and holidays more fully. That’s the idea, anyway. Not that we need reminding that, here in the Northern Hemisphere, kids have gone back to school, the weather is (or soon will be) changing, days growing darker much earlier. It’s definitely a change I believe we all intuit. For some, the feeling heralds a slow slog to Holiday times they’d really rather leap-frog over entirely. For others, the frenzied Holiday season can’t come soon enough.

As I go into a craft store for a few sewing items, I hurry past the Styrofoam pumpkins, pre-made wreaths and  heavily-scented piles of pine cones. Not that I’m a grumpy “Bah, to the holidays !” type of person. I just don’t want to be rushed into changes before I’m ready.

freeimages.com

It varies from year to year, but I always notice that as our summer season winds down, the light coming through the trees in my yard changes. It becomes softer. Maybe not as cool as I would like it to be (this is California), but definitely a different color and intensity. Buttery and diffuse. The shadows in my yard have a different slant to them somehow. They’ve grown longer and their edges are blurred.

I enjoy living in a place where I can see these subtle differences slowly coming. From the leaves on my Pistache tree blending from green to gold, to the giant Live Oak leaning over my bedroom shedding its acorns that sound like small, hard bombs as they hit the roof.  (A crack on the head from one of those really hurts.)

The new season ushers in changes in me, which is why I like the process to be leisurely and peaceful. I just had my birthday. I’m taking stock of ‘where I am’ in terms of Living My Best Life. Whether or not I’ve written down the goals I’ve had for myself throughout the year (which I measure by birthday-to-birthday, not December 31 to January 1), I know in my heart where I stand. I look at the half-finished redo of my rose garden (it suddenly got too hot and I lost interest). I look at the recipes I’ve torn out of magazines but never tried (as I opted for one-skillet meals while finishing my dissertation).

gettyimages.co.uk

The lists of projects that seemed exciting in late winter and early spring were over-taken by complicated personal relationships and family members needing so much more from me this year —  for some reason. As the days grow shorter, I feel quieter in my soul. I feel “ok” with what I did, and didn’t accomplish in My Year. I look forward to the cooler, darker fall and winter months as a time of rest, integration, and renewal. I ease into this time, sensing that it’s meant to be slowly savored, just as the tasty morsels of lovingly-prepared food delights, as well as nourishes. All of the Distractions that hover nearby will need to wait just a bit, while I watch the bright yellow finches scuffling at the feeder, to fatten themselves up for winter, charming me with their odd little voices

sohotravel.me

Barn-Sour

gettyimages

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.

wisegeek

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?

Feeling Independent

As I write this, I only have a few more hours before total insanity takes over the city where I live. Here in California, aside from the excitement of a major earthquake (6.4) and numerous (150 and counting) aftershocks today, it’s also The Fourth of July. This particular holiday has been evolving (in my opinion) into a ‘celebration’ far beyond my childhood memories of sparklers and a few firecrackers smuggled in from our numerous trips south of the border. When I use the word ‘insanity’, that’s exactly what I mean. Firecrackers must feel too tame to most people, because my neighbors are now exploding small bits of dynamite (they used to be called M-80’s, still totally illegal). I’m sure the mega -Whistling Petes can be heard on other planets. And now, in our nation’s capital, we have tanks and other military bravado as part of The Fourth.  It doesn’t feel like Independence Day to me…unless, of course, the reference is to the dystopian Tom Cruise film that’s all about surviving an alien apocalypse.

‘Independence’ is a double-edged sword, and so open-to-interpretation. When I was out and about today (I’m usually a Mole Person on holidays, preferring to avoid crowds and traffic), I had an encounter that sent me into a Reflection about the meaning of ‘independence’ in my own life.  I’d gone in search of a couple of travel items (replacing a ratty luggage-tag and zipper-less ear bud pouch) and was waiting to be called by “The next available sales person”. Whenever waiting in a line, I like to observe and admire people, just going about their daily lives. I’d already noticed the young man (maybe, late 20’s) who called me to his check-out line: handsome, with dark curls framing his delicate features;  I imagined he was also a dancer, or an artist, in his real life. He looked bored, unhappy; captive? While I waited for him to scan my stuff, I made small talk:  “So, do you have a fun 4th of July ‘something’ to look forward to tonight?”

You know that thing that a salesperson does…the way their face reacts when someone takes the time to engage in conversation ? Surprise. Eye contact. She sees me. So cool. But, meeting my eyes he said, “No, I don’t really get into holidays.” I nodded and affirmed that, oddly enough, neither did I. But then this young guy went on:  “I don’t even like my own birthday.” That caught my attention and I said, with what I hoped was a gentle smile, “But, you’re old enough now, surely, that you can celebrate it –or not?” The young man said, “No, I don’t really have a choice. It’s my grandmother; she always has to have a cake and give me presents. I don’t want any of it.” Sometimes random strangers hand you ‘gold’:  they share a tiny glimpse into their lives and their most tender places. I wanted to hear more, but of course, “Next customer” was behind me.

