Thursday, November 10, 2016

Is this who you were intended to be?

Months ago I told myself there would come a time when I would run out of things to say about October. What happens then?
Now, having reached that moment, I know exactly what happens then. When I have nothing more to say, it's time to stop talking. But before I do that there are a handful of entries from a couple years back that I want to post again for readers who were not on board then. Then, having restated those October observations, I can ride off into the November sunset. What follows is the first of those “one more time” posts.
                                                        ~~~
The last day or two I have been processing a recent post about “thriving” in our October Years. In my own mental shorthand I define thriving as “coming closer to being the person I was meant to be.” That in turn leads to questions like---Am I thriving? Should I expect to thrive? Does it even matter one way or the other? I’ll admit, there are times when I’m inclined to forget all that and settle for being the person I am. But those nagging questions won’t go away.
Of course, thriving is a very personal thing. My thriving won’t look like your thriving. If you’re already an October thriver, chances are you’ve found the proper balance in your life. You can look ahead, while remembering the past. You can accept the person you have become, but hope to be more.
Yet from time to time I see, and perhaps you do too, October friends who seem not to be thriving. Perhaps they have been beaten down, or given up. Still, we must realize that such judgments are fraught with danger. Who has the right to judge? Who can say that his or her sort of thriving is the most acceptable kind? Thriving, and the change that often comes with it, are very individual matters. Your change need not look like my change.
I’ve mentioned “change” before on these pages. It seems to me an important part of October life---it’s still allowed at our age, you know. Take a moment to consider life  as an unending chain of choices and adaptations---in other words---change. Though we shouldn’t judge what change is appropriate for someone else, I am confident that adapting to life’s changing circumstances is an important part of thriving at any age. To use our October status as an excuse to stop “becoming,” is to sell ourselves short. It is a sad thing to see, or tell a story about---the person who believes it is too late to become something more---that change is not worth the effort at this late date?
One way to integrate change into late-life experience is in the context of a life lived on purpose. Do the concepts of “purpose” or “intention” resonate with you? Have you ever wondered if you have become the person you were meant to be? As you may have guessed by now, I’m a Wayne Dyer sort of guy. In Dr. Dyer’s life-view there are no accidents---things happen for a reason. To resist the changes implied by life’s “non-accidents” is akin to resisting our destiny.
As a storyteller I am constantly creating change in the lives of the characters I imagine into being. In a hopefully entertaining way I lead them from one place, with its particular circumstances and outlook, to another, hopefully more desirable, place. More than once I have used the notion of life’s “intention” to link someone’s beginnings (think childhood) to a much later October event. In the same way that it happens to each of us, I ask my characters to follow the continuous, perhaps twisted chain of change and adaptation to where it leads them.
Take for instance Jack Benz in Becoming. For fifty years, half a century, he has nurtured his improbable dream of knowing Her. During their high-school days at Tanner Southside High she had been Cindy Welton---social diva, miles out of his league. Later she became Cynthia Larson---socialite wife, living life in the fast lane. Until, that is, a devastating stroke changed her into someone her husband could no longer love. From the beginning the odds had been stacked against Jack---yet he had been willing to stay the course.

