Over Sixty and Definitely Not Looking for Mr. Goodbar

It was a beautiful Florida morning. Not a cloud in the sky, still early enough before the rest of the world took its first breath and perfect for the beach. Armed with a writing pad, a book I had yet to finish, lotion and a chair I bounded for one of my favorite spots isolated enough where I knew I could set up shop right in front of the ocean without having to hear anything other than the lap of waves, the rustle of grape trees and the call of seabirds. At least for a few hours, anyway.

As I mentioned  it was quite early and I wasn’t expecting to find anyone else there. However, there was someone else there. Someone I knew and well and had not spoken to in over ten years. I pushed aside the awkwardness of the moment, the reasons that pulled us apart, and just settled my chair beside hers where a conversation began and the details of our lives — what we’d been doing, where we were now — flowed out.

For what felt like hours I sat there listening to everything she had to say. She had recently turned sixty-five and despite all her monetary wealth, two successful daughters and the impending birth of her first grandchild, she was not happy. A deep hole existed where there should have been nothing but joy. This was not something I could tell her. I did not live her life. I did not see where she began, what she had envisioned for herself. Those paramount things she hoped to achieve.

Taking stock is a reality check. It’s something we all go through at some point, if not many points, during the course of our lives. And while I’m not certain they’re always productive assessments, I do believe they’re absolutely critical in helping us stay on track.

A feat, which for most of us humans, is not always an easy thing to do.

One friend when he turned forty suffered a heart attack. Another quit his job and went to work for Starbucks. And although I personally never experienced a mid-life crisis, per se, well, not the kind anyway that entails trashing your clothes, liquidating your 401 (k) to buy a sports car, or giving yourself a do-over with Miss Clairol Pink #3, I did however wind up around that same forty mile-marker in the throes of a divorce and menopause. Two messy hardships I did not ask for. And two hardships that would drive any normal woman way off the deep end.

So deep there were days I forgot to breathe, I forgot my children, and they, in turn, forgot about me. But somehow I got through it. Goo Goo G’joob hallelujah. I survived my forties, my fifties seemingly intact, and now that I’m here at the sixty plus stage over the proverbial hill sitting on a Cornflake after the van has come and gone, I can finally, honestly say I like where I am. I like who I am. Cellulite, age spots, jiggly bat underarms and all.

Yes, I stopped fighting that mother ship a long time ago. When shit happens around you, when those you love die, a ground-breaking seed inside your head grows. And like a breath of fresh air, the I’m-going-to-set-the-world-on-fire kind of dreams that once consumed you, are thrust elsewhere. On your children and your grandchildren, for the simple reason you’re just so happy to be alive.

Joan Didion summed it up best: “I no longer want reminders of what was, what got broken, what got lost, what got wasted.” So much of our lives is spent reviewing parts of our existence that have become nothing more than wreckage upon a shore. Things that cannot be undone for all the tea in China.

I hope you realize this sooner versus later. I hope everything that bogs down your life, that keeps that hole in your heart from filling, falls away with the simple understanding what matters most, is what lays ahead. And the only person you have to make happy … is you.

Three years ago, after struggling with life butting in, with blank pages, with characters who wanted to tell a much different story than the one I intended, I finally completed my first book. It was the ultimate cherry. The sense of accomplishment that had alluded me for so long. And the interesting thing is, looking back, I realized it could have happened a lot sooner had I simply understood the difference between writing for others and writing for myself, and the flower of relevancy blooms from within.

I believe it takes great passion, great courage to live your life out loud with the sort of honesty of mind where things that feel shallow sink, and things that feel true float upon the surface as you give voice to all those inner frailties that makes us human. Because we’re all screwed up — to some degree or another — and I don’t see anyone exempt from this messy pool of mankind. Not you, not me, not even Mr. Rogers with his snappy sweater and picture-perfect neighborhood.

Look, all I’m saying is that the closer we get to our number being called, re-adjust the lens. Ride the peace train of happiness wherever it takes you. And if that means crusading for the homeless, opening a cupcake shop, knitting sweaters for Etsy, swimming the Atlantic, or simply retiring to the west coast of Florida with all your Jujubes intact to get you there, then by all means … go for it!

Me? I’m writing another book.

 

 

Photo credit: Martin Barraud/Getty

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When Lifelong Friends Die

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The past three days have been tough. Incredibly, incredibly tough. Losing someone you love is no easy thing. In my book, I believe it’s the hardest facet of life you’ll ever have to face. And as inevitable as breathing.

I met my girlfriend Allison when I was twelve. I had recently moved to Woodmere (New York) and so had she. I guess both feeling like outcasts solidified that bond of mutuality that doesn’t come along often. And that it lasted a lifetime, wow, was a gift.

