“Senior” Middle Age?

Is there a zone between middle age and “senior?” I’m different than I was when I first came up with my “middle aged woman rules.” I look at those now and I think they’re kind of juvenile and stupid. I find myself at a point in my life where I just don’t give a crap anymore about styling myself to please others.

This is actually the second time in my life I discovered (and it was a discovery, not a decision) that I was just being who I am, without worrying about whether who I am pleases others.

That last time I settled into my own skin so comfortably, Mike showed up.

Hmm.

I’ve back to level of self-acceptance that allows me to just “be,” where in years past I would have doubted, criticized or or been disappointed in almost everything I did or said. I’ve calmed down. I’ve become a better listener. Weird shit that seems to be related to aging is happening to my body, but I shrug and think, “whatever.”

It doesn’t feel quite right to refer to myself as “middle-aged” anymore, but hell if I’m going to say I’m “old.” Is there such a thing as senior middle age? Advanced middle age? Not thinking about age?

Angelic daughter and I went through a low patch last year, but we’ve pulled out of it admirably I think, and now things are rolling along nicely (knock wood, cross fingers, whatever you do to ward off a reversal when you say something like that.) The great-creator-power-that-is has bestowed upon me the gift of work I love, at a place populated with genuine, and genuinely kind, people. I honestly didn’t believe such a workplace existed, as I have never experienced it before. Every job I’ve ever had was at an organization fraught with egos, anxiety, competition, backstabbing, stress, resentment, rumor-mongering, and a constant, threatening undercurrent that something bad would happen to someone, any minute. (HA!, reminds me of a certain House in the news lately, but I digress.)

But now, at this stage of my life, I have been welcomed into a workplace where there’s none of that negative stuff, and I get paid to spend the day doing something I love. I’m stunned, and stupid happy. I look forward to going to work. I don’t mind getting up at 4:45 a.m. to get there by 6:30 so I can pick Angelic Daughter up from her new, fabulous, welcoming, caring place by 3:20.

At that place, Angelic daughter has reconnected with a friend she hasn’t seen in years, gets to choose among many activities and decide how she wants to spend her day, and hops into the car smiling and chattering about singing to her friend when I pick her up.

I remember when my favorite film actor, Russell Crowe, won the Oscar for Gladiator. He said, “for anyone who’s on the downside of advantage, and relying purely on courage, it’s possible.” (If you want to skip the intro, start at about 34 seconds in):

There were times, from the moment Mike was diagnosed, through these past three and a half years without him, when I felt hopeless, or ready to give up. I don’t think I can say that I relied on courage – I guess I relied on my version of faith. But I did make a conscious decision to make conscious decisions about how I’d spend my time. I started writing, and I don’t intend to stop, for as long as I still “have my marbles,” as my Dad used to say. I feel wired – a little manic – in the good way I used to feel when I was directing my high school talent show, or improvising with some very talented people in clubs in Chicago, giving packed houses big laughs.

I’ve been blogging since October 2017, a little more than a year after Mike died, and since then, I have cried and despaired vicariously with other bloggers going through their own tough times and tragedies – and I’ve stuck with them long enough to read their stories of getting through it, getting better, finding what they needed and finding themselves exhilarated, reinvigorated, even triumphant.

If you’re in a dark place, going through a tough time, having trouble seeing a way out, hang in there. Things can get better. It’s possible.

Yours with prayers for Australia, Puerto Rico, the people of China and everyplace else on our hurting, pissed-off, melting, diseased, once-beautiful-and-still-could-be-beautiful- again-if-we-get-our-collective-shit-together-and-do-something-about-it planet, I remain,

Your loving, grateful, hopeful,

Ridiculouswoman

P.S. Have fun watching the Oscars this weekend, even if, like me, you haven’t seen any of the films (I’m working, OK?) And here’s another list, related to this post, up on my 27 Things page.

