Observations on a Birthday


agingSpeaking from experience, I can tell you that it’s not necessarily true that you’ll get a whole lot wiser as you age. I’m just grateful to have had the chance to have a good number of years to get experience in dealing with the range of circumstances and individuals that have crossed my path.

If you are very lucky, you might live long enough to begin to get a sense of how others see the world. Having empathy for the different types of people you’ll encounter thru the years will smooth the jagged edges of most circumstances.

You will experience times in your life that will be confusing. Some moments might even be terrifying. Still others will be so delightful that you won’t want to ever move on from that pleasure .. and that, ironically, can impede our ebb and flow through the years we get to experience. A life is the sum total of a kaleidoscope of emotions, both good and bad.

kaleidescope

Nobody gets a smooth ride from start to finish – well, nobody that you’ll ever know. Some begin their lives from behind the starting line, while other’s get a huge head start, and a leg up over the first obstacles.

Some even get carried to within mere feet of the finish line. But one thing I’ve learned the hard way is that there’s nothing to be gained from pointing out how badly or how well others are running this race. The only contestant that matters is YOU.

I’ve also had to take my lumps learning to enjoy where I am ‘right now,’ as opposed to where I’ll be at another time. As a young girl, I’d often pin my hopes on a day when I’d be old enough to make my own decisions. Of course, it never occurred to me that being a kid without responsibilities also had it’s up side.

take responsibilityIt was probably right around that time that I also began to understand that responsibility works both ways, and that to blame others for my happiness or unhappiness was a mug’s game. I’m the only one who governs my beliefs and behaviours, as much as I’d like to point a finger at someone – anyone! – else.

Now, blaming drink or drugs for behaving badly… that I’ve done. But, no matter how much I’d like to slough off that truth, the plain fact is that I’m the one who decided to indulge in the drinks or drugs, so .. yep, still my fault.

In the same context, my better angels know that I should rise above judging others for what they do, since I not only have no idea what drove their decisions, I have no idea when I might need to beg their understanding for some shortcoming of my own!

There’s an old saying in show biz, that goes, “be nice to those you meet on the way up, because those are the same people you’ll meet on the way down.”  And though most of us would prefer to believe we’ll never be on the way down – life has a way of opening our eyes to reality.

It’s probably best to just be nice to everybody. After all, being easy to get along with never hurt anyone in the long run.

 

Though, I’ll admit .. I can’t swear that I am advising that way of life from any real or personal knowledge; I’ve had my share of diva moments.

silencio

Sometimes I speak from experience, other times, from a sad point of observation.

Time is a tricky thing, and refuses to do what you think it should; when we’re young, we want to be old, and when we’re old, we wish we could be young again, but with the knowledge we developed through all of those long years.

Human nature makes us want what we do not have. Sometimes it drives us to personal betterment; sometimes it just drives us crazy.

When we’re working at a crummy day job, we can make the mistake of asking only to be able to hang in until it’s time to clock out, or until it’s the weekend, or our next holiday. Dreams are great .. but never dream your life away.

baba ram dassI have known people that kept on deferring any enjoyment of their life, always believing that better days were coming. Sadly .. they were wrong. And even if they HAD won that lottery, or married that model, what they’d have found was that anticipation and hope are always much more fun than getting everything we thought we always wanted. Those millions often come with strings attached, and supermodels aren’t necessarily all they appear to be. You just never know.

We live our lives day by day, not in giant gulps.  It’s best to be like the Buddhists, and ‘be here now,‘ letting each moment have it’s due and it’s time … tomorrow comes much sooner than we expected.

Which reminds me – gravity sucks. I know this because it has effectively made some bits of me larger that I preferred smaller, while other bits are now much closer to the ground than previously. I’m even shorter than I was when I wasn’t all that tall to begin with. But things could be worse; none of my career aspirations, then or now, have ever had height requirements.    (rox pow wow bday lunch dec 3 2018,jpg)

rox pow wow bday lunch dec 3 2018While there’s not a lot I can do about the sagging and bagging, I know that a big, warm, and heartfelt smile makes anyone more pleasing to the eye. I’m not gonna make any magazine covers, but I’m happy with who I am these days.  And you’re not so bad yourself!

This aging stuff has responsibilities. There are many that will look to their elders, and assume that they are the keepers of wisdom. That’s not always true, of course – aging doesn’t guarantee wisdom. But if our years of experience have given us some knowledge and experience, it is incumbent that we share our best strategies, if we are asked.

I like to go a step further and share my ‘wisdom’ whether you like it or not. You’re welcome.

All I can say is, I’ve been a ‘senior citizen’ now for nearly a week, and it’s not anything as scary as I thought it was going to be. If that helps anyone who’s nearing the big day and feels a little nervous .. consider the alternative, and remember that there are many who never get the chance to grow older.

