Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Let's Hear It For October Boldness

Do you ever wish that your October Years came with a crystal ball. If you’re like me, by this stage of the game your time and energy are a bit limited. It would help if you could see around the next corner of your life-path---to have a better idea of what to expect and how to prepare for it. Alas, like every other time of life, October does not provide that kind of foresight. 

There are times, of course, when each of us indulges in our own form of looking around that next corner. How often have you said with conviction that “I am definitely going to do this or that” or “I’ll never do this or that again”? Were you intending to predict the future? Probably not, though you may have wanted it to sound that way. In the end, however, it is the choices we make, along with a host of circumstances we may or may not control, that will shape our future. 
Perhaps you know someone who is weighed down by October realities, who seems to have given up on the future. Maybe you have been in that space yourself---where what you can’t see has already defeated you. What could be sadder than the person who decides that a productive change of course, at this late date, is simply not worth the effort? Seems to me that using our October status as a reason to cease “becoming” is to sell ourselves short.

Months ago I mentioned in these pages that I planned to call my next novel October Bold. Now, having completed the first draft, I find that name still fits. It's a simple tale of a sixty-something couple---each of them still dealing with the loss of a spouse, while realizing that a new relationship will require a change of course and attitude. 

The necessary changes will require a dose of October Boldness. After all, the questions they face are daunting and decades removed from the last time they were asked. To be sure, the October Boldness I advocate is not a matter of daring adventure or great physical risk, but rather the risk of hurt feelings, embarrassment, or head shaking snickers. It is a willingness to venture beyond one’s comfort zone, and learning that a sometimes fragile ego can deal with those insults and injuries. 

More to the point, October Boldness is a frame of mind---a conscious decision, no matter how timid, to act in the face of all the reasons we have created for not acting. It’s about taking chances. After everything we’ve gone through to reach October, haven’t we earned the right to be bold---in an October sort of way?

Perhaps someone will buy my books. Maybe they won’t. My blog may be read---or not. Either way, October Boldness allows me the opportunity to be true to myself. As a storyteller I create change in the lives of the characters I imagine into being---leading them toward a hopefully more desirable future as they adapt to the never-ending change we call life. Just like those stories, life ought to be lived with the future in mind.

It’s what I call ‘becoming’---the process of moving toward a future that is always changing. It may be good, or bad. But there will be change. No one stays the same. Yet, while there is no avoiding that reality, we can influence those changes. An important part of our October reality is the small voice in our head urging us to become the person we are meant to be.

So why not scrape off the limiting barnacles, the ones that hold you back, and be more open to taking those chances? Who cares if you end up looking silly or out of place? If you’re like me, you’ve been there before. To hold back or hesitate because of what someone else may say or think about our feeble efforts strikes me as a cowardly and very unbold reason for not acting.

Finally I pray that you can be bold in your own October way. If there is something you want to try or do, and nothing more than your own timidity is holding you back---then give it a try. What are you waiting for? Will it be easier next year?

As always, if you’re so inclined I’d appreciate your comments. Beyond that, if there are folks with whom you’d like to share this October Years post I hope you’ll pass it on. It’s an easy thing to do. Just click on the “M” at the bottom of the page to email the post to any address you choose.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

October Years - does that mean Going Poor?

I’ll tell you what, it feels too much like having a job---which is one of those things I don’t need. Writing a two-a-week blog---deciding what to say and whether it’s worth saying, trying to get the readers involved---it’s a hard thing for a guy who sometimes goes two weeks between good ideas. Moreover, though it may not show, it’s a time consuming process---time I would rather spend telling my stories.

It is the combination of all those things that has prompted my decision to become an ex-blogger. Though I expect I’ll add a post from time to time, just to have it on the record, that probably won’t matter much. Once folks will have stopped visiting October Years not many will come back to see what I post.

Having made that decision I probably could have stopped right there. But I had a couple pages of notes I wanted to spring on you. I haven’t posted about Going Poor until now. It’s one of my favorite stories, and I think it deserves a few minutes in the spotlight before I go.