Pardon Our Dust 2

I’ve been on a tidying up roll for a while, so I applied that impulse to how my blog looks. Hope you like it. If you notice anything weird, or images that are missing or crazy big, let me know. It may take a few days for things to settle down a bit, but I think I like this cleaner look.  Back with more actual writing tomorrow, I hope.

Sic Transit Gloria

Sunday, October 27, would have been Mike’s  58th birthday.  It was a perfect, bright blue fall day,  trees like those above, in full autumn glory.

Here’s a picture from today, four days later:

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One week ago:

IMG_20191024_102731260~2.jpg

Today:

IMG_20191031_085642038.jpg

October’s beauty is bittersweet: it can’t last. This year we waited through rain and clouds most of the month until a sudden burst of clear skies and blazing color in the last ten days or so. I’ve learned that, except for treating Angelic Daughter to trail rides at stables we only get to once or twice a year, leaf-peeping isn’t a good reason for our  “fall excursions.” The colors are always more beautiful at back at home.

Yet something has felt off-kilter about this year’s weather, from polar vortex to spring monsoons, to a bone-dry August and then a sodden September. Everything has been more of whatever it is than usual. Colder, wetter, drier, cloudier.  We had very few sparkling clear nights, all year. The crystal black, star-sparkling nights are one of the things I look forward to about winter. I hope that hasn’t changed for good.

Today it feels like someone sped up the film (a terrible idea, and yes, I’m looking at you, Netflix). I’m carving pumpkins when I could be building a snowman. Did someone steal Richard Hendricks’ compression algorithm (Silicon Valley)  and apply it to the turn of the seasons?

We’ve had snow on Halloween before, but not like this, that I can remember. Usually, rotten Halloween weather is cold and rainy, with maybe a few fat flakes that don’t stick. But out my window now are 3-4 inches of heavy, sticky wet snow, causing branches to sag and completely covering the yard.  It’s not cold enough for snow to stick to the driveway or the walk, but there is enough to discourage any but the most intrepid, determined trick-or-treaters. We’ve had none, and the sanctioned window for ringing doorbells is closing. I foresee a night of appallingly self-indulgent over-consumption of uncollected chocolate -followed by a 30 minute full-body dumbbell burner guilt workout tomorrow morning.

There really is nothing spooky or eerie or creepy or Halloweenish about snow.  I lit the Jack-o-Lanterns anyway, but I’m not really feeling the “door between worlds” effect. Angelic Daughter wants S’mores, and snow makes a great backdrop to initiate the fireplace for the season. If I can get a fire started, that is, because it was windy, and the logs in the small wood rack on the front porch got coated in an inch or so of snow.  I foresee an expletive-filled evening and the waste of an entire box of matches.  But I’ll get it going.

Snow will melt off tomorrow, but the glory that is October is done and gone. Smores made indoors in the fireplace won’t capture the crisp, outdoor, sweatery October feeling that Angelic Daughter used to get on an annual school trip to a pumpkin farm, but they will have to do.  Each year the autumn flare seems more fleeting than the last. But that’s what makes it glorious, I guess.

I finally sold Mike’s kitchen table, on his birthday. Got ten bucks for it on eBay. The guy who bought it drove an hour to pick it up. I was almost going to give up and donate it somewhere, but I’m glad I got at least something for it. kitchen tableThat table was the only material thing, other than books, clothes and a hurricane lamp, that Mike brought with him into our marriage. The guy who bought it asked how long I had it – “27 years” – and acknowledged that it must carry a lot of memories. I did.

Letting go of  27 years worth of memories on Mike’s birthday,  the 27th, is something he would have gotten a kick out of, I think, or at least appreciated the symmetry of it.

We have a new dining room table now,  but today I put on Mike’s old grey sweater, the one with the growing holes in it that I wear when shoveling or otherwise dealing with outdoor maintenance in cold weather, and smiled. IMG_20180831_135250.jpgHere’s to you, loves, one season passed and another beginning, wrapped in something that once wrapped you with warmth, and now wraps me in memories.

