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funny old lady

When it comes to a friend, give me a real woman of a certain age. That number is not fixed, but an age where you have acquired some wisdom and life experience. Some women learn the hard lessons early in life, and others need to spend more time learning, until they can stand on common ground.

A real woman is not afraid to be honest, straight forward and talk openly about the battle scars that she has earned along the way. Each battle has a story and memories behind it. Whether funny or sad, the scars add up, inside and out, and we keep going, adding even more than we ever thought possible.

A certain age is acquired because it takes time to see parents age, or a loved one pass. A certain age is required to remember what going to a library was like and holding real books in your hand. A woman of a certain age can discuss college, adolescent children, divorce, work, and trying to pay the bills. Women of a certain age can recognize songs from the last 40 years, or more, and remember where they were when they first enjoyed them. Women of a certain age are also not afraid to turn the music up, dance in the car and sing loudly to the radio. That is an age of confidence and reckless abandon, not years.

I have self doubts where once I had confidence. With each betrayal, or new anxiety, time has taught me not to trust as openly and fully as I once did, and replaced it with caution. We build our experiences without forgetting the old. We create a history and, if lucky, a life with someone willing to ride alongside.

Real women of a certain age are able to judge people on their own merits without having to Google them or follow their tweets. They have learned how to trust their intuition and assess a situation similar to one they have had in the past. Women of a certain age have a gage of comparison for human behavior in themselves and others. Real women are rarely at a loss for words. They have learned when it is safe to speak, or keep it to themselves, because they know no one is genuinely listening.

Real women are able to discuss things openly and recognize phoniness at ten paces. Their lives have not been perfect, but they buy their own groceries, work to pay the bills, and suffer through adolescence angst at least twice – once as a teenager and many more times as a mother.

The wonderful thing about real women is they can speak freely and have a great conversation. There is more than enough reality to go around, so you share your stories and remark on the common threads of experiences. We don’t want to have to look over your shoulder, or ours, to find an ulterior motive on the horizon or someone keeping score. We no longer have the patience for the espionage or efforts to tear us down. We have been where you are now, and already succeeded, and begun something new. Just because you want me to prove myself to you, does not mean I have to, because inside I know who I am. The body may be moving slower, but the brain projects even faster.

Real women of a certain age have grown up enough to realize that while things have not turned out the way they always wanted, or don’t look the way they used to, they are all they’ve got, and are survivors, in every way.

Real women have not let go; It is not merely a lack of caring. Rather, it is a searing, fresh desire and ability to communicate deeply about things that no one asked if we were ready to let go of, or cared deeply about, and so we form strong opinions. I wanted to let go of the weight, but the hair went instead. No one gave me a choice, but that is how it goes. I had to leave behind best friends, but gained real time with my family. I have worked long hours, traveled to different jobs, and won awards, but now my job is to help support my family’s financial needs. It may not look impressive in person, or on paper, but it is a priority and my motivation. Real women know that while it is not always appreciated, it is our task and goal to raise the children we bring into the world to the best of our ability. We acknowledge that while they may not have always been our finest moments, we have done the very best we could at the time. The hard choices have to be made, and no one else will accept the responsibility, so a real woman steps up.

For those of you who are younger than me, and are dismissive of my technical skills or count me as part of the invisible generation, remember I have already lived through what you are just contemplating or beginning. I was not born with a mouse in my hand. My learning curve has been steeper and steadier because I am of a certain age. I can communicate in cursive, write thank you notes, and lived through TV screens that went from bigger to smaller and back again. I have worked on manual typewriters, electric typewriters, switchboards, large computers that used Basic, to learning Word, Excel and iPhone apps. I have balanced books with manual ledger and written checks in QuickBooks. My waistline may keep expanding, but so does my mind and world of experience.

Real women don’t speak differently when talking to a man; they speak to every human being earnestly regardless of money, power, or gender. Real women don’t minimize who they are to maximize someone else’s ego. Intelligence and loyalty are to be respected and hard-earned in the ups and downs of daily existence. If there is an issue, let’s talk about it. If I have hurt you, or you have hurt me, we need to be honest about our actions, accountability and our apologies. Or, we could save a lot of time, and treat each other kinder and more compassionately from the beginning. We have all got bruises and keep pushing on. Anger and disappointment are real, revenge and back stabbing are not. Look me in the eye when I speak and don’t climb the ladder of acquisition on my back. Emotions and ego take place, but in a relationship with a real woman, of a certain age, you either choose to move forward or leave the toxic behind. You have better things to do and time is more precious. It is better and more meaningful to be true friends with a real woman, than acquaintances with a superficial one.

It is sobering to realize that I am now of a “certain age.” Turning 50, and acknowledging it, is like tearing off a Band-Aid. Whether you do it fast or slow, it is going to hurt! I keep thinking that the more times I say my age out loud, the more I will get used to it. But it is like the changing of the year, I will be writing the wrong numbers for months.