I’ve said it before---our October Years can be an intimidating time. By the time I started working on Going Poor, and its depiction of poverty’s impact, I had written of relationships impaired by divorce and death, Alzheimer’s and heart disease, stroke and decades of separation. So why not explore what has become an all-too-familiar part of October life? Why not take a close look at poverty, and what happens to relationships when they face the harsh realities of Going Poor?

I’m not exactly sure what prompted the idea. I suppose it’s a child of the times. We read every day about how many people are unprepared for retirement, how many of us face an uncertain financial future. 

By itself “poverty” is more depressing than interesting, not a likely topic for the stories I tell. But what about the impact of poverty---its effect on those who deal with it? Beyond the basics of food and shelter the cruelest part of financial hardship is its impact on the human psyche---the emotional price of not measuring up to what we or society expects of us. How do youthful dreams of success fare in the face of late-life poverty? What are its effects on self-esteem, families and children? Those that are ingredients for a worthwhile story.

And what are the effects of poverty on relationships? On one hand, no one is more in need of the support and caring of a committed partner more than a truly needy person? On the other, how do the deeper questions of personal worth and not being a provider affect relational possibilities? Relationships can thrive in a real home, no matter how modest it is. Yet poverty and homelessness do not lend themselves to permanency. In Going Poor the couples, or prospective couples, I write about are dealing with life as it is. For them, “it is” means being poor.

Going Poor - excerpt 1
Lane Tipton has reached the end of his rope. Calling his sister in Tanner is a last resort. Sadly, he has no other choice.

Lane flinched a bit at that, remembering how much he disliked those moments when his sister’s questions focused on his unfortunate circumstances. “So how are you doing?” Sally asked. “Have you been working at all? If I remember right the last time you called you were retrieving shopping carts for the Merchants’ Association, and living in someone’s garage.”
“I worked myself out of a job.” He was laughing to himself as he switched the phone to his other ear, wondering why she would remember something like that. “A place like Medford only has so many shopping carts. It took about two weeks to round up the lost and stolen ones, at least the ones I could find. It earned me a few bucks, but then I was out of work again. As for the garage, that worked out pretty well, until I got evicted.”
“You got evicted from a garage? That sounds like a first.”
“I should have seen it coming,” Lane admitted. “Ron had been talking about getting a car for his wife. When he finally did, there wasn’t room for me and the Honda. The Honda won out.”
“So where are you staying now? Have you come up with a new answer?”
He turned quiet, offering no hint of his normally upbeat banter. That was very much unlike him. For years he had endured hardship and hard times without complaint, relying on his characteristic optimism and an exaggerated bravado to mask the hurt. But now, as his silence continued, Sally was inclined to believe something different was at work this time. 
“Lane. You have to tell me. Does it feel like you’ve run out of options? Is that it?” She paused, wondering how to pry the truth from him. “Come on. I understand how that feels. I’ve been there. Remember?”
His reply arrived in a hushed near-whisper, tinged with a hesitant resignation she had seldom heard from him. “Yeah,” he said. “It kind of feels like I’ve hit the wall. There’s not much work to be had around here. There are a couple dozen guys going for every job that comes up. An old fossil like me doesn’t stand a chance. 
“The only ones who are hiring are the orchards. They’re pruning this time of year, and looking for young bucks who can run up and down a ladder a hundred miles an hour. I just can’t do that anymore.” By then Lane was scolding himself for sounding so down in the dumps. Still, he owed her the truth. 
“The thing is,” he continued. “The few shelters in town are turning guys away. They don’t have any room. There aren’t enough beds to go around. Winter’s coming on and I’m fresh out of ideas.”
“So?” Sally voiced her one word question and waited.
“So? What does that mean?”
“It means I’m wondering what you’re going to do. You can’t do nothing.”
By then neither of them wanted to be the first to say what must be said. Without another word being spoken they each realized where their sparse dialogue was taking them. Sally understood her brother’s reluctance to sound like he was giving up. Yet, if he could not say what needed saying, she would have to do that herself.
“Listen to me, brother. How many times have I told you that you ought to come back here, to Tanner. Why not do that now? Stay with me until you get things sorted out. I’ve got room for that. It’s not fancy, but it beats the heck out of staying in some camp on the Bluffs.”
“Sal, don’t you kid me. You don’t have room. You’re still in the same single wide, aren’t you, the one you had in the other park?”
“That’s right.” 
“Which means you don’t have room for another body bouncing around your trailer. I can’t be imposing on you like that.”
Brother Lane was raising his predictable objections. That was not so surprising. Her challenge was to make him listen to reason. “Don’t be silly. You wouldn’t be imposing at all. In fact, I think I’d appreciate some company for a change. In fact I’d probably feel more comfortable with a man around the place. Who knows what kind of guys are poking around here at night?”
“And you expect me to scare them off?” The thought of that had him laughing. “That’s not too likely. Besides, how are you ever going to get acquainted with any of those guys with little brother hanging around.? I might end up scaring off the wrong one.”
“Don’t you fret about that. You won’t find any fellows buzzing around this old girl. At least none that I’d be interested in meeting. That doesn’t bother me at all. Don’t forget. I know what the real thing is like. Why would I ever settle for second best?

