Saturday, March 28, 2015

Happily ever-after -- or not

It’s been a while since I turned these pages toward the “Writer’s Blog” part of our title, so I will begin with the obvious. Because I write about seniors, those of us in our October or November time of life, my stories naturally deal with “second-time-around” relationships. Though in today’s world those alliances are not all that unusual, certain assumptions are required to turn them into a story.

Consider for a moment, how adaptable are you? Are you the kind who could start over with someone new? Could you risk another relationship? Not everyone can or wants to do that. Yet those are not rhetorical questions for the October seniors I write about---the ones considering the prospect of a new life with a new partner. 

Perhaps for those who have seen a promising marriage turn sour a more hopeful second chance might be tempting. I’ve told a story or two about that. But what about those who have suffered the loss of his or her life mate---whether suddenly or after a drawn-out illness? Can there ever be “another time” for them? I’ve explored those possibilities too. In every case the resulting answers are personal and unique. There is no right or wrong response to dealing with such loss, and the daunting prospect of facing the rest of life alone.

 In the face of those variables, what makes me a credible creator of the relational settings from which to launch a story? Perhaps like you, I’ve spent a lifetime becoming one-half of a pair, learning to live with “the one.” (And she with me. Truth to tell, she’s had the tougher job.) At this October stage of the game would I be willing to go through that sometimes complicated learning process again? I can’t answer that, and hope I never have to.

Yet, to tell the story I want to tell I must set my characters in a place where “another time” is an option. In the course of ten novel-length “relational” stories I’ve tagged along as many of my Tanner friends faced that possibility. The first step of that storytelling process is simple enough---introducing a pair of lonely and wanting seniors to each other, explaining how they have made their way to that point in life, and planting the seed of relational possibility---a glimpse of what they want. If I do my job well you’ll want to know more about their journey toward that place, which is the story I’m telling.

Lately however, perhaps prompted by this renewed blog-focus, I sometimes wonder if my depictions of a “second chance” relationship have been too simplistic. I understand that the blending of any two lives into a meaningful partnership is not an easy thing. 

That must be especially true when they come together late in life---bringing with them a lifetime of habits, preferences, and expectations. Coming together with a life mate the first time, all those years ago, required trust, chemistry, and patience. Though I’ve never been there myself, I am certain that a successful second chance, an October relationship, must include those same elements.

In Second Chances each of the Harris brothers is widowed. Neither of them is actively seeking a new connection, yet both are beginning to sense that late-life spent alone is not an attractive prospect. Nothing unusual about that. So with a typical male “go-get-her” mindset each of them charges off just like the first time---assuming that if they can win “her” interest their pairing will succeed. Of course each of them is defining “success” in terms of his first long and loving marriage. Their mind-picture of a new relationship is bound to look like a replay of that first satisfying time.

But it is not that easy, is it? There are so many variables. How can anyone be sure the formula that worked so well in one relationship will succeed with someone else, someone they are still getting to know? Small wonder that not all my stories have a gift wrapped, happily-ever-after ending. Still, who am I to say they shouldn’t try? Actually, that is exactly what I am trying to sell---in a relationship or any other October pursuit the way to “thrive” is to keep trying.

Perhaps you can tell that digging deep, looking for unseen motives is an occupational hazard for someone like me. If so, I accept it as the price of authenticity. I want the stories I tell to be more than feel-good caricatures of lost and lonely souls stumbling toward inevitable happiness. My Tanner friends know it’s not always like that in the real world. Fact is, you’ll find very few ivory towers in the October landscape.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Ah, young love --- at 81


Imagine the possibilities. What could a storyteller like myself make of it? Former high-school sweethearts, Jack and Betty, are eighty-one years old and about to meet again for the first time in sixty two years. Months of letters, emails, and phone calls have fanned old feelings, setting the stage for a much anticipated reunion. Now, as we watch, Jack prepares for that moment of truth.

Does it sound like we’ve moved beyond our October borders? Eighty-one has the ring of November, doesn’t it? But no matter the label, Jack is awash in anxious questions. Without knowing what to expect he has arranged to see her again. Now, as his plane descends to the airport where they are to meet, his questions are growing more urgent by the second. What will she look like? Will he even recognize her? What will she think when she sees the “him” he has become. 

It must be a bit disorienting at his age---that unlikely revival of his schoolboy dreams. As silly as it sounds, he is caught up in a new and hopeful “geriatric adolescence.” As you watch the video I’ve linked at the end of this post the results may strike you as funny. That’s okay. You’ll notice that Jack too sees the humor in his dilemma. Yet there is no hiding the deep and powerful feelings behind his embarrassed chuckles. From beginning to end his story is a testament to late-life love, with a dose of teenage anxiety thrown in for good measure. Of course, those feelings may be over-hopeful---but there is no doubting their reality.

