"I'm late, I'm late for a very important date" said the White Rabbit to Alice.
My 77th birthday has just arrived albeit with a whimper rather than a bang but I am determined not to be late for the date with the rest of my life.
Although the numbers are meaningless on their own and have absolutely nothing to do with how I think and feel, there are two realities: one, is how people react, even one's own family and friends and their perception of how I should now be (more on that subject later); and two, the real issue of maybe running out of time before I get to do or experience a whole lot of things which still interest me.
I have been married and divorced twice; have two grown children and a grand daughter. I have lived and worked in five different countries and made a variety of career choices and changes. Perhaps more significantly, I am authentic and speak from the point of experience: I have, like every one of you, experienced both great joy and sadness; I have had the comfort of a fairly lavish lifestyle as well as a bankrupt one (literally); I have had business successes, personal success and enjoyed the rewards; I have also failed in more than one area of my life - obviously not rewarding initially but eventually from which I learned my most important lessons on how to survive and eventually re-build a life.
Ripened to Perfection Benefit #1
"Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be; the last of life for which the first was made" so said the poet Rudyard Kipling.
I am guessing that most of you would agree with me that in growing older we have indeed grown wiser - and probably wish that it had happened sooner rather than later - when we might have avoided some of those embarrassing or painful mistakes which in my case are sprinkled fairly liberally, like measles, over the landscape of my life. Even when I felt I was doing my best, I know with the benefit of hindsight and the awareness which comes with age, that even though my intention was valid, I fell short in some areas and it saddens me. Unfortunately, there are no do-overs and we have to learn to live with the errors, no matter how uncomfortable. It's easier to enjoy the rewards of success and we should, we earned them; we need to take all of it, good and bad and keep looking forward in order to progress.
For those of us who fall into the divorced category, lugging our guilt around with us like a heavy knapsack, we can at this age drop the damned thing and happily leave it in lost luggage. To prolong the metaphor, we are now ready and unencumbered for the next part of our journey. Although most of us probably have children (and they stay our children forever no matter how old) we are now released from their immediate nurture; and there's a sadness there and sometimes a loss of purpose; it takes time to come to terms with this and to re-imagine our lives; but if we have done our job properly we have now set them free to follow their own pursuits and, surprise, they have in turn set us free to begin the rest of our lives.
We are Fascinating Benefit #2
We have history; we have a truck load of experience with a cornucopia of interesting back stories. We have successes, we have failures, gains and losses, disappointments and joys all crammed into one life - we should celebrate this muddled and flawed mess which we call life for, at the very least, we survived all of it.
If we can maintain our vibrancy and interest in all things (and there's no reason not to) I have found that even much younger people are actually curious about us even if half the time they are struggling with the notion that we did at one time look young, were young just like them and had similar desires and fears. They find it hard, just as we did, to envisage ever being old and I am sure half the time they are silently thinking we are "past it". Personally, I am glad not to have to re-visit those teenage years fraught with insecurities or the twenties when a lot of us still hadn't found our place in the world. I don't enjoy the occasional reminders that I am not as athletic as I once was nor that my looks have faded but I do enjoy the better acceptance of myself just as I am. I love being a Grandma but on the other hand I am not ready for grey hair, 'age-appropriate' clothes or orthopoedic shoes (unless necessitated by a medical condition). If we are on the cusp of being "older" or have long ago crossed that Rubicon then I hope that everyone has embraced the reality, realised the opportunity and re-vamped and re-imagined themselves; that we have created our own style and our appearance whether classical or quirky which will still turn heads; that we have kept healthy eating habits and maintained all our moving parts as well as having our ducks in an orderly row in terms of emotional and intellectual well-being and believe that we should be able to embrace our age, dive in and enjoy it.
Although I don't personally like the term "cougar" it has a certain alluring cachet for some although that expression has a shelf life reserved for a certain age span. So far no-one has come up with anything remotely catchy or attractively descriptive for all of us over 60 even though we are mostly admitting that 60 is the new 40 compared to our parents' eras. I don't want to be called an "oldie" or a "senior" or any of the other pejoratives in use. I want to be visible and I believe deserving of respect - not invalidated and invisible; my innate energy and sense of self still functions as if I am 40 - I'm still here - alive and well with energy, curiosity and enthusiasm. I don't mean we have to develop a phony aura or personality which we might think makes us better or even younger than we are. That would certainly put us in the 'trying too hard and failing' box because it's pretty easy for others to see or infer artificiality and insincerity. Our real persona should be displayed to the world in an honest fashion because we're worth it.
We don't give a damn Benefit #3
We are relaxed enough at this stage to hopefully not give a damn about anyone else's opinion because we have our own moral compass firmly set. Only we should be the judge and jury of our own behaviour; I think the attention we can attract lies in being real and bringing authenticity and integrity to every aspect of ourselves and our actions. We are perhaps more fully "real" than we have ever been and are most likely more at peace with ourselves or, at least, cognisant of the things we can still change or influence and conversely the ones we cannot.
For some of us, we are fortunate to arrive at that point of realisation sooner rather than later, but whenever it occurs in your life , it is a point of release and worthy of celebration - so have a glass of champagne or a donut - whatever moves your motor. At the very least, kick up your heels and do a dance whether anyone's looking or not - who cares! So paint on the bright red shade of lipstick, wear the eye shadow, do the full make-up; get dressed up when you feel like it, special occasion or not. Do it for you and if you don't feel like it, then don't.
I will say at this point for me though, even working from a home office, I always get up, shower, dress and put on make-up because the routine prepares me mentally as well as physically for whatever the day may bring. On the maybe not so enthusiastic days when, like Eleanor Rigby I would prefer to leave my face in a jar by the door (thank you The Beatles for that imagery) it may be a case of fake it till I make it but I have found this assumed attitude usually pays off, equilibrium is regained and I can fool myself, if necessary, into believing all is okay until it is.
Second Childhood Benefit #4
Why not? I choose to believe and take into my heart that this is not an insult or a word to diminish anyone but a recapturing of that joyful, unalloyed sense of ease and playfulness; that pure focussed sense of being absolutely present in every moment which we had as children. That it can be even more intense and valuable as by now we know the emotional and physical costs, the struggles, the gains and the losses which are part of everyday life. To paraphrase Andre Gide "to discover new lands one must consent to lose sight of the shore for a very long time".
There are no bargains to be made with god(s) or life, we need to accept what is or was, value what we now have and shake, rattle and roll into the rest of our lives with determination, unshakeable optimism and a smile as wide as the ocean.
I'm on my way. Are you?
Tips for ‘Writing to be Understood’. Coherent. Logical. Sequential. These three rules can be applied to any genre or medium. If you keep them in mind you will be off to a good start whether you are writing a business letter, a proposal, a newspaper article or a novel. The aim of any writing is to be clear and concise; convey your message; and let the readers hear your voice.
There is a grammatical structure to the English language, but you don’t have to be deterred if you either don’t like studying language or don’t understand the mechanics of it. You already know how to speak it, so it may only be a question of formalising that.
Naturally, writing a creative piece differs from a business letter or a media piece, but the same basic principles apply. Structure of a sentence as well as the overall concept is important so that there is no confusion regarding the meaning of your intended message. Whichever format you are constructing, it has to make sense to the reader.
This may seem obvious, but make sure you know the real meaning of the words you use and use them correctly. If you are not sure look them up - save yourself from embarrassment. Try and avoid words which are overused everyday in conversation such as “nice” or “good”. Look for more effective alternatives. By all means choose words which will make your copy more interesting but don’t use arcane or recondite words just for the sake of using a “big”word or because you think it makes you sound more educated or plausible. It could hurt your work by sounding false or pretentious or give the impression. that you are over-compensating for a lack of knowledge or clarity.
Make sure that your sentences and paragraphs flow together meaning following a thought, idea or expression to its logical conclusion and avoid jumping around from one thing to the next in a haphazard fashion. When I am writing I find it helpful to read it out loud to myself to see how it sounds. Sometimes it can look and silently sound good on the page but if you read it aloud then quite often you can immediately hear that perhaps it doesn’t flow well or may need some fleshing out with a few more words or sentences and at other times, you may want to delete something.
Editing your work is important, so aside from understanding the meaning of a word, check for typing errors, spelling and punctuation. If you have trouble with spelling you can look up any word on the internet to find its meaning - nothing could be easier. I always leave a piece for a while after I have finished it before I go back to re-read and edit where necessary. It’s good to put fresh eyes on it. If you are really struggling, get someone else to review it for you.
Lastly, and this may seem strange at first, if you want to write well - read a lot whether its a physical book you can hold in your hands or a Kindle. Read all kinds of material and you will become more knowledgeable without even realising it as you absorb words, sentences and stories. The end game for any piece of writing is that it be easily absorbed and not something which confuses the reader or has to struggle to understand.
Boxes November 2018
Moving house and home, which I have done far more times than the average person, and packing boxes of stuff made me think of all the boxes I have packed and unpacked in my life and what they have represented; change of lifestyle; change of status, from single to married; to divorced; change of countries and jobs. Life changes packed into boxes. Boxes that have contained everything from normal household items, linens, pots and pans, clothes, sometimes furniture and all the other small things which we collect: photographs, books, art work and then those small most precious items, those made by my children in school projects, some identifiable, others perhaps not but all made specially for me. But more than just being items, they are bits and pieces of life, my life and my memories.
Boxes - there are many types of boxes, the real, physical cardboard ones into which we pack those bits and pieces; then there are the mental and emotional ones, the ones we put ourselves into and the ones where others place us.
I reflect on the real boxes I have packed and what they represent as well as on the fact that the first time I changed my life by moving from England to Canada with my new husband and baby, our lives were packed into two wooden tea chests - all that we apparently needed to start a new life in a new country. There were many subsequent moves, involving one or two boxes more each time until eventually in more affluent circumstances, moving an entire household, with the help of movers, with every size of box imaginable including wardrobe boxes.
Which brings me back to now, a solitary move by me which involved leaving the country for another and leaving a home I created and lived in for 16 years, the longest I have ever lived in one place. This time I have compacted my life into 8 boxes, some small, some medium size. They contain a lot of the things that were in previous boxes, the children’s mementos, the photographs, souvenirs from friends and congratulatory letters from clients and friends; I have had to relinquish almost all of my book collection which felt like donating a kidney to me but I can no longer cart around 300 or so books. As my son once said in exasperation to me on one of those previous moves after he had carried out thirteen boxes of books “have you read all of these?” and when I acknowledged that I had he said “then why are you taking all of them with you?” An unanswerable question for me because I would have to say “they are part of me”.
How do we pack our entire lives into a few cardboard boxes? Excluding the obvious question of cost, why do we do it - why not just walk away, leave it all behind and start over? Do the boxes merely contain our stuff or something more meaningful. Is it an essential ritual marking some passage of time? Do we try and catch elusive, ephemeral but important memories? Do the contents re-assure us that everything in life is real and tangible and those are the benchmarks which define our physical and emotional lives? Do we need to do this packing and unpacking for reasons other than the obvious ones of practicality?
Because there are the other kind of boxes; the ones we place ourselves in; where we define ourselves; where we create our identity, our persona and our personality. Not only how we see and think of ourselves and our abilities but how we present ourselves to the world at large. Do those boxes free us or constrain us? Can we climb out of them as easily as we sometimes seem to climb into them? Do they really offer a safe haven? Are we following our natural human instincts for sanctuary and comfort or are they a place to hide our deepest anxieties so that we don’t have to confront them ?
We build mental and emotional boxes, some very sturdily, put together with lots of strong tape and packing material so that they won’t fall apart on us and spill the contents. This is where we create our thoughts, generate our feelings and form a perception of ourselves that we feel comfortable or uncomfortable with. Within this box is our idea of how we should present ourselves to friends, family, society and the world at large. This is where we think we find our place in the world. If we do this, if we define ourselves within the narrow confines of this box does it free us to live more complete lives? Or does it protect us from our own fears and misgivings? For most of us the answer probably lies in how honest we can be in our internal dialogues and that it is all a mix. It may well make us feel safe and secure in some ways but it can also be a constraint, an imaginary and emotional fabrication keeping us penned in a small intellectual environment, unadventurous, timid and afraid to explore the outer limits of our particular universe, our lives, our lifestyle and our abilities; unwilling and unable to fulfill our hopes and dreams. It takes guts to undo the tape and leave the box and go exploring.
