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Blog, Inspiration, Life Lessons, Passion

PLEASE, Don’t Have a Nice Day!

Not my line. I would never say that to you. It wouldn’t be consistent with my temperament to say it, at least not seriously…jokingly, I could and might, but probably wouldn’t, at least not out loud!

But it is consistent with the character Shirley MacLaine plays in the movie, Last Word. In fact, this sassy, at times abrasive, old woman gets away with saying whatever comes to her mind, apparently throughout her whole life…until, she realizes she is in the final stage of life and is probably going to be remembered in a way that isn’t very complimentary, even by the people she cares about the most. So, then she sets out to change her legacy. The movie unfolds this process with a few surprises and a lot of heart.

Funny how this Gran Finale stage-of-life puts things into a different perspective! How will I be remembered is a question that pops up unprovoked at strange and curious moments. It’s a bit startling, and even haunting at times, capable of lingering in the back of our minds like a threatening rain cloud. I suspect this question is the reason I compulsively attempt to keep my underwear drawer cleaned out!

But the power of this line, in my opinion, is the follow up. “Please don’t have a nice day” Ms. MacLaine says, “Have a day that matters. Have a day that’s true, a day that means something.”

I live where the motto is Minnesota Nice. It’s a way of life to behave and be nice. But really, more often than not, it’s a way to be dishonest, to not voice our real feelings or opinions, to say what we deem is good manners whether or not it’s true. And “keeping the peace at all costs” often hinders us from learning how to be honest while being civil, kind and respectful at the same time.

My husband and I were standing in an exhibit tent in our neighborhood park during the annual art fair last summer, when a couple next to us turned to leave the tent and said to the vendor, “have a nice day”. The vendor turned to us and asked, “what is it with you Minnesotan’s always telling people what kind of day to have? What if I don’t want to have a nice day? What if I want to have a terrible, rotten, no good, horrible day?” He chuckled, quite amused at himself  but seemed to want agreement from us. So, my hubby obliged, “Yeah, I know what you mean! Sometimes it’s just no fun to have a nice day!” And the vendor kept it going with great glee, “And for sure, I don’t want someone telling me what to do with MY day!”

A fun exchange, and it left me with a bit of food-for-thought. What am I saying when I wish you to have a nice day? I want you to avoid calamity, to live in peace and be well. That’s the truth. That’s what I wish for you. And what’s in it for me if you do? I will be able to walk away from you and live my own life in peace without needing to deal with your crankiness, your illness, your need. I did my part by wishing you well. Easy.

But having a day that matters and one that is true and meaningful is a different story. It’s a lot harder than having a nice day. It requires me to be real. It requires me to be aware and receptive, to be open and generous.

How do I do it?

I do it by starting the day with gladness for another chance to get out of bed and see the sun rise, for a sweet dog who needs me and a husband who likes to be with me, for a cup of good coffee and a day with no schedule, open for possibilities.

 

How about you? How do you have a day that matters, is true and meaningful?

 

 

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Blog, Inspiration, Life Lessons, Passion

One Easy Way to Kill Your Passion

I write. I write because I like to write. I write because I love words and ideas. I write because I want to connect with whomever reads what I write. I like feeling connected to a bigger world than mine. But I even like to write when no one reads what I write. I just have a passion for writing!

There are many other women my age who also like to write. I didn’t know this until I started writing for vibrantoldwoman.com and began searching the internet for resources about aging and retirement. Then I discovered there’s a lot of Vibrant Old Bloggers out there!

And I read every one of them I find. Some of them are really funny. Some of them are very practical with lots of good how-to’s and advice.  Some of them have thousands of followers and subscribers. All of them leave me entertained, inspired, challenged…and questioning…and threatened…and doubting of myself.