We hoped that Mike could make it to an October day like last Sunday, to see the blue sky and blaze of  leaves as he departed this world for the next. Instead, he died on a sweltering August night.  “This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong, to love that well, which thou must leave ere long.”

Tomorrow begins gray November, the ghost of October’s colors whispering only in the gourds and Indian corn of a Thanksgiving to come.

Blowing out the candles in the Jack-o-Lanterns and off to make the fire, I remain,

Ridiculouswoman

Haircut and Heartache

I hadn’t had a haircut since April.  An entire summer of really bad hair days (can you say “humidity?”) and an upcoming job interview (Tuesday) put me back in the hair chair.

I showed my hairstylist a picture of Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

“That’s a lot like what we usually do.” she said.

What a difference waiting six month makes. Those scissors were inspired. And the blow-dry styling was exceptional.  So of course I bought the expensive new hair product she used,  even though I shouldn’t have spent the money and I’m sure I won’t be able to achieve the same effect.

The haircut pulled me out of a slump. Not just my little writer’s “everything I do sucks” tantrum the other day,  but a real slump caused by the shocking news that a friend I had known since kindergarten had died. He was fine Friday, and gone on Sunday, leaving a grieving husband and hundreds of stunned, saddened friends.

That hit me like a ton of bricks. Not only because I don’t want to believe that my peers and I have reached that stage in life where we look to the obituaries before we read the headlines, but because this particular friend was the kind you could take right back up with even if you hadn’t seen each other in decades. He was vital, loyal, funny, energetic and always responsive, although he was 2,000 miles away.

I messaged him when I reluctantly got back on Facebook in August, just to give him a heads’ up that my new friend request was legit. His response was:

♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️

I took his being there on the other end of Facebook for granted.  But now he’s not.

The last time I saw him in person was at our 40th high school reunion. (God, just typing  “40th reunion” makes me feel ancient). Of all the attendees, he was the last I would have thought would check out early.

We met on the first day of kindergarten. Best I recall, he was wearing dress shorts and Buster Browns. He was always well-dressed. Unwrinkled.  There was something different about him and it didn’t matter at all to the guileless, totally accepting 5-year olds that we were. Through the years we sang in school choruses together.  He had a wonderful bass voice. He performed in talent shows I directed and brought the house down with a brave, fey twist on the song “Convoy” – in high school, in the ’70s. He won everyone over and everyone loved him.  At the reunion I told him that his performance was the bravest thing I’d ever seen a friend do. I’m sure he brushed that off,  saying it was just for fun, but I hope he took in my true admiration.

The evening of the day I found out he was gone,  I had to go to chorus rehearsal, still feeling blue, stunned and pissed off (“how could this have happened? He was healthy, strong, vibrant!”) I turned west, and suddenly my windshield was filled with a breathtaking sunset.  Pink, peach, purple, and just enough cloud in front to make it possible to enjoy without being blinded by the setting sun.  It was a glorious reminder of my friend’s personality and his effect on everyone he knew.  It was a reminder to me of how far I have to grow (still, at my age) to even approach being the kind of person he was.

I found out later that he had been very ill last year, and medication for that illness had weakened his heart. He went to take a nap last weekend and didn’t wake up.  I hadn’t known he’d been ill, which, if I was any kind of good friend,  I should have. I feel rotten about that.  Another smack upside the head about how superficial my friendship can be. I don’t like that about myself and I’ve been trying to change that since my husband died. But here, I failed.

The pink in the sunset was the same color as the scarf my friend wore around his neck for his “Convoy” parody.  The rest of the colors were as vibrant as he was. Heaven got brighter when he arrived.

I think he would have liked the haircut, and my joke about how it made me look like a short, fat, senior Fleabag, and how people would think I’m an (old) pervy Englishwoman, and I didn’t know whether I should be worried or turned on. He would pick “turned on.”

At church the sermon today was about being present, in the now, and and letting go of anxiety, anger and frustration. It was about not letting routine and business interfere with living each day. This is the only this day you get.