There in the front seat of his car Jack thought he had lost contact with Cynthia, until she looked up, ready with a new question. “Do you really believe that? What you said at lunch.”
“What did I say?”
“Last night, at the motel, you said that when something is meant to be it will happen if we give it a chance. Then today, at lunch, you told me that everything is working out just right---like it was supposed to.” She turned back to him. “Is that what you think? That you and I being here  right now was meant to be?”
“Meant to be?” Jack blinked at the sound of her words. For a instant it felt as though she had traced his own questions back to their source. He could not remember exactly where he first read about it---the idea that there might be an “intention” behind what he had always assumed to be the random unfolding of his life.
It was a notion that had captured his imagination. When viewed from that perspective, perhaps his years of unremarkable plodding had actually served a purpose. There might have been a reason for the way his life had played out. If nothing else, it would help explain the unlikely fact that Cynthia Larson, the late-life incarnation of school-girl Cindy Welton, was seated comfortably beside him, seeking his interpretation of their unexpected, perhaps life changing connection.
“I’ve read stuff like that---how everything happens for a reason.” He rolled his eyes, offering a hint of doubt for her benefit.
“According to that way of thinking there’s a purpose for everything that happens to us. It’s not just accidental. It means that every person who shows up in our life is there for a reason. We may not know what it is, but it’s important---otherwise they wouldn’t be there. It also means there can be reasons that we don’t necessarily understand, for things like your stroke and divorce. It might even explain why I’ve been such a pest lately.
“Just think about it.” Shifting in his seat to face her he hurried on, caught up in his not-so-conventional logic. “That day in the sixth grade, when we held hands and didn’t want anyone to see us. I’m not sure you even remember that. But I sure do. Anyway, I’d like to think that happened for a reason. Because, without those few minutes together, more than fifty years ago, we probably wouldn’t be sitting here today, talking about getting old together.”
For a few seconds the sight of the bridge in the distance seemed to capture Cynthia’s attention. When she looked back at him her crooked, but comfortable grin had returned. Was it the soundness of his argument  that had won her attention, she wondered, or the growing hope that he was right? “And you think all that happened because we held hands?” she asked softly. “It’s enough to make you think, isn’t it?”
“I’ve asked myself over and over,” Jack continued. “If being with you could be just a coincidence. There must have been a million different ways to get from where each of us was that day in the sixth grade to where we are now. It seems to me that you took the high road---living the good life with Eric, while I bounced along on the low road---working at my state job and drinking beer with Carl.” 
He had her hand again, squeezing to make his point. “Our paths were so different, but even with all the twists and turns, your way and my way both led to this exact time and place. 
“That sounds like what Carl calls ‘becoming.’ He says that everyone, even at our age, is in the process of changing, becoming someone new. That change may be something good. It may be something bad. But no one can stay the same. For you and me it feels like our ‘becoming’ has brought us right here. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t feel like an accident to me.”
Jack leaned over to kiss her on the cheek. Cynthia was not prepared to settle for that. Seconds later he pushed himself back into his seat, rebuckled his seat belt, and paused to wrap his mind around the improbable truth of it. After years of idle daydreams, Cindy Welton was sitting there beside him, looking forward to his company. True, she was no longer the youthful school girl who had first caught his eye. Like him, she had changed. Yet even after her stroke, with her crooked little smile and halting, jagged words, she had never been more appealing. Indeed, he was unwilling to accept those changes as accidental.
“I think we’d better be going.” He gently elbowed her good left arm. “I believe I’m beginning to feel a little under the weather. In fact, I think I’ll probably be needing a nurse.”

You can tell that I’m selling change---becoming something more---what I call thriving. You may not agree, but I am willing to believe that more than a little October change happens because a small voice is telling us we should keep striving and thriving, becoming closer to being the person we were meant to be.



Monday, October 24, 2016

A closer look at thriving


Here we are, deep in October, looking November right in the eye. Thanksgiving is on the horizon, and my eightieth birthday not far behind. For reasons I won’t bore you with, it feels like an appropriate time to revisit my own personal October and November, and my sometimes stumbling attempts to thrive in late life. After all, if I presume to help others make the most of their time, it seems like I should be willing to account for my own efforts. Beside, this is a Writer’s Blog, and I am a self-proclaimed writer. With that dubious excuse, I believe I will step up and have my say?
Let me begin with a question. What were you doing in May, 2005? It was only eleven-plus years ago. You can’t have forgotten so soon. So try again. Is there anything about that time that stands out in your memory? There certainly is for me. 
Like some of you I had already dabbled a bit at story telling by then. In fact there were two book-length manuscripts buried somewhere in a back closet, waiting to see the light of day. That is where things stood on that May day, way back in 2005. After seven year of retirement the golden promise of that time was beginning to tarnish, and the urge to write again was bubbling to the surface. It was then, with absolutely no pre-planning of any sort, that I began to sense the sort of story I would be telling.
I have noted before in these pages how my 50th high school reunion, just a month away at the time, served as the launching pad for the Harris brothers’ Second Chances story, and set me on an unexpected journey that would eventually have me addressing a wide range of late-life, October Years topics.
Without realizing where my renewed enthusiasm was leading me, the Harris brothers had laid the foundation for what would become the Tanner Chronicles---a series (ten so far, with eleven on its way.) of October and November appropriate relational stories, each of them dealing with late-life issues, and set in a place I call Tanner, which happens to look a lot like my hometown. A visit to this Amazon Author’s Page provides a quick overview of where this retirement project of mine has taken me. To further elaborate, what follows are thumbnail capsules of each Tanner Chronicles story.

