Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Too soon old, too late smart

I just finished a book given to me by one of my dearest friends - Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need to Know, by Gordon Livingston, M.D. I had to hurry to finish it because my friend P, who's traveling with me this week, picked it up while I was "cooking" dinner one night, it might have been tuna sandwiches, and immediately started saying, I love this! It's going home with her.

It's just a slim little book, 168 pages, one you'd see at the bookstore and dismiss as pop psychology. It's not. The thirty essays offer common sense reflections on the issues that affect us all: relationships, choices we make (or don't), motivation, change. Some of them were so spot on it felt like the author was talking to me, starting with the first chapter.

The author says, "I have learned that our passage through life consists of an effort to get the maps in our head to conform to the ground on which we walk." We all compare our idealized life to our actual life to one extent or another. Now think how much rationalizing, excusing, ignoring, or compromising we do to make the reality of our life match up with what we want it to be. Any sane person knows no one's life is idyllic but the choices we make can mitigate the amount of jockeying we have to do, starting with how we choose our friends or partners.

If I'm ever again in the market for a life partner, and God knows if I'll ever be ready to risk that again (the topic of another essay called Happiness Is the Ultimate Risk), I'll follow Dr. Livingston's advice. He says to look for a list of virtuous character traits, the list being topped with kindness, from which a capacity for empathy and love naturally follows. We may not be able to define this emotional art form, but we know when we're in its presence. 

This is the part that resonated with me: "The best indications that our always-tentative maps are faulty include feelings of sadness, anger, betrayal, surprise, and disorientation." Yes. The map in my head and the map on my ground were in such dissonance that I lived with these feelings often and for a long time. Isn't it disconcerting what we get used to and come to accept?

I took particular note that brooding, distance, and coldness are nowhere on his list of desirable traits. I know better now and will always be alert to the alluring presence of kindness, empathy, compassion, and love, whether I'm looking for a partner or a friend. Life is too short, and the possibility of sweetness too fleeting, to have to align maps again and again.


Thought of the day:

Personality can open doors, but only character can keep them open. (Elmer G. Letterman)

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Who the hell is that?

Grace has a very small mirror, maybe 4"x4", on a cabinet door right above the sink, right in front of my face. That means every time I look up from the sink I'm looking at myself. This isn't something I deliberately do these days because holy cow, I'm looking old. I saw my doctor within the last six months and she asked me my age and I told her. I mean, she's a doctor; she must have heard everything by now, right? So I told her and told her the truth because she has the means to verify it. She looked over at me appraisingly, and said, you look good! She didn't say for your age but you and I both know she was thinking it.

Well, in that past several months I've caught up to my age or something. It could be I'm seeing the effects of some weight loss (something else I can honestly say Thank you, dear! to Bob the ex-husband for), or the stress in that same stretch of time, or it could be I'm getting old. Wait, older. I won't be old until I'm well into my 80s. Middle age lasts a long, long time at my house.

I looked into that mirror the other day, quite accidentally, and was caught in an evil spell that wouldn't allow me to look away. My face is going south! And east and west, but north has lost the fight. What is this slackness, these lines that someone mean would call wrinkles? That map across my forehead? Those vertical lines between my eyebrows that common folk call frown lines but what I prefer to think of as lines of deep contemplation? These little jowly things along my jawline? I remember them in my mother's and aunt's faces but also distinctly remember forbidding them from mine. Well, hello, here they are.

I gathered some courage and took quick glances at the rest of the body. First off, let's agree that gravity works. If it wasn't for a bra, there would be nothing horizontal about my breasts. The skin on my arms and legs has texture! It's not supposed to have texture! I remember smooth, don't I? I'm sure I do. There are actual waves in the skin on the inside of my thighs. Yeah, they're shallow but I can see them. I'm hoping it's just the angle. Age spots, prominent veins, and, frankly, ugly knuckles on my hands but in all fairness the ugly knuckles might have been there all along. I'm not even going to look at the rear view or linger on the belly. I've seen enough.

Believe it or not, people used to say I was pretty, that I had a lovely complexion. The thing is, I didn't think of myself as pretty. I knew people thought that but I didn't feel it. We're so hard on ourselves, aren't we? Now I see some photos of myself from back then and am blown away by how beautiful I was, and I never knew it. I wish I had; I would have taken full advantage of it. I don't know how or for what, but why let it go to waste?