When I began discovering these other blogs, I started a running conversation with myself, very privately in my head.  I asked myself how they were able to get so many readers? And then tried to answer myself. Maybe I should try to be funny, maybe I should follow a how-to, 1-2-3-kind of format, maybe I should not be so spiritual, maybe my titles need to be pithier, or my design updated, or maybe I should copy their web design. Wow! Maybe I don’t know what I am doing! Maybe I should go to Blog School ( is there one?).

When my turmoil finally reached the boiling point, the private conversation became more open and I talked it over with my friend…Had she read any of the other blogs in my demographic? Did she realize how many there were? How did she think I compared? Did she think my blogs were worth reading? Should I try to be funny? Were my topics relevant? What do I need to change?

Meanwhile, the joy of writing my blog began to fade a bit. I found I had less to write about and started second-guessing my ideas. I found I had a sense of the “other blogger’s” presence as I wrote. They seemed to be looking over my shoulder. I felt a pressure I hadn’t had before. Consequently I began to accumulate a lot of unfinished drafts and fewer published pieces. My passion and motivation waned.

Thankfully, my friend is not only honest but also wise. After listening patiently, reading many blogs about aging that don’t apply to her, she gently said, “Stop it! Stop reading other bloggers and do your own…or don’t do it. No one wants to read a repeat of someone else’s writing. Stop comparing yourself. Just be you!”

I began  by noticing differences and learning and slowly slipped into “checking out the competition” and feeling threatened. How easy it is to get thrown off our course by comparing ourselves to someone else and then attempting to emulate the other, even if only in small ways. Fads and social norms get started like this!

I see another woman with grey hair, about my age, and she is wearing adorable leggings with a bright colored tunic, and suddenly I find myself longing for leggings and a tunic…or my retired neighbors are leaving on a senior cruise with Road Scholar and soon I find myself thumbing through the offerings trying to figure out if we can afford a similar cruise…or stories of retirees “going South as Snowbirds” and hearing a still-small-inner-voice saying “you should” too…and of course, EVERYONE must have a “Bucket List” they are working on before they die and I  feel the pressure. And what about grand parenting? It’s so easy to compare ourselves to what other grandparents do with their grandkids and come up short. Don’t all good grandma’s bake amazing apple pies, cook lavish Thanksgiving dinners, and make beautiful scrapbooks? (Not me!)

Comparisons, by nature, usually imply one is better than the other. Someone comes out less-than the other. Holding equal value for “the same only different” is much more difficult but it’s where real freedom and joy is found.

These are my Gran Finale years. I want to live them as authentically me as possible without comparisons. There is no one grading me, no one watching. I am freer than I’ve ever been. I can create my own rhythm each day and release my own peculiar passion…or I can trap myself with my own adolescent-like comparisons and strive to compete or be someone I’m not.

My heart sings loudest when I keep the quiet rhythm of my daily tasks and write. It’s a good day when I write what’s on my mind, to you, whoever you are, wherever you are, and whether you read every word or not. But I do it just because that’s what I love to do.

Vibrancy of spirit depends on freedom to be myself, do what I am passionate about, and live the life that fits me best…no comparisons.

“Today you are You.

That is truer than true.

There is no one alive who is Youer than You.  -Dr. Seuss

Know what I mean?

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Blog, Inspiration, Life Lessons

Life in the Pink-Panther Zone or Not

I have to be in the right mood, but occasionally I sit beside my husband and we watch one of his favorite Peter Sellers’ films about the Pink Panther.  Typically, my husband laughs wildly at every turn while I sit tensely with a hesitant half-grin waiting for the next calamity. The Pink Panther makes me nervous. I anticipate his inevitable mishaps and catastrophes. He’s ridiculous on every level, but so easy to get sucked into the chaos and drama he creates. I cringe. I moan. I wait-for-it. And I’m not disappointed. The worst always happens, and then some!

These movies have nothing to do with real life! But there are times when real life can evoke some of those same feelings of anxious anticipation much like a Peter Sellers’ movie does of me!