We ain’t done yet …. and with any luck, we never will be …

never too late

 

 

 

Perspective


underneath a catGet to a certain age, or a certain stage, and you’d really have to make an effort not to see that everyone approaches their lives from different angles.

Our formative years often shape how we’ll see our world, but I know people who survived horrific childhoods, yet still managed to live happy and peaceful lives. Their experiences in their youths shaped how they approached and nurtured the relationships they cultivated as they aged.

Other people grew up in the lap of luxury, but suffer through their days feeling that the entire world is against them, conspiring to refuse them the respect and goodies they deserve for merely existing. They can think of hundreds of little ways that life has just not treated them as well as they believed they deserved.

And then there are some who sail through their life without really knowing or caring that other people even exist.

perspective island

It’s all perspective.

In a recent conversation with my husband, I was stunned to realize how events in our shared lives, be they major or minor in scope, can be remembered in such drastically disparate ways that it seems like the antics of two different people living in two different worlds. Maybe that’s partly the difference in how men and women think, or maybe it has to do with how we’ve personally conducted ourselves during our long relationship.  Or maybe it’s a little of both, and a lot about how actions and words can be perceived in multiple ways, depending upon how the person receiving the actions or words receives, and interprets those interactions.

When we ascribe intent to words and actions, we alter how those words and actions are perceived.

When we attempt to interact in society, what we bring to the table varies wildly, depending on our own backgrounds, and the state of mind we were in when we approached a moment in our time. Were we tired? dyspeptic? broke? stressed?  Because all of those things will have a huge bearing on how we perceive what others say, write, or do.

perspectives good badYou really see perspective and interpretation at work when reading threads on social media. Because it is difficult to convey emotions verbally, spats and name-calling can suddenly erupt based on a simple misunderstanding, a failed attempt at humour or sarcasm, or a word used incorrectly.

But conversely, that’s one of the reasons that the arts we are able to enjoy on the internet can resonate so strongly within us; we are surprised and delighted when an image or a video or a song accurately reflects how we feel about a particular moment, or captures an emotion..  For a brief instant in time, we are completely in synch with another person’s gut take, and yet it is a shared experience, and all the more heady when many of us feel that same recognition simultaneously, and gather to share that experience, even if it’s only on the internet.

alice no going backWhile we might like to think that we are all, down deep, the same, it’s both true but not really true at all. We share the human experience, but each of us carries the history our parents bequeathed to us, and over time, we add our own experiences. Eventually we pass that on to our kids, who add their own experiences. And every bit of that combined familial and cultural mosaic makes our perspectives unique. At any given moment, how we approach any event – from how we choose our meals, to how we choose our elected officials – is a result of the lifetime of baggage we’ve brought along for the ride.

As we age and grow, we sift in the essences of the people, events, and emotions that we experience, and let those simmer in our soul stew. In time, we become a person very different from the person we were at birth. Life experiences are the fire that tempers our metal, as drastically as the fabled Philosopher’s Stone was said to turn brass into gold.

dylan quotePerspective allows us to understand that it is as painful for a poor man to lose a dollar, as it is for a billionaire to lose a billion, because for both, the loss is fear-provoking.

When I was a little kid, I was very, very near-sighted. However, I didn’t know that, since I had nothing to compare it to, and my family had no idea that I had such poor vision, until a teacher in my grade one class noticed that I couldn’t see what she was writing on the board. The day I got my first pair of glasses, my entire world changed, because now, I could see what went on around me like other people did.

My world changed, because my vision changed. And my perspective – quite literally the way I saw the world – was altered.

I wish that finding a little bit of insight into how others perceive what happens around them, was as simple as getting a new prescription for eyeglasses – what a better place that sort of world might be!   footprints

But instead, achieving perspective requires that we step back from our own values, attitudes and needs, and mentally and emotionally put ourselves into the shoes of someone unlike ourselves. Those shoes may be too tight, or far too roomy, but until we’ve walked a while in them, we cannot ever know the journey that other person is on.

Perspective.

tags:  Roxanne Tellier, perspective

The Rule of Three


In the rule of three, most everything can be divided into thirds. Life’s flow mostly falls into three stages; people tend to think in one of three ways. Three is mystical.

My first husband used to say, “Some people make things happen, some people watch things happen, and some people sit around asking, “what’s happening?” What can I say? It was the sixties. (And I’ve been married three times.)

1/3 of Americans love Trump, 1/3rd don’t. 1/3rd will go along with whatever everyone else is doing. one third of America

A third of American citizens believe there will be a Civil War very soon, a third think it’s unlikely, and another third don’t know why you’re bringing it up.

One-third of Americans think “substantially less” than 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.

Three successes of the same kind form a hat trick. A third of all people are overweight and obese, and there’s a good chance that a third of the world’s population will be African by 2100. The planet has lost a third of it’s farmable land in just the last forty years. Almost one third of our air pollution comes from the gasoline burned by vehicles.  And without a third leg, a stool won’t work.