Somehow I don't think in 20 years I'm going to look at photos of myself taken today and be blown away by how good looking I was at 60. What I'm waiting for is for some of this inner beauty that I'm supposed to have to start seeping out. I'm waiting...... Until then, I guess I'm going to have to get through life on my merits. I hope I don't run out.

Edited at 8:15: Overnight, and I know it for a fact because it was not there yesterday, a wattle has not sprung up, oh no, it has pooched out and down in my neck. It's the beginning of the end.


Thought for the day:
I think your whole life shows in your face and you should be proud of that. (Lauren Bacall)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Headed to the airport

Today is going to be a great day. In just a couple of hours I pick up one of my closest, oldest friends from the Albuquerque airport. We've planned to meet for a year, ever since we decided to celebrate our 60th birthdays together.

We went to all 12 years of Catholic school together in Detroit. Somehow we lost touch in about 1972 but I found her a few years ago thanks to the magic of the Internet. She's a model of perseverance, working hard, and living according to your beliefs. She started her working life as a nursing assistant (I think) and got her masters degree in nursing a couple of years ago. She now works as a hospice nurse, work she loves to do, but is also an active voice in environmental issues. I'm so proud of her because, honestly, she was a little flighty back then and we didn't think she'd amount to anything. I love you, P!

Thought for the day:
It's the friends you can call up at 4 a.m. that matter. (Marlene Dietrich)

Friday, April 5, 2013


Oh, crap, I have a new favorite place. I'm so ashamed, especially after I went on and on about Arches National Park. I do love Arches. I do. But I went to Bryce Canyon the other day and fell in love like I'd discovered love for the first time, like I invented it.

Of course I've heard of Bryce Canyon and the rhapsodies people sing about it, but I knew nothing at all about it. I didn't know what to expect, what I'd be looking at, if it was going to be a quick trip through. No idea at all. Now look here and tell me you wouldn't want to stay nearly forever.

From Sunrise Point:

Grace sticking her nose in. (I could not resist.)

Before we go on, Grace wants to be noticed. I don't usually anthropomorphize vehicles, but don't forget Christine and what she did when she got mad.

Bryce Canyon is spectacular. I didn't have the words for Arches and I don't have them for here. How lucky we are to be home to so many, many indescribable places of beauty in this country. Our country! I love to travel and have been lucky enough to have gone to Europe a few times. One trip took me to Tuscany, a lovely part of Italy, but you know what? It was no lovelier than Napa Valley, right here at home. At the risk of going rah! rah! about America, we don't hold second candle to any country, anywhere.

Another view from Sunrise Point. There's a little sun flare going on in the upper left corner. 

The National Park Service has been hit with a 5% budget cut for this fiscal year. It has to manage like we all have to manage, but remember arts and culture always seem to be the first areas cut. I'm getting off my soapbox now but not without first suggesting we think about cutting Defense that much and everyone's fiscal problems will be solved. OK, I'm done.

And yet one more. Do you now see why I'm in love with this place?

I will be going back to Bryce, and next time I will haul myself out of bed to see this amphitheater at sunrise. Imagine first light on these colors. Imagine....

There's a rim trail winding around from Sunrise Point to Sunset Point with half-tree-trunk benches placed pretty frequently. The altitude is about 9000 feet and nearly everyone is huffing and puffing so it's a good thing they're there.

I meditate daily. Some days I'm more successful than others, although you're not supposed to think about success and failure. Let me say instead some days I am able to stay more focused. Here, even with people all around me, this seemed to call for a little time on one of those benches with closed eyes and a focus on the breath. It was a wonderful experience. Even with people all around me, there were a few brief moments when all was silent but for the wind.

Thought for the day:
Too much of a good thing can be wonderful! (Mae West)

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Freedom Tour

Over the last few days I've seen America the Beautiful. The Columbia River from Vancouver east: moody, foggy, mystical; 

Bridge of the Gods;

Highway 30, a picturesque road leading to Hagerman Fossil Beds in, um, Hagerman, where Grace wanted in on the picture;

and to Balanced Rock;

and Balanced Rock Park in Buhl, Idaho, where I boondocked one night and still can't believe that not only was I allowed to stay there, I had the park to myself when the day trippers left. That's Grace in the background. Again.