Second Chances -- The Harris brothers are nearing 70, widowed and lonely. It is their 50th high school reunion that stirs long-forgotten feelings, and exposes unexpected possibilities for one more chance.

Long Way Home    -- The Harris’ determined pursuit continues, with even more drama, wins and losses, while seeking their elusive Second Chance.

Becoming    -- Carl and Jack are in their mid-sixties. It may look like they are treading water, yet each of them nurses late-life dreams, intent on proving Carl's stubborn belief that we never stop "becoming," even in October.

Going Poor -- Lane’s ultimate destination is there for the world to see. He is Going Poor. Actually, he is already there. Now he must decide if  he is willing to pay the price for something better?

Going Home -- Going home may trigger warm memories. For Tom Fedder the thought of it produces only dread, and unpleasant recollections of a past he would rather forget---at least  until he senses those unexpected feelings for her, the ones he was sure he had put aside years before. 

Best Friends and Promises -- Aaron learns that best friends are more important than he expected. His wife has been carried away by dementia, and his lifelong friend in is the ICU. Will his new lady friend’s comforting presence make things better or worse?

Breathing Underwater -- Facing an unexpected ‘underwater’ future, Jim and Anita must downsize. Given their nearly opposite ways of dealing with that depressing situation the ensuing drama is probably predictable, and certainly more complicated than they had imagined.

Family Matters -- They had waited anxiously for the arrival of their “golden years.” But now Dan and Nell cannot agree on a retirement agenda. They are miles apart when their daughter arrives just in time to hear them debating about ‘home’---what it means and where it is.

October Bold -- They are such an unlikely pair. Their circumstances could not be more different. To make matters worse, their natural timidity constrains their wanting. Something new is required---perhaps something as unlikely as October Bold.

Conversations With Sarah -- For decades Hank has relied on Sarah’s common sense counsel. Suddenly he is alone, fighting off the 'wily widows' and facing relational challenges he had never imagined. When he needs his Sarah the most she is gone, or is she?

October Years -- A compilation of more than fifty of these October Years blog posts

Sadly, though the Amazon catalog lists dozens of categories in its “fiction” offerings, “Senior relational fiction” is not one of them. (Disclaimer--when writing about 70 year olds I prefer “relational” to “romance.” That must be a guy thing.) So if hulky, bare-chested Alpha males are your thing, you won’t find them in the stories listed above. On the other hand if late-life reality---complete with Beta males who would like to feel that way again, but know their limits---appeals to you I invite you to check out one these Tanner Chronicles stories.
And that, my friend, is an abbreviated look at how I have attempted to thrive in late-life. Hopefully you have created your own form of October Years coping. To be sure, thriving is a very personal thing. If something works for you, there is no need for a second opinion. 
Remember, you’ve read about an eighty year-old guy who gets his kicks writing about lonely seniors who want something more from life. If he can look the world in the eye and say that’s his thing, you can do the same with whatever you’ve decided to pursue.
If you would care to share your ‘thriving’ story I urge you to leave a Comment below. Beyond that, if you know someone whose fictional tastes might include the Tanner Chronicles I hope you will pass this post along to them.

See you next time.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

My kind of club



    Can you believe it? Turns out I am a charter member of an organization I didn't even know existed. To be sure, the Dull Man's Club (Born to be mild) is my kind of club---no dues, no meetings, and very few rules.
    As one of our members explains, "Time is what keeps everything from happening at once." And if there is one thing we Dullers are good at, it is taking our time.
    If you are one of those "on the go" sort, who doesn't have time to take your time, I urge you to slow down long enough to check out this delightful Dull Man's Club link. You won't be sorry. And if you know someone who might be an unsuspecting candidate for membership I hope you will "Share" this with them.
    Now, I must remember to tell the wife that "dull is good." Near as I can tell she thinks I'm just dull. Maybe she needs more time.



.

    

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A break in the action


I suppose it says something about my own priorities at this stage of life. The wife is talking about a family gathering when I turn eighty in a couple months. I’d like that. It’s always a good time when we get the whole clan together.
But in the meantime I am quite enjoying the luxury of a very personal ‘good time’---that space in the flow of my days when the latest story is ready to send off for a draft copy---the one we will edit and mark up, making it ready for what I am willing to call complete.
With that first draft behind me I can take time to look at the blank page that awaits. It is a liberating place to be. A story-in-progress is bound to limit our creative options. Whatever we add to the mix must mesh with what has come before. But the blank page in front of me now, a new story waiting to be told, offers the best sort of freedom. It can lead anywhere I choose to take it. That latitude is so comforting that I am sometimes reluctant to send it away by beginning a new piece.
Yet, truth be told, I have at least a general idea where the next tale will take me. The route it takes to get there remains to be seen. But however it plays out, you can be sure it will be about life choices, the kind we can still make in our personal October and November. In one way or another it will reflect the ideas I addressed in this previous blog post. I happen to believe it was true then---and is true today.

                ~~~

Hey, we’re October people, aren’t we? We know from experience how complicated life can be. Even the most mundane existence is an constant stream of highs and lows. The exact mix of ingredients is a very individual thing, but from the beginning the life we live is an ever-changing blend of choices made (or not made) and actions taken (or not taken). 
As a storyteller I do my best to describe and illustrate the chain of actions and interactions, thoughts and choices that make up my story. My goal is simple enough. I want the reader to care about what happens to the characters I have set in motion. Yet in the telling I have the luxury of focusing on particular elements of the story---truths or opinions I consider worth exploring in depth. That makes each of those books a very personal expression.
We know how hard our October years can be. Chances are November will bring additional trials. Each of my Tanner Chronicles stories deals with some form of that unsettling reality. In the course of eleven books I have touched on a wide array of October challenges. Yet in every case my emphasis is not the dark side of late-life, but instead the affirming role that relationships play in helping us deal with those hard times.
I have made the point before. What I call “relational” stories are something very different than the “romance” novels you see on the supermarket shelves. Like you, I know a thing or two about romance. I’ve been there---and I’m glad for that. It was a special time of life, when hormones and inclination combined to make youthful romance perfectly appropriate.
But that was April. This is October, or perhaps November. A different sort of relationship is just as appropriate. For the last fifteen years Roma and I have visited our congregation’s shut-ins on a regular basis. We have called on dozens of special friends who were facing late-life alone. For some of them that was by choice---and the choice was certainly theirs to make. For others it just turned out that way. In either case there was no denying the sense that something important was missing.
Which brings me to a particular October truth I have explored more than once. If growing old can be a trial, then growing old together must be the most blessed of age-appropriate blessings. Facing October and beyond in the company of a caring and supportive life partner is the best way I know to deal with those intimidating circumstances. Of course, in the process each of them will struggle from time to time. That is an October given. But they will be struggling together.
There are a million ways to tell a story that emphasizes the virtue of “struggling together.” Allow me to offer one of my own---from Long Way Home.
Elly Warren is a year removed from a life-changing relational disaster. She has experienced the pain of great loss up close and personal---leaving her determined to never let it happen again. Keeping the possibility of a new relationship at arms length has become a way of life. But now her best friend, Claudia Harris, is on the phone, asking her to consider that choice in a different light.