Becoming independent – earning the right to Do What You Want To Do —  is considered an ‘adult’ rite of passage. Growing older and wiser is assumed to be the pinnacle of this ‘freedom’. But I’ve learned, over the years that – young or older – it’s actually difficult, or at least tricky, to act on self-interests while keeping yourself in-reach of others. Unless you choose to embrace a Hermit lifestyle (ok with me, I get it! ), there are instances where ‘independent’ can also feel like a lonely existence. Ironically, getting stuck in unfulfilling relationships or situations can also feel lonely. Maybe even more so.

I’m in a space now where I have more independence and freedom than I’ve ever enjoyed in my adult life. My “roots” are my small family, but they themselves are a fluid bunch. Many people around me, in fact, seem to be in the midst of personal changes that are both internal and external (changing jobs, partners, living spaces, lifestyles). Independence of mind, body and spirit is clearly a driver these days. Being able to say, “No birthday, and no cake!” without offending others seems like a small thing, but that’s where it begins. Being able to say “No”, instead of “Yes”, if you’re not feeling it, is not always an easy thing. But without those little assertions of Self in small, or big, impactful moments, others can’t possibly know where we stand, or what we stand for.

Don’t Rush Me…

Yesterday I was out running errands – not the fun kind, but out doing ‘essentials’. I had Sirius on as a distraction. The politics of these days are nothing, if not ‘distracting’! Anyway, it took me almost two hours to finish up what I had to do, and in that time, in between pundits discussing the spin-cycle we’re in until at least 2020, I noticed a different kind of insistent messaging assaulting my brain.

When I was fresh out of college and not yet employed as the teacher I would soon become, I took a summer job working as a sales rep for a rock station (I feel old, just saying that). I actually did pretty well in the role, and was fascinated by my learning about how station ratings are dependent upon ratios of advertisements and music; the difference between “drive time” and “quitting time” ( we called it Happy Hour); and how messaging that is repeated so often as to be crazy-making, is actually extremely effective in shaping consumer behavior (purchase habits).

Back to my errands. The advertisement that stuck in my mind (good work, Sirius) repeated itself three times in less than two hours, which is a lot, for a 60-second ad. It featured a female voice-over and the message was half-praise, half warning, which is a super- effective advert tactic. The lead-in was, “Good news:  you’re taking such good care of your body that it’s going to outlast your brain!” (My own paraphrasing, by the way, but the overall gist is accurate). Being the visual person I am, I saw myself on a tennis court, strong and fit…not realizing that I don’t play tennis until a ball smacked me in the head. As you would expect, the message was designed to make me feel that I needed to forget about my errands and make a beeline for the nearest pharmacy before my brain did any more deteriorating.

I wouldn’t give these commericals any thought at all, if there wasn’t such a proliferation of them. They all begin with, “Research shows…”, which many people I’m sure are tempted to accept as Truth. Brain health, bone health, gut health, stability issues, digestive issues. I can hear and see that companies are creating and marketing products, based on the fact that people are living longer and better lives; and this fact needs to be addressed, they think, with medication. “If you don’t have it yet, you’re in line for it, trust us.”

 Back when certain congressional hearings dominated an entire news day, I had the television on in the background while I did some writing and housework. Nearly every “break” was punctuated by an advert for a medicine thought to be needed by “older adults”. By the end of the day, not only was I saturated and disgusted by the hearings, but I realized that the product messaging had invaded my brain and I found myself actually thinking…Is all this s*** (the symptoms and actual ailments) inevitable??

I’m trailblazing here, and maybe I’m alone, but I don’t think so. I don’t take medication and don’t like taking it even when I absolutely have to. I exercise every day and try to do the hydration and clean-food things. The last time I saw my doctor (whom I truly love), he laughed as he said, “It’s a good thing I’m retiring – people like you are about to put me out of business!” (A compliment to my age and relative health). I thought so. We are a healthier group, mid-life, than ever before. But companies know that this has us feeling just a wee bit insecure, as in, “I wonder how long I can make this last?”

My answer to that question is this:  it’ll last a helluva lot longer if we don’t pay attention to the Reaper brain-washing from media. I can’t totally avoid hearing the ads, without giving up the media services I enjoy; but I can, and do, talk back to them. In my opinion, we all should.

%d bloggers like this: