Trading Fear for Flow, or, Middle-Aged Woman Rules, Part Two

Go for the flow….

“It’s my life
It’s now or never
I ain’t gonna live forever
I just want to live while I’m alive….”

Richard Sambora, Jon Bon Jovi, Max Martin

Bon Jovi? Seriously? I’m quoting Bon Jovi?

Well, the thing is, for the purpose of this post, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Allow me to explain:

For most of my adult life, I’ve been on the brink of a panic attack.

I remember the exact moment my mind cracked, my OCD kicked in, and nearly every minute of my life became fraught with usually low-grade, but sometimes extreme, stress and anxiety.

I was waiting at a stoplight to cross Michigan Avenue and head back toward the law school. I was holding a fast food diet soda in a flimsy paper cup, with one of those plastic tops with the straw through it.

I remember tossing the remains of that diet soda into a municipal garbage basket (basket, not can or bin – this is significant) right before the light changed and I crossed the street.

In those days, the garbage receptacles on the streets in Chicago were like big steel baskets – a kind of steel crosshatch mesh, which would contain paper and boxes and bottles, but not the liquids within them. Needless to say, that’s not the design anymore.

But that day, decades ago, I tossed that drink, and it burst open in the basket – the plastic top popped off  and a lot of the liquid and ice burst through the not very fine wire mesh and splashed onto the sidewalk.

And because law school had already warped my mind, sapped all my youthful bold courage (the courage that allowed me to drive cross country, alone, from Illinois to California and back twice a year, starting at 18) and turned me into a quivering, spineless blob of little-miss-worst-case-scenario, the first thing I thought of was, “what if someone slips on that ice cube, and injures themselves on this sidewalk?”

And I ran across the street, pursued by the terrors of the inevitable lawsuit that would result. Never did result, but still. The fear and anxiety were real.

I became a classic OCD “checker.” Is the iron off? Is the door locked? Did I turn off the oven? Did I remember the tickets?

Now, securing the domicile and remembering the tickets and making all the arrangements was always my job in our marriage anyway, but I took it to ridiculous extremes.

To the point where Mike and I came up with a ritual for it – when I was doing something I knew I’d feel compelled to check on, I’d say aloud, “THE IRON IS OFF- THE IRON IS UNPLUGGED!”  Ditto the stove, the lights, etc. “THE DOOR IS LOCKED!” You get the idea.

It worked – I allow myself one “check” on things and that’s it. After one check, I require my circular mind to find closure and let the chips fall where they may.

But this didn’t work at work. Every “real” job I’ve ever had has been accessorized with  consuming anxiety – usually just the usual constant, low grade anxiety I’ve felt ever since that soft drink blew open. But often enough, a withering, crippling stress about whether the right thing was in the envelope I was about to send out, or if I copied the wrong person on the confidential email, or if the file cabinets were locked. Geez, I’m getting heart palpitations right now, just writing about that.

The only times I didn’t, and still don’t, feel that constant current of near-panic are when I’m singing, when I’m on stage speaking for an audience (which gives most people the heebie-jeebies – but man, that’s home to me) and when I’m writing.

So, DUH, do that!

Doing it, though,  involves a leap of faith that abandoning something (like a job) that is killing you but providing conventionally defined “security” (financial, usually) won’t result in ruin and disaster.

But, you’ll never know unless you try, right?

Life is short. Only God knows the number of our days.

So I’m going for “flow,” that feeling of absolute contentment, total engagement and pleasure in what you are doing. Do that, the self-help gurus say, and all will be well.

In my previous post, “Fatherless Days,” I referred to a plan, to help me and our daughter get all the way to the other side of the fear, grief and anger, to the acceptance of Mike’s death and the start of our new lives.

So I’ll go for the flow.

That’s the plan.

Helluva plan, right?

I know what you’re thinking, because I’m thinking it too. This is probably the latest in a series of potentially disastrous financial decisions.

But hey, it’s my life, it’s now or never, right? I just wanna live before I die.

So I’m hangin’ up my warehouse boots, trading them in for high heels (well, kitten heels usually, about the most I can handle anymore, but don’t count those glittery gold numbers pictured up there out just yet) probably for good. Driving a forklift was, um, interesting, but too damn dangerous, which made me anxious, and I’m not going there again.

I’m expanding the middle-aged woman rules to include:

  • Sing (and get paid for it, if you can)
  • Write (and get paid for it, if you can)
  • Speak (and get paid for it, if you can)
  • Hire someone to clean your house (if you can afford it – see “sing,” “speak” and “write,” above)
  • Do that “intermittent fasting” thing, because it works
  • Wear whatever makes you feel pretty, vibrant and alive even if it’s kind of, or really, costume-y and probably too “young” (see, “dress like you’re expecting someone,” in the original “middle aged woman rules,” and gold glitter heels, pictured above.) Making a spectacle of yourself this way might even get you some gigs as a professional party guest – why not?
  • Find someone to love

Dammit I’m going to do it. Ridiculousness will ensue, no doubt. Finding the new man will be tough – the online dating thing didn’t work our so well, first round.

And I’ll have to clean the house for the cleaners before I can ask them to maintain it. Divestiture of mass amounts of accumulated crap will be necessary. That’s going to take a while, but I’ll keep you posted. Deja vu – I think I said that last year, when I started this blog. So I call do-over.

Once I finish shoveling out closets, washing floors, vacuuming, dusting and divesting (and blogging in between) I’ll be looking for love, for singing and speaking gigs and someday maybe even for publication of my book.

Until then,  I remain, your most devoted, humble, grateful

Ridiculouswoman

 

Just My Luck; or, An Out-of-Synch Life

Is this all there is?

……” Gonna pack my lunch in the morning
and go to work each day,
and when the evening rolls around,
I’ll go on home and lay my body down,
and when the morning light comes streaming in,
I’ll get up and do it again. Amen.”

-Jackson Browne, The Pretender

I snapped that picture up there, of my crabtree in full bloom, in mid-May, intending to write about it – in mid-May.

Well, here we are in mid-June and the blossoms on the tree have gone by – just my luck.

For more decades than I like to admit, I’ve been doing things too late, living a kind of “pretend” life by putting things off, expecting to get to them in some imagined future that never comes, and now I look up and find I’ve lived two-thirds of my life in a sort of  prolonged delay – “I’ll start living the life I want, right after I get all this other stuff done” —  my life never seemed to “synch up” with my hopes, dreams, talents, whatever.

Examples:

I met Mike at 30, married him at 32, gave birth to our one and only child at 35; nothing so wrong with any of that, but if you think about it now, it means it took me thirty years (well, ok, let’s say, twelve, in adulthood) to find him.

What if it takes that long again? I don’t have another twelve good woman years left in me, I’m afraid.

Just my luck.

The Fourth of July, a/k/a Independence Day, is a big deal in my little home town – more people come home for the parades and parties than seem to come home for Christmas around here.

And having attended decades of the same front-driveway-parade-watching party, watching decades worth of acquaintances, two generations at least, bring new babies to show off at that party, I finally got my chance, at 35.

And for the first time in 100 years, the parade was rained out.

Just my luck.

And right when Mike and I had the chance to rebuild our marriage and plan a retirement together, when our child was gaining more independence and growing into adulthood? Cancer. Gone in 18 months. It’s not like Mike could choose when to die, but it felt so unfair to us, so out of synch. Husbands are not supposed to die right when things could get good again. But it happened.

Now, here I am, nearly two years later, trying to be positive, to look ahead, to be open to a new relationship, to really want a new relationship with a kind, nice man, and what happens?

Kind, nice, men who like and respect women have sounded the retreat, afraid of saying so much as “how do you do?” because the lid has blown off the disgusting, abusive, boorish behavior of the unkind, not-sweet, not-nice men. Everywhere.

Just my luck.

Right when I’ve been trying (failing all too frequently, but trying) to become a nicer, kinder person, to live with love and laughter, my phone blows up with dozens of emails daily alerting me to some new atrocity to be furious about.

Fury is way out of synch with my efforts to respond to this world and people in it with kindness and love.

I feel guilty – selfish, trivial and ineffective. I sign petitions, I try to give money, but lately I’ve just felt peevish and out of sorts and jumpy-jangly all the time. In addition to being lonely.

Nobody wants to be around a person who is anxious, pissed-off, negative and jumpy all the time. Not exactly attractive.

Just my luck.

What do you do with an out-of-synch life? If you feel that time has passed you by?

Gratitude. I’m supposed to be working on being grateful, for each moment, each breath I am yet granted on this Earth.

So when I feel selfish for not being the person who has the snappy comeback or who can cite the verses that say what I’m thinking back at the person I want to cite them at, I’m grateful that someone else has done it for me. I’m reminded that many, many people are feeling what I’m feeling, and can respond to it better and more eloquently than I can right now.

I’m grateful for that.

Father’s Day. People innocently asking our child what we did for Dad yesterday.

“Dad’s in heaven,” is the reply. Which makes them feel bad, but it’s not their fault. They didn’t know. So I explain gently that we had a nice picnic by his grave, as a sort of “meet up” with his spirit.

I had a very vivid dream of him last night – our child announcing, “Dad’s here!” and me finding him there on a couch, and able to give him a hug, before he flew out the window, chasing something. I really needed to give him that hug. So I’m grateful for that dream.

A monarch butterfly, flitting past as I waiting for the train to the Allison Krauss concert. A perfect show. An angelic voice. Comfort in that.

I’m grateful for that.

But it can’t be denied that the second year of widowhood is hard – our child and I both going through a relapse of grief, trying to figure out how to carry it around with us without letting it define us.

There are no more ritual “first this-es” and “first thats” without him – it’s the second, which will lead to the third, and on and on, for the rest of our lives, without him.

Which magnifies the emptiness, intensifies the loneliness, makes what should be a good day a bleak one.

Out of synch.

Is this all there is?

“I want to know what became of the changes
we waited for love to bring..
were they only the fitful dreams
of some greater awakening?
I’ve been aware of the time going by
They say in the end, it’s the blink of an eye
When the morning light comes streaming in
You’ll get up and do it again
Amen”

(Note: “Out of Synch” came from a wonderful book called The Out-of-Synch Child that helped me understand my child’s sensory challenges – highly recommend for parents struggling to understand a developmentally different child’s sensitivities. It really has nothing to do with this post, just thought I should give credit where credit is due.)

 

 

Let the Light In

Ask and it shall be given, seek and ye shall find? What if that’s actually true?

“Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in….”

-Sara Bareilles

A high school classmate, someone I haven’t talked to in decades, except for a moment’s greeting at the most recent reunion, emails me, out of the blue, and invites me to lunch.

Sure, why not? But why? Just curious – what made you think of me?

Just reaching out, she says – trying to connect and reconnect, after a divorce.

So I go to lunch with this classmate and another, also divorced, and hear their stories of the loss of their marriages.

And I tell the story of the loss of my husband, and what I was trying to push myself to do now – mainly, find a job, as much like my old job as possible. Close to home, where I can wear those beloved work boots, keep my head down, my mouth largely shut (except for necessary presentations to groups of volunteers) and otherwise do as I’m told, while staying on my feet all day, moving heavy things around and losing weight.

Where am I going to find something like that ever again?

And then the classmate who called me mentioned a place that she had volunteered, which I wouldn’t have known about or thought of if she hadn’t mentioned it.

After lunch I go home and check out the website of said organization, and right there, in the employment opportunities, is THE JOB.

The exact job. Warehouse work, on my feet, presentations to volunteers, the whole shebang.

I apply, writing a nice, not a snarky, cover letter.

Interviews came fast, followed by an offer.

An offer of a job with a regular schedule, good benefits, 10 minutes from home.

“Be careful what you wish for, ’cause you just might get it.” (I can’t believe I’m quoting a Daughtry song!) The job does, however, involve driving, and moving things with, a forklift. So that’s a line in my personal sand that I’m going to have to cross, have already started to cross, like it or not.

How did this happen, and happen so fast?

Ask and it shall be given, seek and ye shall find?

What if that’s actually true?

Well, Okay! In that case, I’d like to ask for a big, strong, kind, gentle man, between 5’10” and 6’4″, black hair, green or blue eyes, deep, calm voice, handy, 15 to 20 years younger than I am, and — hmm, now how shall I put this — “energetic?” “vigorous?” “frisky?’ OK, maybe “frisky” is a little too, erm, explicit. But you catch my drift.

That would make me feel fully alive again.

Spring seems to have come at last – today is a sunny day and the crocuses are blooming, the jonquils have opened and the tulips are coming up.  When the sun came out one day a few weeks ago, I found myself opening the drapes, and realizing I hadn’t done that in over a year. Most of the time, we’ve been sitting in a dark house, not letting the light in, muffled, dimmed, in the shadows.

Right when I felt myself sinking into another round of deep grief, which seemed to be happening to our child as well, a year and a half after losing Mike, right when I felt at my weakest, lowest point, right when all I wanted to do was curl up in a little fetal ball and disappear – I unconsciously, almost absent- mindedly, let the light in.

Before losing Mike, I was never one to “hide my light under a bushel,” as the saying goes – far from it. My problem has been much more blaring my light so brightly that it never gives anyone else the chance to let theirs shine.

Part of learning from loss to live with love and laughter is to learn to live with humility – to realize that I’m not really in charge, that if I could just shut it for a minute and be quiet, where I am right now, I might actually hear whispers of God, and feel divine influence, even in the most mundane aspects of my life.

I think God assigns that sort of thing to angels who know your minutiae – who know what you need even if you don’t, quite. So Mike’s involved, here somewhere, I’m pretty sure. (But let’s step up the pace on finding that black haired, green eyed, big, strong, kind gentle man with the deep calm voice, OK, loves?)

I’m not sure why I was whirled right into this job so fast. It sure didn’t feel like I had a helluva lot to do with making it happen – felt more like it happened to me and I was being led by the nose into it. OK, I’ll follow that lead, and see where it takes me.

It already has taken me places I’m afraid to go (e.g. , the driver’s seat of a forklift – but I’m picking it up fast) and reminded me of things I didn’t do so well in the past (see, “making children cry,”) but I’m trying, really trying, to take those things as second chances, learning opportunities, offers to live with humility and kindness, and to get over some of my fears and anxieties, which take up way too much of my headspace. I’m trying (with mixed success, but it’s only been two weeks) to dial it back enough, and to keep my big yap closed for long enough, to hear those whispers of the divine, and to see all those other lights, shining bright, right in front of me.

I’ll keep you posted. Especially about that big, strong, kind, gentle man request. We’ll see how that goes, tee hee.

Until then, I remain, your humble, obedient, loyal, etc.,

Ridiculous Woman

The Attitude of Gratitude – Thankful Thursday 2

This week’s easy: I’m grateful for old friends, and a hometown that guarantees that I will run into them every decade or so, if not more often, and we can pick right up where we left off.

This town, my hometown, has its issues, just like anyplace, but I brought Mike and our child back here for a simple reason: I knew that there are some things in this town that will never change, and that for the rest of our child’s life, there will be people here that have known and cared about our child since elementary school.  Any visit to a regular destination like a local grocery or pharmacy is a pretty sure bet that we will run into someone we know, and every Fourth of July dozens of peer-aged people will return here, and our child will have a happy reunion or two, if only for a few minutes. It’s worth it for that.

This is the kind of place where people you have known since kindergarten, people you grew up with, who share history and memories, will be around, even if you don’t see them often. When you do see them, you’ll take right back up again, wherever you left off, and it just feels good knowing that can happen, at random, any given day.

I’m grateful for the reconnections I made in the summer at my high school reunion (the decade marked to remain unspoken here!) and that I’ve managed to sustain. As my classmates and I cross into new decades, aging into numbers I’m still in denial about, losing parents and spouses, watching kids grow up and leave, or adult children with disabilities take on new challenges, gnawing our nails with nerves but enduring, because we have to, because it is our job as parents, I’m grateful to know I’m not alone in this – that we remember what it used to be like, whose house that was, what the kids looked like when they were small, what the parents looked like when they were young, how they partied, how we did, and how we survived. How we keep going.

And how many of you are thriving. I’ve seen old girlfriends recently who never looked better – who have endured loss, grief and estrangement but who have rallied, reinvented, not just endured but gotten better and stronger. I’m so proud of you, and so grateful that you call me friend. I admire you and hope to be more like you if I can.

So here’s to you, old friends – see you ’round town, soon. Keep up the good work, the strong living, the moving forward. I’ll try to keep up!

Middle-aged Woman Rules

I do not intend to act my age. Not until I have squeezed everything out of what’s left of this life…and put as much love as I can back into it.

There is nothing like widowhood to make you feel your age.

But I am determined to “defy it,” as that make-up ad with Melanie Griffith from a few decades ago – “don’t lie about your age, DEFY IT!”

I noticed that ad a few DECADES ago. So much for lying about my age!