And then I hit Utah. There's a reason one of the license plate choices says UTAH!. I've traveled some here and there and I have never seen a more breath-takingly, heart-achingly beauty than in Utah. Have you ever experienced depthless beauty in whatever form - music, art, a brand-new baby, a spiritual awakening, looking into your lover's eyes - that has so filled, filled, filled your heart that you almost can't stand it, that if you look or listen or stay in that moment for one second longer you know your heart will burst with joy? I hope you have.
It is transcendent.
It is unforgettable. 

I drove up a long, steep road into Arches National Park the other day and thought my heart would explode with the joy of the magnificent loveliness everywhere I looked. This sounds pretty darned flaky but if you have ever been overtaken by this powerful awareness you know exactly what I mean. I will never forget how that place made me feel. I was, most simply, touched by grace. It was elevating, humbling, exhilarating, and bittersweet. I knew I would have to look away but I also knew it would stay with me. It was one of the most power-full moments of my life. 

No photo I could ever take can do the place justice. That night I boondocked in Manti-La Sal National Forest, down a dirt road a couple of miles off the freeway. Nothing there but me, total and utter silence, and a night sky flooded with stars. It was a very good way to end the day. 

The next morning I stopped at Newspaper Rock,where the only other visitors were a man my age and his teenage son, from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

I followed them to another place down the road, an unmarked trail a person at their hotel told them about, and we set off on foot to find dinosaur tracks and supposedly better, older petroglyphs than were on Newspaper Rock. It was rough, rocky country. We were climbing at what felt like a 45 degree angle and at an elevation of probably 5300 feet, and me in slippery-soled sneakers. I made it, though not without thinking I'd break my ankle any time now, and we saw some spectacular art. 

That's a dinosaur footprint, or so we told ourselves.

I questioned myself at the start if I was being an idiot, going off into back country with these two men, but I felt no danger at all. They were just two nice people who let me tag along. We then hop-scotched our way down the road to Canyonlands National Park, where they went their way and I mine. Here's Grace again. What a camera hog.

I've met wonderful folks even early on in this trip, people who've extended kindness, offered any help I needed, and engaged in conversation. The freedom in the title of this post means a lot of things to me. One of them is the freedom to talk to people and to learn a little about who they are without the uncomfortable awareness of an I'll wait outside impatience or an all-purpose distrust that have been in the background for years. I lived with that. I accepted it! What an fool I was to compromise my self to keep someone else happy, which never worked anyway. No more.

I may have had this different life imposed on me with unending shards of cruelty, but I will now admit to the world that I was done a favor. I was given a gift I would never have given myself. The divorce was, from the start, all about him despite the words he said, but I am surprisingly feeling like the winner (she said with quiet satisfaction) and life is looking good.

Thought for the day:
There is a road from the eye to the heart that does not go through the intellect. (Gilbert Keith Chesterton)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Identity lost, identity regained

When the bomb dropped, back in the ancient history of January, that I was to be Suddenly Single at Sixty, I became overwhelmingly disoriented. I was actually a lot of things but disorientation was the most unsettling and frightening. I've described it as being in a foreign country that has an unrecognizable language, lost, not a penny in my pocket, and a hostile population that refuses to help. That kind of disorientation and fright, with an intractable and immovable weight as though I were trapped under an enormous blanket of chain maille.

I'd suddenly lost my identity because over the years a slow and insidious change had come over me, the kind you can recognize only from a distance, transforming me from Kathy to Bob'sWife. I felt I had no sense of my own self but only as his extension. There are many reasons for this change, each one not powerful enough on its own, but the cumulative effect was transformative. When the one identity I had was gone, I was lost and alone in that foreign country, not having the first idea how to get home.