Missing an old friend, right now, I remain,

Your composing-lists-of-people-who-should-receive-notes-of-gratitude-and-phone-calls-and-emails-and-texts-before-now-becomes-then,

Ridiculouswoman

Floor Games

I can gain or lose three pounds within ten seconds. All I have to do is move the scale to a different spot on the bathroom floor. Then, of course, instead of taking the average of the various results, I elect to believe the lowest of whatever numbers come up. Because that must be the correct result.

I had the unprecedented experience recently of having the doctor’s office scale match the lowest of my floor-game results. Doctor’s office scales are evil, sentient beings that know exactly how many pounds to add to your morning result to knock the wind out of your sails and send you directly to the ice cream aisle. But this time, its battery was dying and it just didn’t have the energy to lie. So that locks in my theory that no matter how often I have to move that scale around, and wait ten seconds before I get back on it, the lowest number it comes up with will be the correct one. Because it just is, OK? Is what I choose to believe.

Which is ridiculous anyway, because even though I’ve been working my ass off with eight pound dumbbells and have gone from “are you f..ing kidding me?” to “yes, Amy, I can do that plank, row, twist and raise that (5 lb, in this case) dumbbell up toward the ceiling, and repeat six or eight time on each side,” I HAVE BEEN LOSING AND REGAINING THE SAME THREE POUNDS FOR TWELVE WEEKS.

At this stage the only reason to get on the scale at all is to make sure I’m not gaining weight (any more than that damn three pounds, which is the top end of the 24 I gained back stuffing my face with chocolate in a fit of depression over Easter). But hey, I got all jolly when I turned sixty and decided that I wasn’t going to worry about this anymore, right?

I take it back. I care. I have clothes I love that fit but don’t look as good as they used to. I have jeans I adore and I still think that for a woman my age my ass looks pretty fine (if you are an appreciator of the larger, rounder variety) in them, but they’re wearing out and predictably I can’t find my size in the same brand anywhere (what’s so hard about making jeans short enough for a five-foot-tall woman, I ask you?)

And I miss male companionship, which is apparently awarded only to the slender and the young. Or “the lucky and the strong” (from the song, “The Rose“), I guess.  I’m strong, but not lucky in the sense of “getting.” You know what I mean. Bah!

I’m on a roll with my writing, at least insofar as I have now actually submitted two pieces to lit mags and I’m saving new opportunities daily on Submittable. But that means planting my butt on a chair in front of my laptop for several hours at a time and it seems there is no amount of deprivation or water guzzling or sweating-with-dumbbells or primal-meat-gorging that can counteract the effect of the sedentary arts. ARGH!

My hair is growing out because I can’t afford a haircut. It’s all I can do to get one job application submitted a day while also trying to write something to submit on Submittable while also trying to give at least some attention to Angelic Daughter. I have three minutes left to write before the moment I promised her we’d go out to get her some tacos before I have to go to my three-hour chorus rehearsal.

I guess I can try tweaking the hours of my “window,” which is the eight hours out of twenty-four the intermittent fasting folks say you can eat. My brother has taken this to ridiculous extremes, fasting for 36 hours at a time, TWICE A WEEK. He is disappearing.

There will be treats at rehearsal. It is very likely I will consume some, unless I can find some primal meat to gorge on before I leave. Nothing like a meat-breather next to you in a tightly packed chorus of over 100 singers. Note to self: brush teeth and gargle before rehearsal. I think there’s some shrimp in the freezer I could boil. Doesn’t seem quite primal enough but it will have to do.

Tomorrow more Kondo-ing in the house to find crap forgotten treasures I can sell on eBay or Facebook or at Half Price Books. Workout, shower, write something and then sally forth to face down the evil doctor’s office scale again (the scale is evil, the doctor is really nice). Routine, cautionary look-see, no worries.