No two people were more different when it came to things we did, people we dated, clothes we wore. She was extremely smart school-wise, I was definitely not. She was on the conservative side, I believed the more outrageous, the better. She built a career, I didn’t. Like I said, two very different people. And yet, despite the intermittent years where we drifted apart, we never lost touch. We remained each other’s greatest allies. Because that’s what friends are. The Wind Beneath My Wings people who truly love you and want only the best for you. They make or break you. They are tenuous, they are fleeting, they are volatile, expanding and forever testing. They bring you up to a standard you might otherwise never dare to reach. They bring you soup when you’re sick. Don’t give a shit that you look a mess. They hold your hand in times of despair. They are there when your babies are born, when your parents die, when your husbands leave. They are there. Always, always there like a relentless storm or a magnificent rainbow reminding you that life is sometimes fucked up, sometimes cruel, but it is also equally beautiful. Despite the grief that shows up on your doorstep when they’re gone.

Yes, grief is something I know well. In fact, you could say we’re on a first-name basis. I guess it comes with the territory when you lose a sister who was everything to you, it creates a chasm you never fully get beyond, leaving you without an anchor. And this to me was unbearable. So I turned to the very small, very select group of women I’d known all my life and called them sisters … because it was the most natural thing in the world to do.

And now after fifty-two years to find myself minus one, is a feeling so gut-wrenching I want to scream. As a writer, I like to think of my words as my ammo, my link from point A to point B without ever having to move this butt from the chair. Yet, whatever I’m saying right now can’t touch the depth of my sadness over losing Allison or the unfathomable anger that there won’t be other days, other phone calls to commiserate over. What we had … is it. Yes, I know we shared some fantastic, wonderful moments and that all I need do is think of them, think of her with those big, funky glasses of hers, and I’m smiling. She deserves that celebration of life. All those incredibly special people do.

But you know, the truth is, I am so not there yet. Okay? Give me time.

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On the Road of Life What I’ve Learned Along the Way

With my 64th birthday around the corner and my sexagenarian status firmly in place, I like to think I’ve learned a thing or two over the decades. Which is why I thought now would be as good a time as any to jot down whatever wisdom I’ve accumulated … so far.

1. Life is an ever expanding gift of moments. Defining moments precious and rare, and boundlessly filled with joy, tenderness, heartbreak, beauty, braces, babies and mortgage payments all rolled up together.

2. Everything always has a way of working itself out. Maybe not in the way you expected. But give it a moment. Take a breath, and let the universe do its thing.

3. The perception of importance rests entirely with you. How you see yourself shouldn’t be dictated by others.

4. As much as I hate to admit it, chocolate isn’t a food group.

5. Ignorance is not bliss. Nor is sticking your head in the sand the best way to avoid issues. If you expect change, then you have to be part of that change. It will be the most empowering thing you’ll ever do.

6. Despite what people project, we’re more alike than we’re different. Underneath our Dolce & Gabbana and TJ Maxx specials, we’re all scared human beings. We’re f**ked up to some degree, we’re needy, insecure and even broken. All the more reason to not be so judgmental.

7.  Lord Byron said, “There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more.” So, go take that walk on the beach and give your soul a shot in the arm. Everything else will wait.

8. Happiness starts and ends with you.

9. Friends are those people who stick around when no one else does. They’re your rocks of granite, your cheering squads, telling those truths you might otherwise not want to hear. And if you end up with just one, well, then you’re luckier than most.

10. Forget the idea that publishing your next novel will fix everything that ails you, and put the happiness chip back into your heart. It won’t happen. What keeps you grounded is not the prize rather the actual doing. The writing. The emancipation of word after word. The same string of thought that you alone created. That is the joy.

11. Take care of your teeth. Floss daily and get regular cleanings. You’ll thank me later!

12. Stay in shape as best you can. Get down on the mat, stretch those old legs, take walks, take bike rides. Anything to keep you physically and mentally alert. This is another one of those things you’ll thank me for.

13. Humility. I don’t imagine this comes readily to anyone under the age of thirty. But eventually you learn that you don’t know everything. You’re not the best at everything, and if you want to get anywhere in life you must first take those baby steps just like everyone else.

14. Family is everything and sometimes they’re nothing. They are the most frustrating relationships you’ll ever have to tackle.

15. At some point you’re going to have to make peace with all those things hanging around in your refrigerator. Yup, the ice cream, the tacos, the chocolate chip cookies. No more battles. If you want that slice of cake, I say go for it!

16. Reaching out to those less fortunate and less capable is our human responsibility. People, children, animals, all those that cannot fend for themselves deserve to be shown even a morsel of love and kindness. It’s not rocket science.

17. Death. This is what I perceive to be the hardest thing you’ll be forced to bear. Losing those people you can’t imagine your life like without. When they die, a huge chunk of you will die too. It’s a loss you will never fully get beyond. But maybe that’s the point … you’re not supposed to.

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