              ~~~

“It’s mostly a matter of being lonely,” Elly explained. “Day after day, it’s all the same. There’s nothing to look forward to. I go shopping every couple days. I do lunch at the club with the girls. But it doesn’t help. I honestly don’t know what do. It’s all so complicated.”
Claudia could tell her friend was struggling. Would she be willing to hear another point of view? “You know, I’m not so sure it’s all that complicated,” she suggested as she shifted the phone to her other ear. “In fact, I’m guessing it’s really quite simple.”
“What do you mean?” 
“It seems to me you have a choice to make. That’s what I mean. Just one choice, nothing more. That doesn’t sound so complicated does it?”
Elly was not sure how to respond. “What are you talking about? What choice is that?”
“Do you want to be alone---or not? That’s the question you have to answer---the choice you have to make” Was this going to work, Claudia asked herself. Would Elly even listen? “You’re seventy years old, aren’t you? And what little family you have is in California. Which means you’re basically on your own. Right?”
“I suppose so.”
“I’m sure there are fellows at the club who would be willing to help out. But you won’t let that happen, will you? I know that you think you have all the answers. But what if you’ve been asking the wrong questions?”
“For heaven sakes, Claudia. What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about reality---about the real world. Take a moment to imagine yourself ten years from now. Think about what you might be facing if you were eighty and all alone. How do you suppose you’d cope with whatever that future looks like? The thing is, you can decide right now whether you want that to be your future, You can decide if you want to be by yourself or with someone who can be there to help if you need it---someone who makes things better?” 
Claudia’s soft laugh might have sounded out of place, at least until she added, “We don’t like to think about that, do we?”
“You’re right,” Elly replied. Why was her friend going on about things no one wanted to think about---now or later?
“But that brings us right back to the one question you need to answer. Do you want to spend your future, whatever it turns out to be, by yourself or with a partner---someone who can help you---someone you can help?”
“Claudia. Don’t forget I had ‘someone’ before.” Elly countered, falling back on her well-tested defenses. “He turned out to be the problem, not the answer. Why would I want to go there again?”
“You’re getting sidetracked, Elly.” Claudia was pacing now, from one end of the patio to the other. “Just concentrate on that one question. Do you want a future by yourself? Or would you rather share it with someone?”
“But, I told ....”
“Elly. Listen to me.” Claudia’s emphatic interruption startled even herself. “Forget about ‘before.’ That’s ancient history. Just answer that one question---by yourself or with someone?”
“I just can’t believe it’s that simple, just one question.”
“It is simple. I’m not saying it’s easy, because it’s not. But it is simple. Just ask yourself that one question. If you decide you want to go on alone, like you are now,  then there’s no need to worry about anything else. Because you’ve already decided. You’ve answered the question.” 
“It is much safer this way, you know. There’s less chance of getting hurt again.” Elly’s words carried a harsh, remembering edge that lasted until, “The thing is, it’s so lonely. I know there ought to be more.”
“Perhaps that’s your answer then. Maybe you’ve already made that choice.”
“But, how can I know for sure?”
“Elly.” Claudia was past caring if the neighbors heard her. “We’re not talking about a sewing machine or a new car. It doesn’t come with a guarantee. There is no extended warranty. It’s about taking a chance. If that sounds too scary, if it’s not worth the risk, then don’t do it.”
“But I can’t go on like this. It’s too lonely.”
“Then you have to step out and take a chance. You have to trust again, even if ‘trusting’ has hurt you before. You have to try.“

                                             ~~~

There you have it, my friend, another peek into the daunting world of October Bold, an interpretation of what I consider to be a late-life truth. It is about thriving in our 60s and 70s (and beyond), wringing all we can from late-life. It may involve taking a chance now and then, even when it’s scary. It may include trusting, even when you’re not sure you can do that again. And of course, there will be no guarantees---no matter what path we choose. 
In the end “thriving” is a matter of being willing to try. That is true on a relational level---whether you decide your way is to go on alone, or you hope to rely on a new relationship. It’s also true for just about any other October challenge you can think of---like telling stories and writing blogs, or some other late-life project that works for you.

This Amazon Author’s page gives you an idea of where my own October and November have taken me.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Do you remember?


Nearly eighty years old. That has the ring of November, doesn’t it? Which makes it easier to admit that we can no longer do some of the things we did in the “old days.” But never fear, there are some things we can do better than ever---for instance, remembering. Though we are prone to forget where we left the keys, and our offspring occasionally kid us about “living in the past,” the truth is we do remember a great deal about the life we have lived. And why not? The numbers don’t lie. We have so much more past behind us than we have future before us. In that case why not take a moment from time to time to recall and revisit that past, and how it has impacted the persons we have become.      
For instance, in the course of the last week or two, in an informal email fashion, I have heard from several long ago high-school friends. As you might expect, claiming those folks as “friends” is a rather imprecise label. We were in school at the same time, sixty-some years ago, and were more like acquaintances than friends. Though we haven’t seen each other in years, there was a time when we walked the same hallways and greeted each other in passing---or did not. Through no choice of our own we had been thrown together in a common place and time. Some of us had reveled in those common experiences. Others simply endured them. Either way, in the process we cultivated a common mythology, some of which we have shaped and molded over the years to suit our own needs.