A third is not a half, but it’s enough of a dent to show you mean business.

Three is a number that is big enough to matter, but small enough to comprehend. And it seems to be a pattern into which we naturally fall.

For years I’ve had a theory about aging. Hang around long enough and you see the  patterns playing out there as well.

In this case, I clearly see three stages of aging.

I have some friends who saw their own parents die shortly after retiring at 65; those friends were the ones who took early retirement, so that they can enjoy their ‘golden years’ while they still have excellent health.  And it’s really worked for them.

too old but we're the bandBut for the rest of us, and in my own observations, it goes a little like this.

In the first stage of getting older,  let’s say when people get into their early sixties, and can see their senior years rushing towards them, they generally still feel pretty good. The odd ache and pain is inevitable, and bad decisions made in their youth may be coming back to bite them, but the whole idea of getting ‘old’ seems almost laughable. Old was for your parents and grandparents, while you … you are still going to see rock concerts, and hanging out with people younger than yourself because you’re cool, and can blend in. Still fitting into those club clothes. Still able to hang out until past four a.m., now and again. Not all the time, but once in a while. Still got it.

Retirement represents possibilities! Time to shake off those shackles, maybe look into doing something they’ve put off for years, while they were ‘working for the man.’ Do what they love, rather than what pays a salary. And hey! A pension! Yeah, free money!

we grow old because we stop playingMost of us know there will be tough decisions that we will have to make in time, but we fool ourselves that that time is far away. Where we will live, and how we will manage our finances, are concerns, but .. just a sec! Right now, I don’t feel ‘old,’ so I’ll push aside any thoughts that remind me of how close I am to my own future.

This is the stage when you should be enjoying getting out and travelling. If you start to have trouble breathing, all of those higher altitude destinations will be out of the question. (If you haven’t already, quit smoking now.)  If you have decent mobility, and enjoy exploring travel destinations by foot – do it now. You’ll be glad that you did.

But too many of us are fairly delusional about embracing the concept of aging. Example: I was talking to someone about creating a rock n roll retirement home. He said he was really interested, and would look into it when he got older. He’s 68.

In the second stage of aging, things start to get real. You start having more things go wrong with your health, and you’re less able to do some of the things you used to do, but overall, you’re managing, with medications, regular doctor visits, and surgeries to either lop off the stuff that’s not working or to put stuff back from where it fell off. Most of the time you don’t notice that you’ve subtly normalized a slowing down of your world. You walk slower, you eat less, and you rarely feel like staying up late. You check your calendar before accepting an invitation that’s too far in the future.

'Help me Rhonda I've fallen & I can't get back up.'This is the point where organizations like CARP and AARP say you’ve got to face your future head on. Ask yourself, “Will my home work for me as I age? Should I re-fit my residence with devices to help me stay self-sufficient and independent, or should I consider selling or moving? Will my community be there to support me through the ups and downs of aging? Do I have enough sympatico friends to get me through the long days and weeks when work is not there to fill those hours?

At this point, all possibilities are still viable, but with restrictions. Expectations of what can be accomplished in a day change greatly. There’s not much desire to take on too many new things; dealing with the changes going on around you are enough to keep you busy.

You may find that you become more dependent on help from others for some activities, like getting around in the winter, when it’s more difficult. If you’re dealing with multiple chronic conditions, or a lot of pain, you may need to keep that in mind before planning travel. For Canadians, any travel or moving decisions can also become contingent on being able to access healthcare when necessary, in order to stay healthy and on the go.

Man about lady in rocking chair with roll bars: 'Never too old to rock and roll.'This might be a time when you enjoy leisure activities with family and friends.

Then there’s the last stage that comes along, when it becomes crucial to have someone around who can help with even basic daily living activities. Bathing, cooking and shopping become chores that are fraught with tension. As your body wears out, it may become necessary to hire outside help for personal care assistance, or to move into a residence where they will see to your daily needs.

Now, the thing is, how old you are at any of these stages is not important. What IS important is to be continually taking the ‘temperature’ of your physical condition, and to be enjoying every moment to it’s fullest extent. Some people are old at 60, others live far into their nineties in great physical shape. It will be your genetic background, and how you treated your body during the younger years that will determine how well you weather the senior years.

Some people find the discussion of aging too frightening. They hope and pray they’ll never get to the stage where they need to admit that they need help. But the only way to avoid aging is to die young. And for a lot of us… it’s too late for that option.

 

 

Bronte on aging

 

Okay, enough of all that. Everybody lift your beers into the air and let’s say it together!

Happy Canada Day!

 

 

You Can Choose


life is all about choicesOh yes, you can choose. You can choose pretty much every aspect of your life, from the small to the large, from the clothes you wear to the colour of your hair, and the music that you listen to, and of course, to the politicians you elect to run your country and ultimately tell you … what you can choose.

But it’s not all lollipops and roses, this ability to choose. First off, once we’ve chosen, we might not be happy with what we chose, and we might not want to take responsibility for how our choice worked out.

That’s free choice. And it can be exhausting.

Now, of course, there’s some stuff that is best when it’s our choice. That’s the prime directive from our childhood – it’s all about getting out from under the right of other people to make choices for us. We can’t wait for the day when we’re on our own, able to decide what we want to eat, drink, and wear, and how we wish to behave without being told what we can and cannot do.

And yes, we find out the hard way that these choices are always available to us .. as soon as we are able to pay … financially, physically, and emotionally … for the right to choose, and the consequences of what we have chosen.

It’s a child’s parents who have to teach children how to make smart choices.

One thing that parenting magazines stress is that giving kids virtually unlimited power to make choices is damaging to the child.

Some kids are better at decisions than others; some kids shut down when confronted with too many choices.

But one thing is certain. “An infinite number of choices will make a child anxious and insecure, ” says Dr Gorski. “Think how you feel when you have a dozen important decisions to make. What we think are small issues, such as what to wear, or what to eat, are huge to a child. Having to make too many choices – even kid sized ones – can be overwhelming.”

Children are more comfortable within boundaries. “A child who acts up is begging with her behaviour to be shown limits. ”

I know exactly how they feel. It’s not so different when we get older. Yes, it’s great to be able to choose our destinies – that’s what being an adult is about! However there are times when it’s just so much easier if someone else makes the choice for us.

Take music, for instance. It’s great to be able to access any song we want to hear, and to hear it as many times as we would like, but sometimes, it’s more relaxing to let a radio station’s programmer made that decision. Not only might we hear songs we like, but we might even hear new songs we wouldn’t have found on our own.

no choice is still a choice. jpgOr TV programs. Remember how we used to follow a series for years .. like Seinfeld, or Friends, and Thursday was the night you didn’t go out because you might miss an episode?

Well, it’s not like that anymore, because there are 500 channels on the satellite, and then there’s NetFlix, Hulu, Kanopy, and a half dozen other additional outlets, and then you can also stream television episodes from any point in the history of broadcasting, and watch them at any time of the day or night.

All you have to do is choose which episode … And again .. that’s stressful. What if you decide to watch this one episode, or this movie, and there’s another better one you don’t have time to watch because there’s only so much time in anyone’s life?

You can choose. But sometimes, it is great when someone else chooses for you. Isn’t it great when you ask your official or unofficial ‘other’ what they want to do, and they tell you? In detail? What they want to eat, where they’d like to go, and what they’d like to do after that? It can feel really good to hand over the reins to someone else, occasionally.

If you are the one who is always tasked with making choices and decisions, even about petty things, like what to eat for dinner, it can become exhausting. Deciding what to make, gathering the items needed, and then preparing the meal … and doing that day after day after month after year … the excitement wears off pretty quickly.

choice is energyYou can choose to agree, or disagree, or to start a dialogue where your preferences are considered and best of all, suddenly, you have more choices!

What we learn, as kids, and what we take with us into our adulthoods, is that every group in which we are included is a community, and that not everyone’s needs can be met all of the time. Fair is not always equal. We resent if there is one person making all of the decisions all of the time. We need to spread the freedom of choice around and amongst us.

As we grow and begin to reason, we also see the consequences of our choices, and learn that what might be fun or easy in the short run, could be disastrous in the longer run. Not flossing in your teens might feel like you are getting away with something … but you’ll be making some dentist rich in your forties from the consequences. We learn that we may have to deal with the regret of making a bad choice, but that we can’t always know what is best, and that mistakes, and how we deal with them, are also a part of life.

Choice can be a liberating or a limiting thing, depending on circumstances. There are days when, just like a child, it’s best to limit your choices, to ask yourself to be responsible for just so much, and no more. Limiting the amount of decisions you need to make can be as beautiful a thing as having the reason and responsibility to make really big choices.

You can choose that too.

 

Come The Revolution


Work Or RetireA friend of mine is looking forward to retirement, after being with the same company for nearly 40 years. She’s been there through the formative years, and the technological shifts that overtook them in the past three decades. Since she’s in Human Resources, she’s privy to information that was never committed to either paper or computer files.

This year, her work colleagues are basically downloading all of the insider information that only she can divulge, siphoning off her knowledge and memories of the people and actions that created the agency she’s helped to build and maintain.

And therein lies the difference between being a cog in the machine, or one of the main wheels. What she contributed to the agency, through connection, trust, and patience, cannot be duplicated, only recorded.

Do any students today even consider a gold watch after a lifetime career in a company, never mind a field or trade? The loyalty once prized by workers and bosses alike is a thing of the past, broken under the wheels of corporate capitalism, overwhelming greed, and a complete lack of empathy for the workers that make companies great.

While my friend is excited about the opportunities retirement will bring, there’s always a bit of a sadness in leaving behind the ‘real’ world that has shaped our environment. The restrictions we’ve chafed against were the frames – physical, emotional, and in the very days and hours we were expected to be resident – that shaped our lives.

As the Baby Boomers near and attain retirement age, we’re seeing an enormous sea change in North American society, a major shakeup of the status quo, and a repudiation of a tendency to believe that our social attitudes are set in stone, are ‘just the way things are’ and can’t be changed.

florida students nine daysCould there have been a #MeToo movement before 2017? The Womens March?  A #BoycottNRA? What has changed?

We Boomers had a good run – possibly the best run of any previous generation. And many of us became leaders, politically, or in the business or entertainment world. We have changed the way the world worked since we came of age in the sixties, and have kept our thumbs on the scale to keep it going, the way we insisted upon in our youths. Or – in some semblance, some blurry nostalgia, of what we thought we wanted in our youths.

And for those who have wielded power, the prospect of being powerless has no appeal.

Trouble is – there’s another wave coming up behind us, and they need the world to reflect their interests and concerns. It’s not that the next generation is demanding that we ‘leave the premises immediately,’ it’s that an awful lot of very powerful people are hanging in, with their outdated ideas, and in doing so, are holding back the fresh air this new wave will bring to society.

The way we did things in the past has to change, because new and often improved systems have come into being. We went from paper to digital, from the rotary phone to the handsfree and then smart phones. We can change. We just often balk at changes to our environment, and can be slow to embrace new systems – mainly because we are afraid we’ll fail to excel at the new tasks.

The fear and paranoia that propelled Trump to the American presidency came from the older and middle class voters, who were, essentially, out of ideas. The head of steam that the young bring to the planet was largely absent.

But we need to acknowledge and face the truth – the kids are here now. They are determined, opinionated, internet and media savvy, way stronger, more dogged, and less tired and jaded than we are … and they are gonna outlive us. They are the ‘WE’ we used to be, full of ginger and moxie and ready to take on THEIR world.

Which might be one reason why they’re so pissed at the mess we’re leaving behind. Most of us wouldn’t even leave an overnight stay in a cheesy motel in the disastrous shambles we’ll leave the planet.

Does Don Cherry speak for millennial hockey fans? The recently departed Billy Graham, or his son, Franklin, a political hack busily rebranding evangelicalism as a belief system ruled by fear of Muslims and homophobia? Any of the heads of state in any country, who give lip service to rights for everyone, but consistently fail to keep their promises once in power?

A media that constantly brays about ‘breaking news!’ that is rarely, if ever, acted upon in a reasonable length of time, and relies on controversy over substance? The daily newspapers that contain more advertisements than actual news? A housing market and stock market reaching astronomical heights that few, if any, millennials will ever get near?

Seriously .. subscribe to the NewsBroke channel on Youtube .. you will be glad you did.

This week, the NRA, once an institution that advocated gun safety and control, now run by the delusional Wayne LaPierre, lashed out at the kids who survived the latest school shooting in Parkland, Florida, for daring to criticize and protest the NRA’s chokehold on policy and politicians. In an ironic and sickening twist, the survivors are now receiving death threats from NRA members.

But the kids are fighting back, and holding their own, disputing the NRA’s nonsensical claims and extremism, and Trump’s ridiculous notion of arming teachers rather than addressing the core problem – a plethora of deadly weapons, and the very real risk children run of being killed in a school shooting. (Since 2000, there have been 188 mass shootings in American schools and universities. So it’s getting to be, not a question of IF your kid will get shot at school, but when.)

thoughts and prayers cartoonI’ll admit that I greeted the latest shooting in Florida with grief, anger and cynicism. These murders, combined with the mealy mouthed offerings of ‘thoughts and prayers‘ rather than actually taking action to prevent further murders, drove me to despair.

But this time around, it seems that the victims themselves have opted to ‘be the change they want to see happen.’ Rather than wait for the next massacre, they are demanding that the authorities take responsibility, and work to prevent another slaughter in their halls of education.

And the adults, many of whom have sat quietly by, cowed by the bile spewed by the NRA and their rabid fans, are getting an infusion of energy from these students, with many even developing a spine from the shattered vertebrae of their previous compliance.

boycottNRACompanies that have now severed ties to the NRA under the #BoycottNRA hashtag, include the nation’s largest privately owned bank, First National Bank of Omaha, which will no longer offer an NRA branded Visa card. Other companies, including car rental firms Hertz, Entreprise, Alama, Avis, Budget and National, soon followed suit, while the Allied and North American Van lines pulled their perks as well. Software giant Symantec, MetLife Auto & Home, home security company SimpliSafe, Teladoc, Chubb, HotelPlanner.com, United and Delta Airlines, and even Vinesse wines, which operates the “official wine club of the NRA,” have joined in the protest.

Talk about being on the wrong side of history. The NRA overplayed their hand – and it’s bust time for the ammosexuals. In order to prevent the complete demise of his association, LaPierre will have to choose which master the NRA will serve in the future – the powerful and wealthy weapons manufacturers or the right of the American people to live in safety and peace.

every great institution Emerson quote. jpg

Our children are watching as all of our time honoured institutions, those collections of rules and norms agreed upon by human beings, the venerable systems we could look to for protection and security are being attacked, denigrated and abused. Every day we get closer to the day that these institutions will be weakened to the point of collapse, and once that happens, the very character and quality of democracy will fall with it.

So – can you really blame the kids for being pissed at the status quo? What exactly are they meant to inherit from us, except massive debt, chronically unstable employment, and the ruin of a planet we couldn’t be bothered to clean up after we’d used up all of the good things it once had to offer?

the future is hereAll of life is a flow of non-linear changes, threads in a tapestry that is ever changing and unpredictable. Our challenge must be to learn how to confront and respond to new life transitions, no matter how unpredictable they may be.

The world is changing, as the world always does, and it will continue to turn long after our time has come and gone. Mark Twain reputedly once said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”

For many in power, the time has come to step aside, and let the future unfold, just as it always has. Step aside, and let the new kids in town take their turn at centre stage. They certainly can’t do any worse than we did.

no man ever steps in the same river twice

 

 

 

Surprise!


There was a power outage earlier this week. It was a day when I was actually a little ahead of the morning … I’d eaten, dressed, and was nearly ready to drag on my winter boots, when everything abruptly winked out.

cat speedbumpsWinter’s dark at the best of times, and the sun was barely out. I could make out the shapes of the furniture, but overall, I was just hoping that the cats weren’t lurking in the hallway, waiting to trip me up.

While I waited for the power to come back on. I was pleasantly self-satisfied for having prepared for the morning the night before. I had printed out some course work, checked that I had everything I needed for the next day stashed safely in my purse, and had my transit fare ready in my coat pocket. I was good to go.

surpriseThat’s when I started to think about how most things that happen in our life – for good or ill –  are surprises, that come without warning. You can prepare … you can anticipate … but some things are still a surprise.

We know that our lives will have speed bumps to navigate – that’s just part of the human condition. No one gets from cradle to grave without encountering difficulties. Our characters both define and reveal how we react to those complications.

And it’s always a surprise. That unplanned pregnancy; the school you went to over the school you didn’t; the job you took for the summer that changed the course of your life –  to mash up Bowie and Lennon, we never know what ch-ch-ch-changes are in store for the life that happens while we are busy making other plans.

Surprises are supposed to be fun, but not all are. Our whole world can change in the blink of an eye, a fall on the stairs, or the turn of a shapely leg. There’s virtue in steering the arc of our lives, but it’s the unforeseen that often compels its trajectory.

ready for my closeupI’m one of those unfortunates that tries to be prepared for every eventuality. That is why my purse weighs 400 lbs. I never travel light; even a trip to the corner store finds me with hair and makeup for a cast of thousands at the ready.

And yet – I’ve been known to misplace my purse. And then the whole facade crumbles. I am lost in a world where nothing makes sense, because I feel out of control.

We live in a world where the winner is judged by the amount of goods and services he/she accumulates, which is why so many of us find ourselves coming to the end of a good run with far too much detritus. Little by little, I’m trying to shed my need to so closely control the ‘what ifs’ of the day. I’m paring down the things I keep and carry ‘just in case!’ in favour of a lighter mental load.

trust fallBut it’s tricky. And it takes a faith in the future that many lose as they travel through life. If enough events that you perceive as good have lined your path, you will feel differently than someone who has encountered a lot of disappointing moments. It’s like a trust fall .. where you’re neither trusting nor trustworthy.

When I was living in the wilds of Scarberia, and carless, every trip to the grocery store was fraught with a desperation more often seen in someone preparing for a hurricane or nuclear war. I was obsessed with having enough food in the pantry, fridge and freezer to survive to the next shopping trip.

Now I live two blocks from two massive supermarkets, and know that I can get whatever I need, with very little effort. I’m working on the ‘just in time’ model, that businesses rely on to increase efficiency and decrease waste. You buy stuff when you need it, use it, then buy more as you need more. Except cat food. One should always have a surplus of tins and bags of cat food, because … cats.

But I’m still loaded up with a lot of junk that I can’t seem to release without worrying that I’ll need the item ‘one of these days.’ I’m working on it .. but I do still have a box of Furbys from the Christmas of 1998 that I couldn’t unload on eBay.

I’m not fixing to die anytime soon, but nor are most of us, and some of us won’t make the end of this year. It’s just the way it is. Pretending that we’ll always have these fragile lives in our control is what makes our leaving so frustrating to our loved ones.

swedish death cleaningThe latest big thing in organizing philosophies is the darkly named Swedish Death Cleanse. It’s the process of cleaning house before you kick the bucket, rather than leaving the job to your loved ones.