But the “defying” thing suddenly became important to me when Mike got sick.

I wanted him to see me at my best, or at least the best I could be, before he went. So I started the “defying” thing. And it amused him, and we laughed about it before he died, and I like to think that he did see in me again the younger woman he had pursued years before, when all he had to do was hug me and I would glow – “I’m all shiny!” I would say – and though he didn’t have the strength to hug me anymore, I wanted him to see he could still make me shine.

After he died, after all the widow duties were done, after the stone was finally laid and the cold empty absence of him became so present all the time, I panicked, and then I got mad, and then I got determined.

I don’t have very many good woman years left, I thought, and dammit I refuse to believe that they are all already gone. Mike wouldn’t want me to mope around alone, I’m sure. (Although when one of the last two of our wedding-present stemware broke, flew out of the cupboard as if someone had grabbed it and flung it down, he did observe, “that means there’s only one left now,” as if he thought that was right – there will be only you to use those glasses now. But I still don’t think he’d want me to be alone. He fell in love with me, he said, partly because he could see how badly I needed to be loved, and how easily my heart could sing, or cry.)

So I am going to make the most what I have left. Life is short. Love matters.

And so does lipstick.

Allow me to explain.

The Middle Aged Woman Rules began before Mike died, but intensified after. I took a good look in the mirror, began the heavy use of skin products, and established these Rules, which are as follows, in reverse order of importance (and I reserve the right to add to this list, ad infinitum if necessary!:

  • dress like you are expecting someone and waft perfume lightly
  • manage hair wherever it occurs
  • floss
  • smile, and
  • NEVER BE SEEN WITHOUT LIPSTICK

Because the first thing I noticed when I looked in that mirror was how washed out and ghastly I look without lipstick.

So I wear lipstick even when the only person who is going to see me is me. (See, “dress like you’re expecting someone, etc., above.)

Now, on the “dress like you’re expecting someone” rule?

Did I buy nice middle-aged lady clothes, with high shawl collars to cover my neck? And below-the-knee middle-aged librarian looking wool skirts?

Um, no.

The first thing I did (ridiculous woman, remember?) was buy a black peignoir set. Yep, sexy nightie. As if I was expecting someone. Ha!

Then I bought tight jeans, v-neck t-shirts and sweaters and five or six really cute 1950’s style dresses with tight bodices and flared skirts that you wear a crinoline under.

And related infrastructure of naughty underwear.

And I started going out, on a sort of “memory tour” of things Mike and I would have done together if he was still here.

And the first time I wore one of those crinoline dresses out? Several burly, very short-haired women remarked on how attractive it was, that I wore it well.

Oh well. Sorry, ladies, I play for the other team, but I appreciate the compliment, I really do!

And when I took adult child downtown for our annual holiday excursion, I didn’t notice until I headed to the ladies’ that the lipstick I required myself to wear had formed two little “Chuckie” lines (you know, Chuckie? That creepy horror movie doll?) on either side of my mouth, probably as a result of residue on a glass from a too-hasty pre-game snootful of something because I had splurged on a limo and wouldn’t be driving. Uncharacteristically I didn’t check my look in the car, so I was “Chuckie” all the way to the table in the restaurant.

But the kicker was when I went out to an event, smiling!! really trying to smile! and noticed a very tall, nice looking man staring at me, near the bar. I mean staring.

So I’m thinking, this pencil skirt and silk blouse are really working for me! OK!

And he kept staring so I just said, hello, I’m Anne. And he told me his name but I forgot. If adult child was with me I would never forget names, or birthdays, for that matter.

So I went and sat next to someone I knew and tall guy comes and sits on the other side of the someone I knew, and I hear him saying to his wife, “Doesn’t she remind you of Jill?”

And I’m curious so I say, “is Jill a good thing to be reminded of?”

And he turns to me and says, “Oh, yes! Jill was…Jill was brilliant! She was my best friend from high school’s mother! She passed away….”

So after all the skin products, hair management and the accurate application of lipstick, I end up being compared to a middle-aged man’s best friend’s dead mother.

So much for defying my age.

But I still do not intend to act it. My age, I mean. Not until I have squeezed everything out of what’s left of this life that I can and have done my best to put as much love as I can back into it.

Ha! Just call me Mame. Or Vera Simpson.

Or defiantly ridiculous woman.