Truth is, after all those years I enjoyed the chance to reconnect with those folks in a casual email contact. In fact I recommend it. You ought to give it a try. But be aware, even the most superficial of visits is apt to trigger some serious remembering---a return to places and events you may not have visited in a very long time. Most of the resulting recollections will probably be of a general nature---pleasant musings about what we like to recall as an unfettered, less structured time of life---creating a mood we may choose to linger in for a while. Occasionally those remembered moments may become more detailed and specific, complete with faces and names. Either way there can be no doubting the power of serious, heart-felt remembering.

Remembering, of course, is a very individual activity. Two or more persons, reliving a shared experience, are bound to remember their time together differently. After all, our recollections are shaped by our own uniquely personal filters. Yet no matter what we remember, a single constant remains---we are dealing with the past. Remembering is about looking back, and assigning our own values to what we experienced. The future, on the other hand, is a great unknown. At best it is a blank page of undetermined possibilities---answers we hope will arrive on time, but may not arrive at all. 

That is the dichotomy we live with, at eight or eighty---remembering our past, while trying to decipher the future. After nearly eighty years spent creating my own answers---some right, some wrong---I realize there is more, much more, for me to remember about the past than there is for me to look forward to in an ever-shortening future.

So why not accept the truth of it? Connecting with caring “friends” in even the most casual way---with no need to impress or “one-up” each other---is one of the most therapeutic perks of late life. With that in mind I give thanks for pleasant memories of pleasant times spent with pleasant people. (Even those times when one or the other of us was not so pleasant) 

And a special thanks to the recent string of memory-makers who, for reasons of their own, stepped forward to offer their personal feelings about the highs and lows of October and November life. Their sharing and caring was enough to fuel my own remembering. I realize that was not their intention, but that’s the way it works. Though it may be unhealthy to dwell too long on our remembering, in the end everyone of us is a part of someone else’s memories.

How about you? Does that “Remembering” resonate with you? I’d appreciate hearing what you think.

Monday, June 27, 2016

October works best as a shared effort


   Do you believe in signs? I do---sort of. Perhaps “believe” is too strong a word, but I do pay attention to the twists and turns of October life that seem to make or reinforce a particular point. Who knows, it might be a sign.
    With the upcoming publication of Breathing Underwater there will be eleven Tanner Chronicles books on my shelf. Each of them is a relational story---hopeful seniors in search of a lasting relationship. Yet in the midst of their seeking each of them is dealing with one or more of the distressing realities that dot our October landscape. 
        From time to time all of us come face to face with some kind of late-life obstacle. But no matter what the challenge, one important truth remains unchanged---dealing with October and beyond usually (though not always) works best when it is a shared effort.
        I hope you will stay with me through this, all the way to the end. What I’m hoping for is a celebration of a late-life truth for which we ought to be thankful. But to reach that comforting space we must first address some very uncelebratory realities. 
        You see, it was a real bummer, that day last week when Roma and I had to go our separate ways so each of us could attend one of the two funerals scheduled just a couple hours apart. Of course, we knew those sad mornings are a part of October and November---but that doesn’t make them any easier. We live in a vulnerable time of life, a time when we depend on each other more than ever.
         The fact is, the October challenges we face rarely impact just us. It is a simple bit of logic---the truest of the truth usually is. The trials we deal with are bound to touch our partner, our family, our close friends---everyone who cares about us. Having steered a dozen or so fictional acquaintances through the quicksand of senior troubles, I can attest---and you can too---that those hard times impact all the players. 
        More than that, our often-twisting October path is a two-way street. As much as we need the caring and support of those around us, there will be times when it is our turn to offer the help they need. There are even times when the apparent “victim” is called on to support his or her own support team. At every turn late-life works best as a shared experience. 
      Needless to say, the last miles of our journey toward the great unknown we cannot avoid are apt to be a daunting time. Does that sound too dark, too depressing to think about? I hope not. Over the years I have painted some of my Tanner Chronicle friends into one or more of those distressing corners.
      However, in my way of thinking the most depressing circumstance of all would be to face those times alone. Those last miles are a time for special caring and support. For those of us who have experienced the need for a special someone to see us through October and beyond the opportunity to grow old together makes all the difference. 
         The willingness of my Tanner friends to seek a new connection that will hopefully help overcome their loneliness is at the heart of my stories. Making that time of life a shared experience is an important motivator for the October characters I have imagined into being. Somehow, a 300 page tale that ends with the two of them going their separate ways is not all that satisfying---though it has happened a time or two. 
          Finally, however---we mustn’t forget that not everyone is a candidate for that “together” future. For any number of reasons many of our October peers choose not to rely on another life-mate, but instead focus on a different sort of shared future---one that includes themselves, their family and friends, and the memory of the partner who had seen them through their shared trials. If that works for them, who can argue with the choice they’ve made?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Last Ones