For instance, there were similar periods of time in my life when my babies were little, then again when they were teenagers, and then again going off to college or the Peace Corps, or about to be married, or move away or have their first baby or buy their first home. There were similar times when my husband and I faced crisis in our relationship, or crisis in a family members life, when finances fell apart or health seemed precarious. There were many times I found myself tensely waiting for “the worst”, holding my breath and fretting… times when I felt like I was sitting on the edge of the couch trying to smile…

Now I’ve seen most of the movie of my story. I don’t know the ending yet and maybe it’s going to be a calamity, or not. But I’ve seen the ending to all those other calamities I witnessed over the many years. Sometimes “the worst” happened. Sometimes even worse than I expected. But sometimes the worst never did happen. But always, I dealt with it, whatever it was.

The beauty of being able to see most of the story now is that I’m still here for the ending. I made it through each circumstance. And from where I sit now, I can honestly say that my anxious anticipation, my holding my breath, my overall fretting did nothing to affect the outcome of any of those situations...nothing!

What I learned that did make a difference, instead, and continues to make a difference today, is when I bring my long-range perspective (wisdom) as well as my best self (character) to each scene.

  • I Accept the Situation. It has happened. I can’t change it. I welcome it as another life experience and an opportunity to learn more about myself and the human existence. I keep my mind and heart open, by not blaming someone, or judging, categorizing or tagging the experience negatively, in order to watch it unfold. This is when I usually need to remind myself to breathe and keep the daily rhythm of my life going with the rituals of self-care and ordinary living.
  • I Name my Part. What do I need to do in order to cope with what has happened?  In order to respond the way I want to, what do I need?  What will it take for me to maintain my own serenity and add to the well-being of those around me? How can I help move through this in the most positive way?  This is usually the time when I take extra time out to pray, meditate and feed my spirit…and journal.
  • I Ask for Help. Who do I need to reach out to for support, encouragement, or resources?  There is always someone who loves me and cares. I try to remember that these times of need are joyful opportunities to share and are not burdens. I remember I am never alone. I ask God.
  • I Release the Outcome. I can only control myself and my response. I can not control other people. I can not control the weather, the universe or time. God is God, I am not.

The Pink Panther movie is no doubt way more entertaining and exciting than my Vibrant Old Woman movie. But living in the midst of high-level drama is no longer appealing. What I want now is to breathe steadily, experience a certain level of serenity, pleasure, and peace of mind assured that whatever comes, I can handle.

“Do not be anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself…”                Matthew 6:34, Holy Bible

How about you? How do you handle anxiety and worry?

 

 

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Blog, Inspiration, Life Lessons

What I Can Add to the Public Discussion

It’s been a rough couple of weeks, or maybe months, in our nation. The news reports tie my stomach in knots most evenings, but its hard to turn them off and take a break since I don’t want to miss anything important.  Some mornings I wake up with anxiety over what might be happening in Washington. I’ve gone in and out of positions of not wanting to know and wanting to know, over not wanting to care and wanting to speak out and get involved. It’s been perplexing and curious, interesting and disturbing as I’ve watched the leadership change and evolve, and listened to the public discussion in response.

“What can I do?” “What difference can I make?” seem to be the questions I hear most often from friends and neighbors, as well as the ones I ask myself.

One of my favorite authors is  Robert Fulghum who wrote All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. I have been reminded of this lately as I’ve heard folk wondering about who the adults are and where they are since the discussion has displayed some pretty childish rhetoric at times. In fact, I don’t think I really ever heard people talking about “who’s the adult in the room” until recently. Maybe there has been in the past an assumption that adult aged people automatically display adult behavior, meaning mature, rational behavior as opposed to emotional, childish behavior, i.e. wanting my own way, wanting to be first, wanting attention, throwing tantrums, outbursts of frustration, etc.

But, it’s never good to make assumptions and though somewhat threatening, it is a good question that can short-circuit irrational and emotional behavior between adults. It’s a question that reminds me I need to put into practice all I learned in kindergarten, especially since I am usually the most adult person in the room…according to age anyway, and even when I am the only one in the room listening to the nightly news, it doesn’t hurt to practice being a grown up.

So, Ive taken some time to review those lessons from kindergarten:*

  • Share Everything
  • Play fair
  • Don’t hit people or call them rude names
  • Clean up your own mess
  • Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody
  • When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together
  • It doesn’t matter who’s first in line, we’re all going to the same place
  • Wait your turn and don’t interrupt
  • Use your words and your inside-voice
  • Take a nap everyday

And, of course, there’s more. (like warm cookies and cold milk are good!) I learned so much in kindergarten!

But I forget…

I raise my voice when I disagree. I call people mean names when they do something I don’t like. I don’t want to apologize when I think you hurt me too. I don’t want to hold your hand when you don’t agree with me and I don’t want to listen to you when I think you’re wrong. It doesn’t matter if we are going to the same place, I still want to be first. And I really don’t want to take a nap and miss out on something!

This, in my view, is what the public discussion has looked like lately: a room full of out of control kindergarten kids.

So where’s the adult?

I’m the adult.

I will be the adult. I will use my inside-voice and will listen to you and wait my turn. I will clean up my own mess and not try to clean up yours as well. I will add to our conversation by behaving like the adult in the room, in whatever room I find myself, public or not so public.

And if I do this, maybe you will too. And if you do this, maybe your friends will too. And maybe my Grandkids will notice and will one day be the adult in the room too, and yours will too.  Maybe if I add kindness and respect to the public conversations I have, and you do too, we will be able to “watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together”.

What do you think? What can you add to the public discussion today that will help answer the question “where is the adult in the room”?

 

*Mostly taken from Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, page 6-7, with some additions and omissions by me.

 

 

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Blog, Inspiration, Life Lessons

Magical Thinking About Aging

“You’re growing up too fast!” I heard myself saying to my youngest grandchild recently.

Seems like a normal response from a granny to her youngest grandchild.  But as I heard the words and saw his somewhat shy and maybe embarrassed look, I wondered what I was really trying to say or what I was feeling when I said this. Did I really mean I was sorry he was growing up?

It sounded as if I thought he was doing something wrong, that he shouldn’t be growing! But in fact, he was right on schedule, growing taller and stronger each year and slowly turning into an adult…just like he was supposed to do, just like I wanted him to do.

It sounded like I wanted him to stay a baby, that I was disappointed that he was growing, maybe even that I liked him better when he was little and younger.

Unless you’re a cheese or a wine, growing older isn’t much valued in our Western society. We are told by marketers and advertisers everyday that we need to look younger and feel younger, indicating looking our age or feeling our age is unacceptable.

Even the word “aging” is used when someone is showing signs of defectiveness. “My, how she’s aged over the last few months!”, meaning she’s rapidly decaying, or not-so-good any more.

And here I was unintentionally adding to this cultural message that bodies must always be cute and pretty, young, small and un-pimpled.

Without consciously thinking about my intention and what I value, I slipped into an accepted cliche and popular response. Maybe I can magically change reality if I don’t acknowledge aging out loud and everything will stay the same and the fairy tale of happily-ever-after will truly happen…these beloved babies will always be babies!

Every once in a while, I too have been the reciprocator of this kind of magical thinking when a lovely soul says something like “You don’t LOOK 74! I would never have guessed you are that old.”  And I blush and take it as a compliment, like as if I’ve done something wonderful, and say “Oh really? Thank you!”  But in reality it only makes me more aware that I shouldn’t be aging, that I should try to look as young as possible, that it isn’t good to be 74 and look 74!

Besides when I view the process of growing old with realistic eyes, without magical thinking, I agree with Michael Caine: “To me, growing old is great. It’s the very best thing – considering the alternative.”

I’m not saying that I want brutal honesty or rudeness. But a more authentic evaluation of age would be welcome. Maybe something like, “My, you are aging well…such a vibrant 74 year old.”

I want my grandchildren to know that growing up is a good thing. I want them to know that each age and stage of life is good and something to be valued. I want them to know they are wonderful right now, just as they are, and I will love them at every age and every size.

But, one thing I know is I’m ready for the next time I see one of my grandchildren. I’m ready to say, “My goodness! Every time I see you, you’ve grown some more. And you are doing such a good job of it!”

What are some other ways we inadvertently contribute to the magical thinking about age? How do you feel about this?

 

 

 

 

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Blog, Inspiration, Life Lessons

All You Need is Less

I bet you thought this title was a mistake, right? Everyone knows all we need is LOVE…not less!

Well, stay with me here and consider taking an overview of your life, where you’re living right now,  and where you’re going.

Chances are if you are 70 years old or older, retired and in relatively good health, you are beginning to think about downsizing from your family home of many years or you are in the throes of doing it, or you have already made the move.

Whichever it is, you probably have stuff, all kinds of stuff, in piles being sorted, or in boxes waiting to be unpacked or stored or given away, or in containers being hidden until you can organize it or figure out what to do with them!

Why do I think this about you? Because It’s true about me! We are in this together…it’s The American Way: the unbelievable, overwhelming accumulation of stuff. It might even be the #1 First World Problem, judging from what I know about landfills!

Consequently I seem to be a magnet for articles, books, Ted Talks, reports and studies addressing “de-cluttering”, “living simply” or “minimalism”. It seems to always be on my mind. I google the topic and search for clever ways to organize excess stuff that will make me feel like I live simply and uncluttered. I am forever sorting through papers and stacking magazines, clearing off the kitchen counter, etc. etc.

Google the word “clutter”. There are how-to books galore on this subject, as well as  services that provide guidance and even consultants who will come into your home and declutter for you!

And always in the back of my  mind is how to eliminate all the excess stuff NOW so my family won’t have to do it when I die! One thing I’m sure of, my kids and grandkids don’t want any of it…I’ve already asked them, several times!

Then there’s the Christian teaching that comes into play for me, adding a good measure of guilt, “…if you have two coats, give one to your sister who is in need”  and also when Jesus instructed followers to not “lay up treasures on earth where moth and rust corrupts, but instead lay up treasure in heaven…” In other words, fill life full with compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience, generosity, love…instead of material goods.

Defining or exposing the problem is easy. What to do about it is the real challenge.

Many years ago I helped a friend sort through her family home because her mother was unable to manage it any longer and had been admitted to a nursing home nearby. We sorted 50 years of accumulated stuff until we had left only what would fit into one small closet, one 6-drawer chest and a small 2-drawer desk in her mom’s new living space.

This experience was a powerful life lesson for me. I realized that life begins with nothing and ends with nothing, nothing of material value, that is.

I look around me now, in this Gran Finale stage of life, and wonder if I minimize the clutter, the excess, just keep what I need to live my life well, how much space would I create for the pursuit of what’s really important, the eternal spiritual (heavenly) stuff…the stuff about which I want my legacy to be?

If I minimize the clutter, and the care and concern of it, I most probably would have more energy to be more patient with those around me each day, have more time to be more intentional in showing love and giving compassion, and eliminate my preoccupation with tasks of maintenance, upkeep and organization.

We need very few material possessions. I learned from downsizing my friends mother that  less is more when life is truly simple… less to maintain, less responsibility, less burden, less complicated.

We often hear the cliche “Never settle for less”,  probably meant to encourage one’s self worth and aspirations to fulfill one’s dreams. Instead it gives encouragement to over endulge, spend more than we have, and/or be discontent with what we have. It’s a popular marketing slogan and has been used to feed a sense of privilege and entitlement.  “I deserve more”, “I’m worth more”, “I can have it all.”etc.

But for this Vibrant Old Woman, in the final chapter of my story, I’m settling for less! Clear the clutter! Make more room for the stuff that really counts.

How about you? What’s your take on “less is more” and clearing out the clutter?

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