But I love a real woman who is honest, open, and able to laugh out loud. I respect the woman who has advice on raising adolescents and young adults because she has done it herself, yet realizes that her way is not the only way and recognizes the humor and irony in the process. It takes another grandmother to understand the crazy, boundless love you can have for a new member of the family tree. I appreciate the growing list of health issues, and meds to be taken, while still dreaming of a good margarita. Despite understanding that I might look better in Spanx, but would prefer to be barefoot and admiring my pedicure, is a beautiful thing. Acceptance through awareness and experience is what makes a real woman of a certain age a joy to behold ~~ and the best kind of friend to cultivate.

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Thank you for stopping by! It means more than you know. I hope that you enjoy your visit.

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you may never know what may come of your actions_ghandi

Down through the ages, a traditional form has evolved for this type of speech, which is: Some old fart, his best years behind him, who, over the course of his life, has made a series of dreadful mistakes (that would be me), gives heartfelt advice to a group of shining, energetic young people, with all of their best years ahead of them (that would be you).

And I intend to respect that tradition.

Now, one useful thing you can do with an old person, in addition to borrowing money from them, or asking them to do one of their old-time “dances,” so you can watch, while laughing, is ask: “Looking back, what do you regret?” And they’ll tell you. Sometimes, as you know, they’ll tell you even if you haven’t asked. Sometimes, even when you’ve specifically requested they not tell you, they’ll tell you.

So: What do I regret? Being poor from time to time? Not really. Working terrible jobs, like “knuckle-puller in a slaughterhouse?” (And don’t even ASK what that entails.) No. I don’t regret that. Skinny-dipping in a river in Sumatra, a little buzzed, and looking up and seeing like 300 monkeys sitting on a pipeline, pooping down into the river, the river in which I was swimming, with my mouth open, naked? And getting deathly ill afterwards, and staying sick for the next seven months? Not so much. Do I regret the occasional humiliation? Like once, playing hockey in front of a big crowd, including this girl I really liked, I somehow managed, while falling and emitting this weird whooping noise, to score on my own goalie, while also sending my stick flying into the crowd, nearly hitting that girl? No. I don’t even regret that.

But here’s something I do regret:

In seventh grade, this new kid joined our class. In the interest of confidentiality, her Convocation Speech name will be “ELLEN.” ELLEN was small, shy. She wore these blue cat’s-eye glasses that, at the time, only old ladies wore. When nervous, which was pretty much always, she had a habit of taking a strand of hair into her mouth and chewing on it.

So she came to our school and our neighborhood, and was mostly ignored, occasionally teased (“Your hair taste good?” — that sort of thing). I could see this hurt her. I still remember the way she’d look after such an insult: eyes cast down, a little gut-kicked, as if, having just been reminded of her place in things, she was trying, as much as possible, to disappear. After awhile she’d drift away, hair-strand still in her mouth. At home, I imagined, after school, her mother would say, you know: “How was your day, sweetie?” and she’d say, “Oh, fine.” And her mother would say, “Making any friends?” and she’d go, “Sure, lots.”

Sometimes I’d see her hanging around alone in her front yard, as if afraid to leave it.

And then — they moved. That was it. No tragedy, no big final hazing.

One day she was there, next day she wasn’t.

End of story.

Now, why do I regret that? Why, forty-two years later, am I still thinking about it? Relative to most of the other kids, I was actually pretty nice to her. I never said an unkind word to her. In fact, I sometimes even (mildly) defended her.

But still. It bothers me.

So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded . . . sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.

Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?

Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.

Now, the million-dollar question: What’s our problem? Why aren’t we kinder?

Here’s what I think:

Each of us is born with a series of built-in confusions that are probably somehow Darwinian. These are: (1) we’re central to the universe (that is, our personal story is the main and most interesting story, the only story, really); (2) we’re separate from the universe (there’s US and then, out there, all that other junk – dogs and swing-sets, and the State of Nebraska and low-hanging clouds and, you know, other people), and (3) we’re permanent (death is real, o.k., sure – for you, but not for me).

Now, we don’t really believe these things – intellectually we know better – but we believe them viscerally, and live by them, and they cause us to prioritize our own needs over the needs of others, even though what we really want, in our hearts, is to be less selfish, more aware of what’s actually happening in the present moment, more open, and more loving.

So, the second million-dollar question: How might we DO this? How might we become more loving, more open, less selfish, more present, less delusional, etc., etc?

Well, yes, good question.

Unfortunately, I only have three minutes left.

So let me just say this. There are ways. You already know that because, in your life, there have been High Kindness periods and Low Kindness periods, and you know what inclined you toward the former and away from the latter. Education is good; immersing ourselves in a work of art: good; prayer is good; meditation’s good; a frank talk with a dear friend; establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition — recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us.