Truth be told, most of us have lived a charmed life. Though it hasn't always felt that way, we have had a lot going for us. The following piece---The Last Ones, makes that point very forcefully.

The essay was forwarded to me by my friend, Don Zeh. Sadly, however, I don't have an author's name to credit. In any case, if you are an October or November type, chances are you will recognize the world you grew up in---the one your grandchildren can scarcely imagine. I'd be interested in hearing what you think of it.



 'The Last Ones,’ 

Children of the 30s & 40s.     A Short Memoir

Born in the 1930s and early 40s, we exist as a very special age cohort. 

We are the "last ones."  We are the last, climbing out of the depression, who can remember the winds of war and the war itself with fathers and uncles going off.  We are the last to remember ration books for everything from sugar to shoes to stoves.  We saved tin foil and poured fat into tin cans.  We saw cars up on blocks because tires weren't available.  My mother delivered milk in a horse drawn cart.

We are the last to hear Roosevelt's radio assurances and to see gold stars in the front windows of our grieving neighbors.  We can also remember the parades on August 15, 1945; VJ Day.

We saw the 'boys' home from the war build their Cape Cod style houses, pouring the cellar, tar papering it over and living there until they could afford the time and money to build it out.

We are the last who spent childhood without television; instead imagining what we heard on the radio.  As we all like to brag, with no TV, we spent our childhood "playing outside until the street lights came on."  We did play outside and we did play on our own.  There was no little league.

The lack of television in our early years meant, for most of us, that we had little real understanding of what the world was like.  Our Saturday afternoons, if at the movies, gave us newsreels of the war and the holocaust sandwiched in between westerns and cartoons.  Newspapers and magazines were written for adults.  We are the last who had to find out for ourselves.

As we grew up, the country was exploding with growth.  The G.I. Bill gave returning veterans the means to get an education and spurred colleges to grow.  VA loans fanned a housing boom.  Pent up demand coupled with new installment payment plans put factories to work.  New highways would bring jobs and mobility.  The veterans joined civic clubs and became active in politics.  In the late 40s and early 50's the country seemed to lie in the embrace of brisk but quiet order as it gave birth to its new middle class.  Our parents understandably became absorbed with their own new lives.  They were free from the confines of the depression and the war.  They threw themselves into exploring opportunities they had never imagined.

We weren't neglected but we weren't today's all-consuming family focus.  They were glad we played by ourselves 'until the street lights came on.'  They were busy discovering the post war world.

Most of us had no life plan, but with the unexpected virtue of ignorance and an economic rising tide we simply stepped into the world and went to find out.  We entered a world of overflowing plenty and opportunity; a world where we were welcomed. Based on our na├»ve belief that there was more where this came from, we shaped life as we went.