After that, plan Fall Excursion, subsidized by Kondo-ing sales, I hope. Until then, I remain,

Your running out of shrimp boiling time,

Ridiculouswoman

 

 

 

 

 

A Hose, Two Fans and a Thunderstorm

I grew up in a brick house with no air conditioning.  We used box fans in the windows and a sprinkler in the back yard (usually surrounded by neighborhood kids in bathing suits, waiting their turn to “run through.”)

For the past twenty years I’ve lived in another house without air conditioning. It has thick plaster walls, two layers of siding (some past owner just slapped vinyl over wood, and we left it alone) and a floor plan similar to that childhood home, where my brothers and I could run or ride a tricycle in circles around the ground floor while Dad played “Sweet Georgia Brown” on the piano. We called that “the running song,” and thought it was fun to zip past Dad, through the hall and kitchen, dodge the dining room table, scream and laugh our way through the front hall and then back past Dad in the living room.  After I became a parent myself, I realized Dad played “the running song” to tire us out so we’d go to bed. He was a genius at stuff like that.

When Angelic Daughter was a toddler, I bought her a Red Flyer trike, so she could do  circles in this current house – past the living room fireplace, through the kitchen, left through the library/dining room, across the front hall and then around again.

We’ve just come through three days 94-98 degrees (F) and very high humidity. No joke and very dangerous if you live an a brick-oven building in the city without air conditioning.

But we’ve got a yard, a garden hose and two fans – one box fan:

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and one newer one, that stands on the floor and rotates.

Upstairs, there are three smaller ones, each with two fans that can be switched from “intake” to “exhaust.”

Friday night, the “exhaust” setting just couldn’t keep up with the heat.

So I set up the cot downstairs –  the cot I bought for Mike to use, if the heat became too much during that last summer. But he couldn’t lie down flat without excruciating pain, so he tried to use another “lounger” I bought, a cheap bench sort of thing, that could sit up like a pool chaise. But he couldn’t get comfortable on that either, no matter how we adjusted the pillows. It was rock hard.

The visiting hospice nurse took one look at him on that thing and said, “this is not under control. I’ll send an ambulance and get you into the hospital.”

So Mike got two days of blessed relief in air conditioning, adjusted pain meds, and a good break from the stress of being home and needing my help all the time.

That damn rock hard lounger was one of the first things to go. But I kept the cot, in case  a brother or a guest might need to stay over one night.

Last night, that cot gave Angelic Daughter respite from the upstairs bedroom heat. I slept on the couch, where I slept while taking care of Mike, in the front room where we had set up his hospital bed when he came home after his brief stay, so he could watch TV and eat dinner with us.

Around 2 or 3 in the morning, still sweaty and not sleeping, I stepped outside on the deck and noticed that the breeze had picked up.

It’s coming, I thought – relief.

It cooled off enough for me to open the ground floor windows (and still feel secure, since I was right there) and use the fans to draw in some fresh, slightly cooler air.  The forecast said it would be 85 by 7 am, so I shut them again and closed the drapes by 6:45, when the temperature began to climb.

Smoothies for breakfast: frozen yogurt, berries and cream in the blender. Voila.

Salad bar in the air conditioned grocery for lunch.

And the garden hose after 3, in the shade from the cedars outside my desk area window. Blessed lake water still icy cold in July. Squished around in a wet bathing suit for half an hour, and then the storms hit – torrential rain, thunder and lightning – and a temperature drop of 20 degrees within an hour.

Windows back open, despite the downpour, to take in that delicious, rain-cooled air.

Memories and moments like these free me from obsessive worry; they help me remember Mike (inventor of all our strategies for keeping cool in this house through the hottest heat waves) with love and gratitude, instead of pain, grief and regret.

For now, the heat is gone, the storms have blown over, the birds are singing and the yard is green.

May you stay cool and find your calm after whatever storms blow over you.

Yours,

Ridiculouswoman

Fan image by Katie White from Pixabay

Hose image by Renee Gaudet from Pixabay)

 

Too Old and Too Expensive

“… at this time we are moving forward with other candidates that more closely fit our needs.”