Because kindness, it turns out, is hard — it starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs, and expands to include . . . well, everything.

One thing in our favor: some of this “becoming kinder” happens naturally, with age. It might be a simple matter of attrition: as we get older, we come to see how useless it is to be selfish — how illogical, really. We come to love other people and are thereby counter-instructed in our own centrality. We get our butts kicked by real life, and people come to our defense, and help us, and we learn that we’re not separate, and don’t want to be. We see people near and dear to us dropping away, and are gradually convinced that maybe we too will drop away (someday, a long time from now). Most people, as they age, become less selfish and more loving. I think this is true. The great Syracuse poet, Hayden Carruth, said, in a poem written near the end of his life, that he was “mostly Love, now.”

And so, a prediction, and my heartfelt wish for you: as you get older, your self will diminish and you will grow in love. YOU will gradually be replaced by LOVE. If you have kids, that will be a huge moment in your process of self-diminishment. You really won’t care what happens to YOU, as long as they benefit. That’s one reason your parents are so proud and happy today. One of their fondest dreams has come true: you have accomplished something difficult and tangible that has enlarged you as a person and will make your life better, from here on in, forever.

Congratulations, by the way.

When young, we’re anxious — understandably — to find out if we’ve got what it takes. Can we succeed? Can we build a viable life for ourselves? But you — in particular you, of this generation — may have noticed a certain cyclical quality to ambition. You do well in high-school, in hopes of getting into a good college, so you can do well in the good college, in the hopes of getting a good job, so you can do well in the good job so you can . . .

And this is actually O.K. If we’re going to become kinder, that process has to include taking ourselves seriously — as doers, as accomplishers, as dreamers. We have to do that, to be our best selves.

Still, accomplishment is unreliable. “Succeeding,” whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there’s the very real danger that “succeeding” will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended.

So, quick, end-of-speech advice: Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up. Speed it along. Start right now. There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness. But there’s also a cure. So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf — seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life.

Do all the other things, the ambitious things — travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality — your soul, if you will — is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Teresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.

And someday, in 80 years, when you’re 100, and I’m 134, and we’re both so kind and loving we’re nearly unbearable, drop me a line, let me know how your life has been. I hope you will say: It has been so wonderful.

Congratulations, Class of 2013.

I wish you great happiness, all the luck in the world, and a beautiful summer.

http://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/31/george-saunderss-advice-to-graduates/?_r=1

funny old lady

ernest hemgway_live the full life of the mind

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Thank you for stopping by! I hope that you enjoy your visit.
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In Life

Friendships with women “of a certain age” seem more precious and fragile to me. They arise like soap bubbles, frothy and shiny, but have to be caught before they slip away. I have to work to catch the opportunity before it is gone.

I do not live in the city where I raised my children; there are no mommy coffee dates and well-planned birthday parties at indoor amusement parks. The memories of Saturday afternoon dinners shared among good friends, and their children, are of a time many years ago.

At this age, I go to work and home. Very rarely, do I have the energy to plan activities in the evenings. However, there is an opportunity to meet people once a year, or every six months, in a long-denied rendezvous of talk and reality. Our spirits merge like magnets, pulled together and hanging on each word, laughing together and grateful for the encapsulated histories we have created. We don’t see each other often, but when we do, we go back to our routine of honesty, laughter, tears, and empathy.

It is a wonderful thing to bypass the posturing and the posing, the nonsense, and the false compliments and go straight to the good stuff: the truth!

We talk about our adult children, the changes in our bodies, the experiences with our families, our concerns for future employment, and what miracle will become our retirement plan. We don’t pretend to be a size 6 or 10 or 14, we know things have softened. But, it is not just our bodies, it is our hearts too. We are more sensitive, aware, and acknowledge the good and bad that occurs in the world and our prayers for the safety of children everywhere. We understand the language of grief and sadness and share it in our conversation. We float from one topic to another, untethered from any destination or motive, and simply speak eye to eye.

We are well-educated but know that intelligence and experiences aren’t always recognized for the accomplishments that they are in a life of ups and downs. We leave the narcissism to others and talk from the soul.

It is such a gift to find, at this stage in my life, that I can be drawn to some personalities who make me feel welcome and treasured. Underneath all the stress and artifice, there are deep wells of emotion and the freedom to share it all with another smart, empathetic, compassionate woman.

Is it better to have a therapist or a friend? At this age, perhaps they are one and the same.

We allow ourselves, without fear, to shed the masks and the tears, and question where and who we are. The delight in unraveling conversation is joyful, but limited in time. That is what makes it all the more precious and recognized for the gift that it is.

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Thanks for stopping by! It means more than you know.
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