If you’ve ever had to close up a loved one’s home, you know how difficult it is to sort through the gold and the dross, while mourning and trying to lead your own life. Whether you are an aging baby boomer or just bummed with our current reality, it’s a trendy way of dealing with our hoards.

No matter how much we invested in antiques and heirlooms, the reality is that these items are worth less and less as our generation and our parents’ dies off. Our kids probably want smaller, lighter furniture for their nomadic lifestyles. I’m also gonna guess that neither of my daughters is going to want my collection of cassette tapes from the 70s and 80s. hoarders paradise

I’ve put a solid dent in the collection of holiday wrap I’ve dragged around for years, but it still gave me a pang to see how many people were recycling full rolls of wrap after this Christmas. Can’t help it. Grew up thrifty.

But I have to get real, living in a much smaller space than before, and I would prefer my kids remember me as thoughtful and tidy, rather than a packrat.

Besides, sorting and donating some of my better ‘stuff’ makes me feel not only generous, but in control of what I’m letting go.

I’m also feeling a relief and lightness in clearing away the boxes. In a small space, it’s easy to feel like the walls are closing in. Ditching the stash opens up your living space.

womens world living roomI didn’t feel the walls closing in when they were lined with books, but just having chotchkies lying around does me in. I’m actually getting to the point where I feel a little creeped out when I see pictures of a typically overstuffed living space. It feels fussy and frilly, and not in a good way.

The Swedish word dostadning is a hybrid of the words for death and cleaning. The idea may creep you out, but what it really is, is a way to formalize what matters to you, and what you want to hand down to your heirs. Keep the things you love. Trash, recycle, donate or gift what you don’t.

face meltingPrioritize the preservation of sentimental and family objects like old letters and photographs, but also keep a well-labelled  ‘throw-away box’ for things that you can’t part with yet, but would like to keep away from prying eyes, like your collection of sex toys. Tape a note to the top of the box warning that opening the box will sentence the opener to death by face melting.

life is what happens LennonLife is full of surprises; some good, some bad, but all unexpected. That’s what makes those unexpected moments a surprise.

It’s great to be prepared, and it’s great to live in the moment, but even the most happy-go-lucky person lives happier when their lives are tidy and lack stress.  It’s human nature to want the smoothest ride possible on our journey through life. Sometimes we just need to do a little vehicle maintenance to ensure the ride is both exhilarating and fulfilling.

 

 

If Aging is Inevitable …


It really is unfortunate that Trump decided to pause his retirement to be a part time president.  He’s happier golfing, or lying in bed eating cheeseburgers, and I think we all would be delighted to see him go back to those pastimes full time. trump in bed w chzburgers

That being said, being aware of the declining thought processes of a 71 year old person who insists on being the center of attention 24/7 has, for good or ill, has shone a spotlight on how to age disgracefully.

Trump embodies much of the fears, confused thinking, and self indulgence associated with declining mental health.

One of the first and most important signs of this psychological decline is what is called ‘doom thinking,” or thought processes becoming instantly hostile, stressed or sad. With this mindset, anything that doesn’t resemble the familiar is perceived as threatening.

Another sign is extreme mood swings, with periods of elation, anger, depression or even rage. Disorganized speech, evasive answers to even the simplest questions, and a tendency to wander mentally while responding are also warnings.

Cognition EqualsPaying attention to our own physical and mental needs as we age should be a top priority for everyone – not just for our own good, but out of respect for those who will share those senior years with us.

I recently entered a study that focuses on the impact of aging on memory. I’d noticed myself having more difficulty memorizing song lyrics; I could remember the words to songs I’d sung 40 years ago, but was struggling to remember new lyrics at rehearsal. I also found myself having a tough time coming up with just the right word to use, whether in writing a column, or in discussion with others.

accept responsibilityBut it wasn’t until I began the interview process of  the study that I realized how many workarounds I’d unconsciously adapted, in order to conceal the normal mental decline we all face during the aging process. I also began to notice how often I blamed circumstances or other people when I made an error, rather than recognizing that the error was my own fault.

Our brains are wonderful things; they are extraordinarily adept at finding the least difficult way to do things.  And that is great, during our youth and middle age, when we’re negotiating our way through school, a career, relationships and all the matters that we have to contend with in the full throes of life.

But as we approach and enter retirement, a lot of the distractions have faded away, and we have less worries to occupy our thoughts. That’s when we may discover that we’ve lost some of our mental agility, along with the supple physicality of our youths.

brain stimThe study that I’m a part of requires confidentiality on the specifics, but I can say that it involves electrical and cognitive brain stimulation on a daily basis, and includes cognitive remediation (computer games) for an eight week period.