This email came ten minutes after I finished screaming at reprimanding Angelic Daughter for WRITING ON MY NEWLY PAINTED WALL and then removing every privilege, excursion and cherished food I could think of from her foreseeable future, replacing them with cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming and REPAINTING SAID WALL.

Well, karma’s a bitch, ain’t it?

The bullshit factor just rubs it in, because this is what they say when their lawyers have instructed them never to tell you the truth, to wit,  “you’re too old and too expensive.”

This was the second time in as many months this has happened to me – the callback interview went really well: I really thought I had this one in the bag. And just as I was thinking it would be another week or so before I heard, WHAMMO, the buzzer sounds.

Thank you for playing, NEXT!

The clock has also run out on me with the two agents I pitched at the Midwestern Writer’s Agent Fest – one who requested the full manuscript of my book right there at the pitch, the other who said she’d look at my query.

Pocket vetos, both.

So on a day when I screwed up badly as a Mom and feel horrible about it, I was rejected from a job I thought I had for sure, my confidence in my writing has sunk to a new low.

I know the problem with the book – in a very crowded market, a memoir has to be about something greater than the mere experience of the writer – they want grand social themes – Hillbilly Elegy, or Educated – from “marginalized voices.”

I’m a straight, suburban white woman. About as non-marginalized as it gets.

Except for one thing:

My age.

If there is one universally marginalized group of people on this planet, it is older women.

So much for “yippee! I’m sixty and invisible!”

That has quickly become, “Oh shit, I’m sixty and unemployable.”

And unpublishable too,  apparently.

They see my book as a “me-moir.”  It has to have more universality or social impact than is readily apparent. It can’t just be both heartwrenching and funny.  It has to connect to some broader social theme.

Really? Well, how about this:

There are nearly 12 million widows in the US.

And (pulled directly from the Family Caregiver Alliance website):

  • Approximately 43.5 million caregivers have provided unpaid care to an adult or child in the last 12 months. [National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. (2015). Caregiving in the U.S.]
  • Upwards of 75% of all caregivers are female, and may spend as much as 50% more time providing care than males. [Institute on Aging. (2016). Read How IOA Views Aging in America.]
  • Older caregivers are more likely to care for a spouse or partner. The average age of spousal caregivers is 62.3. [National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. (2015). Caregiving in the U.S.]

And the American Cancer Society predicts:

1,762,450 new cancer cases and 606,880 cancer deaths in 2019.

I want to believe that my story could help caregivers feel less invisible, and less alone. Caregiving can be terrifying, exhausting, fulfilling and heartbreaking.

It can drive you crazy. It did me, and made me do ridiculous things, to avoid facing the certainty of my husband’s premature death at just 54.

I don’t feel crazy anymore, just defeated. If I couldn’t land this job, a job for which I simply cannot believe another candidate could have been better qualified, then I give up.

And today I feel like giving up on my writing, too.

It’s going to be 95 tomorrow, 98 on Friday, and no air conditioning. We’ve been through it before, but sitting immobile in a damp bathing suit, periodically hosing oneself down, isn’t conducive to sparkling query letter writing.

And what if, even with my spot-on experience, I was rejected from the job because I blew the interview? How could that be? The interviewer said I was first on her list to contact, and started the interview by just asking me if I had questions. Kept me there meeting volunteers for half an hour longer than I planned.

Did I ask too  many questions? Give too much information? Was it because I explained my need for a little time to find a caregiver for Angelic Daughter?

If it was that, then, I wouldn’t want to work for you anyway.  Feh.

After my previous rejection, my sweet brother sent me this:

“Everytime I thought I was being REJECTED from something good, I was actually being REDIRECTED to something better.” – Steve Maraboli

I’ll hang on to that, and try to believe it, while I clean the bathroom and vacuum the floors.

But Angelic Daughter is going to repaint that wall.

Trying to find my redirection, I remain,

Your disappointed, self-doubting, wanting to find a way to keep trying,

Ridiculouswoman