Truth in advertising---I used this clip in a posting a year or so ago. Then, just a few days ago, as I revisited one of my stories I was reminded of Jack’s adventure. It struck me as a perfect illustration of October Bold---the willingness to take a chance when the calendar seems to say it is too late.

You can see the questions on the face of our anxious “video hero” as he takes the next timid steps toward their reunion---fueled by still-powerful recollections of a much earlier time. Yet, at the same time he is old enough to realize that every stage of life brings hardship and disappointment. For October folks those obstacles come in many forms---infirmity, financial setbacks, the painful loss of a loved one, even relational concerns. Though Jack’s limitations are there to be seen, you can tell that he is counting on a new love to see him through. 

Most of us have known the healing power of loving affirmation. We understand how much we need someone’s special caring when we are tested. That is true at any time of life, but especially in our October Years. With its unique challenges, there is no other time of life when the surrounding support of love is more important. 

And with that caring support comes its working partner. You can hear it in Jack’s story. Whether at seventeen or seventy, those love feelings nurture hope. Or is it hope that nurtures love? Either way the two go hand in hand---reinforcing each other, impacting what we feel, shaping our perception of what is possible. It’s a reality that I try to capture in my stories---the affirming effects of caring and hope, and how they enable us to face October and beyond.

For the lucky ones among us it’s always been that way---though of course husbands and wives at sixty or seventy are very different persons than they were at twenty or twenty-five. (I think I hear Roma cheering about that.) But after a lifetime together we scarcely notice those changes. Why would we? We have made that journey together. We remember those years, and all those changes, through the prism of love.

So, you might ask, what is it that has an old fossil like me raving about such kid’s stuff? After all, that heady, hormone-driven time of my life was long ago. Right? Take a couple minutes to watch this clip. Put yourself in Jack’s shoes. Realize that while some things have changed, the overriding need to care about each other remains. By the end of their story you can tell both he and Betty understand that.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Does October last forever?



This post will be a short one. The sun is shining and the grandkids are visiting---waiting to thump Grandpa at croquet. However, I do have a couple seeds I’d like to plant before I forget them. (That’s another of those October obstacles.)

As you can see from the heading I call these pages October Years, which allows me to focus on that particular time of life, as do my stories. I happen to find it a fascinating time. I’m not sure I would have expected that twenty or thirty years ago, but it’s true. I like to explore those October times, and what they mean to me and those who inhabit my stories. Hopefully the time I spend on these blog posts also make my stories more effective.

In the beginning that title came with only a single qualifier---”a writer’s blog.” That’s because I wanted readers to know where I was coming from. I write stories, and I’ve found the blogging format a good way for me to revisit what I’ve written---to see if what once made sense to me still does. I have no interest in backing away from that luxury

Then, more than a year after my first post, I added the tag line---”thriving in our 60s and 70s.” That came to me in the wee hours of a sleepless night. That happens from time to time. It’s why I keep a pad next to the bed. Without having to turn on the light and wake Roma, I can scribble my notes and hope that I’ll be able to read them in the morning. I consider it a necessary skill, since story ideas seem to arrive on their own schedule, not mine.

In any case, I woke one morning to find ”Thriving in our 60s and 70s” spelled out  on my pad in large letters, partially written on top of each other. What the heck was I to make of that? Like so many great, and not-so-great, notions its context had been swallowed by my return to sleep. I’ve lost some of my very best ideas that way. At least I think they were. I can’t remember for sure.

Anyway, I added that line to the heading, hoping to urge folks to keep thriving in what I call the October of life. I liked the way that emphasis fit with my stories. (The “writer’s” part of the title.) Still, though I want to give the blog an authoritative tone, from time to time I pause to ask myself what makes me an expert on “thriving in my 70s.”
True, I do meet the age criteria. I’m getting old, and in the process wearing Roma’s patience more than a little thin. Still I try not to let those shortcomings hold me back. I write about the importance of relationships, and how they can mend broken lives. Whether in a book or a blog that is my message---and I welcome the chance to spread it. 
Now however, I sense the hint of a new challenge on the horizon. Though I have yet to face it head on, I know it is waiting out there---at least I hope it is. You see, I’ve spent the last few years staking my claim on October, along with our 60s and 70s. Now, however, something new lies not so far down the road, assuming I travel that far. It is called 80, and truth to tell it sounds more like November than October. Though I accept its arrival reluctantly, by all accounts it is preferable to the alternative. It may not be time to start changing blog titles, but it does give one pause, doesn’t it? Before long I’ll need to think about how to “thrive in our 80s.” 
On that semi-depressing note it feels like I need something to perk me up, to help me move beyond those dour possibilities. Perhaps my croquet game will be up to snuff for a change. That would help, you know---holding my own against those March and April kids.