Since January I've been finding link after link of the chain maille breaking and falling away with the considerable help of friends (which includes my family) because who they're helping, welcoming, and offering kindness to is Kathy, not Bob'sWife. The friends who are always willing to listen, to offer a different perspective of events (he's shining you on), to give always-welcome advice, are offering it to menot to an appendage of another person. The friends who narrow their eyes with anger or widen them with a Good news! look and say You're better off without him or There's a weight off you or What do you need him for? The friend who cut my hair for free as a going-away gift. The friends who were genuinely sorry to see me go because it was the individual me they would miss, not the merged me I'd become in my mind. The friends around the country, some whom I've not even met yet in person, who are opening spots in the driveway for Grace, putting out the welcome mat, making up the guest room, and telling me that I'm their role model for strength and courage. I'm astonished by this support. Bob'sWife was sure she wouldn't deserve it but Kathy is tentatively recognizing her own value. It's becoming an amazing rebirth back to the land of the living.

I had my iPod plugged in yesterday, turned up loud, with the music wanted to hear and, yes, to define it loosely, even singing along. One of my favorite songs of all time is Molly Magdalain's The Open Road. Her open road is a literal road trip that revealed what's important in her life. I see my open road as not only my own literal one, but also my journey of transformation, my travels along a path with heart.

Like gypsy souls we travel, most of all we look within.
Reflections I'm confronted by
  will make me change as much as I can.
In the mirror of these strangers I see clearly who I am.
On the open road, this is where I find the truth of my soul.
There's no place like my home on the open road.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Anatomy of dysfunction and divorce

I had a conversation with the ex-husband the other day about his grievances versus mine.Technically, he's not ex yet, but I'm trying to get used to saying and thinking it. It's getting surprisingly easy for a number of reasons. If you've been in any kind of long-term relationship, there will be grievances but ours had attained mythic proportions because they festered for years. He'd sent me a lengthy email citing chapter and verse and I wanted to give him my take on his complaints. It could also be called the last word if you wanted to argue about it. The conversation was an amazing revelation. We have memories 180 degrees apart. How do things like that happen? In our case, it was because we never talked about anything of substance. Ever.

It started with his Vietnam experiences. Off limits from Day 1. I met him a few years after he returned to the States but even in the early days of being together, when it seems people share every memory and experience they've ever had, it was obvious this topic was off the table for discussion. That should have been the canary in the coal mine but I was starry-eyed and only saw this wounded man that I thought I could make better if I loved him enough. When you start to tread lightly on shaky ground with one topic, it becomes easier and easier to avoid all other shaky ground when it appears beneath you. It was especially true for me because he turned cold and distant when asked about anything he didn't want to discuss, and the last thing I wanted was to be banished from his orbit. What a silly, naive, trusting, needy girl I was because nothing ever got better or resolved and I came to accept this as normal. Not good, of course, but normal. Our story is textbook dysfunction. It's a wonder we lasted as long as we did. I used to joke it was because of inertia but that pretty much sums it up.

I read not long ago that some marriage therapist could predict which marriages would succeed and which would fail just by observing how couples relate to each other during a disagreement or argument. The primary predictor for failure was what the therapist called Stonewalling. Well, shut the door. That is exactly the problem we had. If he didn't want to discuss it, it didn't get discussed. When another problem arose I thought I'd get even by refusing to talk about it, and around and around we went. Whatever issue we had became the elephant in the room, until one day one of us would say something innocuous like needing to get cereal for the kids, and then we'd talk to each other again. So not only were we not talking about the problem, we got to where we would not say a word to each other for days at a time. Yeah, we were a mess.

Here's the point of this confessional. If you think you want a lifetime with that great guy who's charming, charismatic, and attentive, take notice of his behavior when conflict arises. Give the courtship enough time to let conflict arise. Then run like hell if he shuts down on you, if he withholds attention. It will not get better. Trust me on this. I kept hoping we would get back to the magic of the early days, when I was silly, naive, trusting, and needy, when I thought his brooding was sexy and attractive, and didn't know it takes more than just having my skirts blown up, to quote a friend, to make something of meaning last. His memories of my wrongdoings against him stopped at the point his feelings were hurt and he shut down rather than be subjected to more of the same, but he also missed out on remembering any attempts at all to make things right. I truly believe my memory of the same events is the correct one, if only because I can still hear the words in my head and picture where we were and what we were doing. I could be wrong. As has been pointed out to me, that was often the  case, but if we could have shown each other our vulnerabilities with the trust that we wouldn't be betrayed by them down the road, would things have turned out differently?