It also includes daily discussions on known methods of combating mental decline. Most of these have been around for quite some time, but so many of us fail to plan for a time when we no longer have to answer to anyone but ourselves.

Everyone approaches retirement differently, and how we hope to spend our days is often based on how we have spent our time in the previous four decades. Some are looking forward to afternoon naps and endless NetFlix, while others want to get into volunteerism, cookery, or further education.

If one’s daily work kept the wolf from the door, but didn’t fulfill an artistic urge, this might be the first chance some will have to finally pursue their ambitions.

The most important thing is to HAVE a plan. Drifting into retirement without any idea of where you’re going next, will ensure you go nowhere of interest  Time will pass; whether or not you enjoy that time is up to you.

retire happy(A good book on planning for retirement is one I read a few years back, by Canadian Ernie J. ZelinskyHow to Retire Happy, Wild and Free. It’s a great follow up to his previous book … The Joy of Not Working: 21st Century Edition – A Book for the Retired, Unemployed and Overworked. The focus of both books is on enjoying life and both encourage physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being and improvements.)

So, what are a few things that anyone can put into practice to build new brain cells, and alleviate mental decline?

Cognitive impairment is not inevitable. You can really reduce the risk of age-related memory loss by keeping mentally stimulated, through activities that stimulate new connections between nerve cells. To develop neurological ‘plasticity’, indulge in mentally stimulating activities, like crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and crafts like drawing and painting, that require manual dexterity as well as mental effort.

healthy eating. jpgIt is tempting to ease up on our diets as we age, but it’s probably more important  to be nutritionally wise as you age, than it is during the more physically active years. It’s not just about how much or little you eat, as it is what you’re eating. Reducing consumption of saturated fat and cholesterol from animal sources and of trans-fatty acids from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, along with a concentration of foods high in the B vitamins can help lower your homocysteine levels, which are often linked to an increased risk of dementia. Eat your greens, and enjoy more grains.

The Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet combines elements of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, which is designed to reduce blood pressure, but could also protect against dementia.

The ten foods considered healthy are:

    •    green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale 
    •    other vegetables, such as red peppers, squash, carrots and broccoli 
    •    nuts 
    •    berries, including blueberries and strawberries 
    •    beans, lentils and soybeans 
    •    wholegrains 
    •    seafood 
    •    poultry 
    •    olive oil 
    •    wine (in moderation)

Five foods considered unhealthy include red meat, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries, sweets and fried or fast foods. So .. all the fun stuff. <le sigh>

 Beyond staying lean, it’s particularly important to keep a stern eye on your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar levels. Diabetes is not a given as you age.

Although you may not want to hear it, quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol intake are pretty much essential. Some say up to two alcoholic drinks a day is safe for men, with slightly less being ideal for women. Excessive drinking is a major risk factor for dementia.

Good, refreshing sleep is probably the greatest gift you can give your brain cells. A deep, REM sleep of from six to eight hours a night replenishes the brain, and allows ‘janitor cells’ to clear away dead cells and make room for the new. There is some evidence that sleeping on your left side makes that process easier for your body.

https://dailyhealthpost.com/6-hidden-health-benefits-of-sleeping-on-your-left-side-that-you-should-know-about/

Anxious, depressed, sleep-deprived, or exhausted people are at an increased risk of cognitive decline in old age. Keeping control of our emotions will help. Having a circle of friends and acquaintances with whom you enjoy interacting is also very important for keeping a positive attitude.

Despite the aches and pains often associated with aging, older people who routinely partake in physical exercise can reverse the signs of aging in the brain.

MDS LogoExercise is known for promoting both body and mind, with the elderly seeing especially great improvements. But it is not known which type of exercise is best for the elderly. To help address this, the traditional fitness group conducted mainly repetitive exercises like cycling or Nordic walking, while the dance group was challenged with something new each week.

Consistently changes in dance routines of different genres were implemented. These included the likes of jazz, square, Latin-American, and line dancing. To help keep the dances more challenging, speed and rhythms were changed every week to simulate the learning process as the seniors learned new routines.

Both groups were found to have increases in their hippocampus regions of the brain – an important area prone to age-related decline and affected by neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s. the hippocampus is also known for playing key roles in memory, learning, and even balance.

 “Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting age-related decline in mental and physical capacity. In this study, we show that two different types of physical exercise (dancing and endurance training) both increase the area of the brain that declines with age. In comparison, it was only dancing that lead to noticeable behavioral changes in terms of improved balance,” says Dr. Kathrin Rehfeld, lead author of the study, based at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Germany.”

Aging is not for sissies .. or the lazy. But with mindfulness, self love, and an open mind, it can be the best time of your life. Live! Love! Dance!

admire kind people

For more information on the paid study on aging and memory:

http://www.camh.ca/en/research/research_areas/studies_and_recruitment/study-websites/Pages/PACt-MD.aspx