Then there are the boxes we place other people in guided by our maybe superficial perception of them; the way they present themselves to us and the world; the way they speak, the way they dress, their jobs, their house, their car, their activities. On this basis, we rush to judgement because it’s so much easier to categorise someone and place them neatly in a pigeonhole that we can identify with; it makes us feel comfortable and in control. It may even give us, rightly or wrongly, a sense of power whether or not we eventually find out whether or not we were correct in this original judgment. I wonder how often we get it right; I suspect we frequently make incorrect and superficial assessments - there is nearly always something more to all of us that we don’t necessarily reveal spontaneously for many reasons - some valid, some not. I like the idea of emptying the boxes, letting it all spill out onto the floor, pawing through the contents and really examining them; making decisions about what is valuable and worth keeping and what is junk to be discarded. then crushing the boxes once they are emptied. Liberating and opening ourselves up to the endless possibilities and potential within us and around us. Freeing ourselves to be anything we desire or at least to make the attempt.
I long ago concluded that boxes are un-necessary and should not be used for non-essentials nor for anything else except packing physical items. Not only are they not wanted on the voyage of intellectual and emotional discovery, they will prevent and make impossible any exploration or growth - which can only be achieved with a completely open, unfettered mind. In which box have you placed me?
January 2019 Seaweed
I close my eyes and breathe - I smell the seaweed strewn across the sand, hauntingly familiar, the mind-madness momentarily, magically arrested. Old memories capture me enrapture me and I am freed to wander through old dreams. Child, girl, woman in moments of bliss on English days. Cold seas, shells and seaweed. Chalky country lanes, the summer smell of hot tar melting on the road, shimmering like oily water in the sun - or a meadow, cowslips and cowpats sharing the space.
As I raise my face in this foreign land looking for release, the smell of seaweed more evocative than any perfume rescues me. It winds itself around me, lingering, like longing does. Healing. Senses saturated, I drift away. The generous sea sends me home on scented waves of salt.
February 2019 Seaweed II
The sea comes to me seaweed on its salty tongue, licking my senses, teasing me; seizing me with longing like no other. I breathe and breathe but it’s not enough, will never be enough to quench my insatiable thirst for those other times, other places, traces of childhood faces, seaweed and salt. I want them back, those ephemeral sun-lit days snapped in black and white trapped forever in ancient Kodak memories but revived, alive again with the scent of seaweed. Strands of time strewn on the sand under my hand - and they are mine.
The Art & The Act of Writing.
I love the act of writing whether putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. All of it, whether I a creating poetry, essays, copy or ghost writing. And I love the writing letters as well as receiving them. I wish this had not gone out of style or been replaced by the quick soundbite or messaging. I love the process. Writing for me is tactile. Poetry, for instance, must first be written with pen and notebook. There is something particular about physically connecting to the paper - and it must be the right paper. I have many notebooks for this purpose and they are chosen very carefully for size and feel and sometimes for a message they might have imprinted on them. Similarly the pens must also be special whether by colour, shape or a unique design. How they feel in my had and how fluidly they write is very important to the process for me. When I am writing it feels the same as if I were painting with a brush on canvas. The page is my canvas and the paint translates my thoughts into words. I wonder sometimes if I have an alter ego conducting this orchestra of words working independently of me. The poetry and the personal essay writing come from a unique place which is completely separate from my conscious, rational mind. It is a very still and quiet place, a dark pool into which I can fall freely and am allowed to swim like a a water-baby, unfettered by thought or will. I feel that I have been gifted with this special access to what feels like and seems to be an unearthly and spiritual space within me. It allows me to be better thanI am. More than I am. It gives me the essence of “I Am”. There is a similarity for me between the feel of writing and reading a book. True I occasionally read books on my laptop but a printed book is a completely different sensation. It brings me literally into contact with the actual words on the page. The feeling of holding the book in y hands and being able to touch and turn each page seems to make it more authentic brining me closer to the author, as if I might be sitting next to him or her and having a conversation.It has an immediacy and an ease of access which heightens and intensifies my sense of enjoyment. Writing and reading in my world have a symbiotic relationship each being a complete sensory experience and both are ultimately intensely pleasurable and frequently inspirational. To adapt a famous phrase by Samuel Pepys, the Diarist: “when one is tired of reading, one is tired of life.” Edited 2019.