Thursday, March 29, 2018
The other night I watched an Amazon original movie featuring Ben Stiller called Brad’s Status, a cute play on words linking the character, Brad’s status in life and our ever present desire to post our current status on social media. It was not his comparing himself with his more wealthy college friends, but his middle-age musings that got me thinking.
I’ve reinvented myself with new careers more times than most. I’m on career number three, with countless jobs ranging from painter to house-cleaner in between. I used to joke with a friend that had also worn so many hats that we both suffered from Attention Deficit Job Disorder or ADJD, the inability to do anything for a very long period of time. Although I will regret my constant need for change when retirement comes and my pension pales in comparison with thirty-year teachers, I cannot imagine doing any THING for thirty years!
I do realize now, as Brad was doing in the movie, that I am about too old to try one more thing. Middle age is a time when we all have a tendency to do a little too much navel-gazing as counselors like to call it. You know the kind of thinking I’m talking about- the what should I have done, maybe I could’ve - kind of thinking. Second guessing our choices in life.
I’ve been able to change the career portion of my life, and if work was how I defined myself, I might not have felt the freedom to make those changes. I had moments in my work-life that made me feel good- like starting a newspaper and watching it still succeed or having a student come back and thank me for making them write all those stupid essays. But if I own those glory moments, I have to also own the ones that stink- times where I was in-between careers and couldn’t get anyone to see what an awesome employee I would be or being covered in filth and cat hair from cleaning out a basement during one of my ‘I will do anything for some money’ days. Did my smudged, sweaty face define my worth or was it the temporary, polished and proud face that told my value?
When I allow myself navel-gazing time, a requirement of all middle-aged people, I have to set some parameters for myself.
Rule #1- Only a few minutes at a time. Pondering life’s choices can be like wading in a small pool of quicksand- if you stay there too long not only are you stuck, but you wind up sinking.
Rule #2- Some things I cannot change, so therefore why play what if. Some choices were made to the best of your ability at the time. They may have been wrong in the eyes of many, but that is where God’s grace comes in. Instead of “what if”, I say “what now”.
Rule #3- Navel-gazing can allow me to see things that I have done that hurt others and after seeing this, I can try to make things right. After I have asked for forgiveness, I must realize that I have done all I can do and let it go.
Rule #4- Don’t get stuck looking back or looking in and miss what is there to look at now.
I read this quotation that seems to sum it all up:
“Sometimes, take a moment and ponder; yes, take a moment and stir your life just as you stir that delicious stew! Taste it to know how delicious or the otherwise it is! And if there be a need for a change, be swift and tactical.”
This leads to the most important rule for navel-gazing:
Rule #5- If you don’t like what you see when you reflect upon your life quickly make the necessary changes and remember to make the most of today!
Monday, March 26, 2018
Sometimes it seems as if all things come together to create the not-so-perfect day in such a perfect way. The first pivotal point is that it is a Monday, the day of the week with the worst reputation for trouble. Monday decided to combine its negative forces with an unseasonably cold, gray sky to add to the gloominess of the day. Add these things to a little dose of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) made worse by eight straight mostly rainy weekends and a usual dsh of middle-aged, hormonal moodiness and you have an intense concoction ready to ooze negativity at any second.
I know everyone is not like this. There are those that bounce out of bed to greet any day with happiness, regardless of weather or positioning of the moon. I really don't understand these people. They whistle while they work, smile when no one is looking, and try to spread their sunshine on every gloomy day.
I came in contact with such a soul while working at the pregnancy center years ago. A friend and I jokingly named her June Cleaver because of her polished and perfect appearance. Her good mornings were filled with such sugary-sweetness that they made you want to reach for a salty chip just to get the taste out of your mouth.
I was always suspicious of such positive people, thinking their world could not be so fine as to create their smiling demeanor. I never will forget the day when June’s arms got tired of holding up the heavy mask of perfect pretention. As they crumbled under the weight, she sat alone with me in our break-room. Not a hair out of place, and makeup perfectly applied, June’s smile disappeared. I sat down next to her and gave her a knowing look. She said, “You know there are times when things get to you, and you just don’t feel like helping anyone, in fact you wish someone would help you.”
I was almost disappointed to find that even perfect June Cleaver struggled. Although I knew it was true- that we all did, I had secretly hoped that there might be just one among us that really did have it all together.
I sat for a moment then simply said, “I know.”
We shared a half-hearted smile of well-intentioned, tired women then got up from our places and went on to face the rest of our day.
Since that day, I haven’t believed that I would find a real Miss All-Together anymore than I think that Bigfoot lives in my backyard. I do take comfort in knowing that I am not alone in my moody Mondayness. I will embrace the times when I feel low, knowing that just as Scarlett O’Hara said, “After all, tomorrow is another day.” Things will get better, and at least I’m not having to make a dress from my curtains.
Thursday, March 22, 2018
Twenty-two years ago, I loved having conversations with unknown readers through my written ramblings in my monthly newspaper, The Community Connection. This was the place where I could sit down at the breakfast table with potentially 35,000 readers and share a smile over some minor detail of life that caught my fancy.
Things change for all, but for me things really change. I sold the paper and went into a new line of work- counseling. In this work you feel the necessity to keep things to yourself- to ponder rather than blab about things. Years after that I felt the need to change careers once again. I went back to school to get my English degree and to get certified to teach. As you might guess this task zapped all my creative energies. And being an English major meant I had plenty of opportunities to write, if you count analytical papers about literature writing, which I don’t. Then the busyness of teaching stepped in and stole my voice. After designing lesson plans, grading papers, and finishing a master’s degree, my writing all but ceased.
Last year, I was able to return to my first love. As a child my summers consisted of me going each week to Neva Lomason Library’s Summer Reading Program leaving with an armload of books that I couldn’t wait to get home and read, Propped up on pillows atop my light purple canopy bed, the characters of my books became my friends; the connection was real. If you had asked the little kid me what she wanted to be when she grew up you would have gotten this explanation. “I just want to write a story that others can read and know that they are not alone, like the character (insert latest protagonist name). “
I didn’t want to write because I feel that I do it better than anyone else, I know that I don’t. I didn’t want to write because I had the world all figured out and have a message to impart, I certainly don’t. I didn’t want to write to share my deepest darkest thoughts with the world, I’m not the type that likes that kind of attention. But one thing has always been true- I have always wanted to connect with readers and let them know they are not alone in their struggles, fears, and failures. I have found that the only true way to form that kind of connection is to dare to be real.
In our social media society where many air all their dirty laundry while others hide theirs behind beautiful, always smiling family photos of blissful life, it is hard to find a balance. I don’t need to know the details of the stains on your drawers or even that you have drawers at all, but I also don’t need to see the carefully constructed facade of perfection. What I, and I figure most people, need is to know that I am not the only one who has doubts. I am not the only one who knows that beyond that beautiful smiling photograph that I post for the world to see are moments of tears, moments of anger, and sometimes if I’m lucky, laugh-til-you-cry moments.
So, pull up a chair to the breakfast table, have a seat, and we’ll reconnect. It’s been a while. We’ve got a lot to catch up on.
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