We enjoyed a luxury; we felt secure in our future.  Of course, just as today, not all Americans shared in this experience.  Depression poverty was deep rooted.  Polio was still a crippler.  The Korean War was a dark presage in the early 50s and by mid-decade school children were ducking under desks.  China became Red China.  Eisenhower sent the first 'advisors' to Vietnam.  Castro set up camp in Cuba and Khrushchev came to power.
We are the last to experience an interlude when there were no existential threats to our homeland.  We came of age in the late 40s and early 50s.  The war was over and the cold war, terrorism, climate change, technological upheaval and perpetual economic insecurity had yet to haunt life with insistent unease.

Only we can remember both a time of apocalyptic war and a time when our world was secure and full of bright promise and plenty.  We experienced both.

We grew up at the best possible time, a time when the world was getting better not worse.

We are the 'last ones.'

If you are one of those "Last Ones" you might consider forward this to others who have shared that time and place.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Breathing Underwater - an October possibility


As I’ve said before, more than once---not every October road is straight and smooth. And they do not always lead to happily-ever-after. No matter what our circumstances there will be potholes, speed bumps, and detours for us to negotiate.
You’ve seen the stories on the tube and read them in the newspaper. (Our generation still does that.) The news is bad and the numbers are worse. A growing portion of our October population is not financially prepared for anything like the story-book retirement that advertisers tell us we deserve. For too many of us the future is a bit bleak---or perhaps a lot bleak.
Think of it this way. For the less fortunate of our October friends, what lies in wait are possibilities they never expected or planned for. The fortunate among us may be heading off into the retirement sunset on the back of a smooth-riding pension pony. But for too many others those guaranteed pensions, high-yielding 401Ks, and real estate equities that always increased are last-year’s dream turned sour. Meanwhile, the publicly-funded safety net of social services they hope will tide them over---food stamps, rental subsidies, health care---is strained as never before. Even Social Security, the last resort for so many, is said to be more vulnerable than ever.
I suppose it is human nature---looking ahead to judge our outcomes. We continually measure ourselves against our own expectations. Are we winning or losing? “Winning” is, of course, a powerful motivator. Conversely, the realization that we might be “losing” is hard to accept. That is true at any age, but especially so in the late-life world of October.
Facing the harsh possibility of failure in something as crucial as retirement is hard enough. But what if you find yourself failing and the means to turn your situation around---to set things right, seem to be out of reach? That sense of helplessness can bring the strongest person up short, regardless of their age. Serious setbacks---be they health related, relational, financial, or psychological---are likely to reinforce the perception of having lost control. What worked in the past may no longer be effective. How can we learn new skills and change course so late in the game?
In the end, of course, the test is how we deal with those disappointments---the October realization that our future will be something less, perhaps a lot less, than we had hoped. On one hand we can step back, assess our situation, weigh the options, and create an action plan that includes the most promising ways to cope with our misfortune. Or.....at the other extreme, we can simply give up---turning away, refusing to accept the fact of it. Finally, if denial does not bring the desired relief, some will resort to outright escape, literally running away rather than face the hurtful truth.
Of course, for October couples the disappointment of falling short is a shared experience. Not surprisingly, when unexpected circumstances scuttle long-held dreams of how the future ought to be, it can produce serious strain on even the best of relationships. For some that perceived failure is a burden not easily shed---a source of guilt that is bound to have its way. 
By now you might be asking what has led me to this dark side of October. As often happens I revisited those relational concerns---of a couple falling short---as I proofed my latest story, with its descriptive title - Breathing Underwater. After forty-six years of marriage the Camdens have encountered a late-life speed bump. Their problem is a financial one---an underwater mortgage, coupled with a private pension that vanished as fast as a former employer declared bankruptcy.
By then their question had become---how do they deal with that stressful reality when one of them is seeking for a way to survive, and the other wants only to run and hide from the truth? 
It’s a hard thing, finding yourself underwater. “Breathing underwater” is even harder. Yet that simple necessity was about to become the mantra by which the Camdens’ new lives would be lived. Try as they might there was no escaping the truth of it. They must learn to view life through an “underwater” prism.
I’ll admit that I was drawn to the Camden’s situation, especially their differing ways of coping with their new reality. It seemed to me a story that ought to be told---a circumstance that happens too often these days. In the course of Breathing Underwater I followed them as they dealt with their personal challenges until, in due course, the ultimate question became---if and when they are able to surface for a breath of fresh air, will they still be together?