Going Poor - excerpt 2
Lane has made his way to the downtown Job Market, where area farms and nurseries come each morning to hire the day-workers. 

“So tell me,” Lane said to the only other fellow waiting in what appeared to be the senior section of the Job Market. “What are the odds of making a connection here? Is there any work to be had, especially for old guys like us? I’m standing here in the rain, hoping to make a few bucks before the day is over. I need to do that. It’s been way too long between paychecks.”
“You can see how it works,” Robert replied “Most of the outfits that come in here are looking for the young guys. They have crops to get in, or plants to tend. They need help and they’re not worried about age discrimination issues and stuff like that. Those young kids, especially the Mexicans, are hard workers. They’re the ones they want. Hell, I’d hire them in a minute if I had work to get done.”
The rain had picked up again, sending Robert down the wall, under the wider awning in front of the fitness center. “During the summer,” he continued. “There’s plenty of work for everyone, even us old farts. But by now, in the fall, it gets harder. The work has slowed down. The only thing in our favor is a lot of the Hispanics have headed south to California, where there’s more work. Another month or so there won’t be much call for extra help. Except for the Christmas tree farms, everyone will be going with a skeleton crew.”
“Does that mean you’ll be going south?”
“I don’t know,” Robert answered. “I’ve done that the last couple years. Mostly because it’s warmer. But the truth is, my body can’t take that kind of beating year round. I turned sixty-one this summer. Been fighting bad knees for years.”
“You got a place to stay up here?” Lane asked. “If you decide to stay?”
“Yeah, sort of. Another fellow and I have what we call our Penthouse. We’ve set up a tent, made out of plastic sheets, against one of the warehouses on the bluff. It’s not pretty, and sure as hell doesn’t meet code. But we stay dry, even half-warm most of the time. That, along with the Mission House, keeps us going when there’s no work.”

It was an interesting exercise, creating a relational story from such unpromising fabric. Sadly, it’s a story being played out all around us in these hard days. I hope you’ll take time to check it out.

In the meantime, thanks for being part of this ride. Check in from time to time. Perhaps our paths will cross again sometime.

Gil Stewart

Monday, July 8, 2013

Is this who I was meant to be?

I am still processing Thursday’s post about “thriving” in our October Years. In my own mental shorthand I have defined thriving as “coming closer to being the person I can be.” That in turn has led me to questions like---Am I thriving? Should I expect to thrive? Does it matter one way or the other?  I’ll admit, there are times when I’m inclined to just settle for being the person I am. 

Of course, thriving is a very personal thing. My thriving isn’t necessarily your thriving. If you happen to be one of those October thrivers, chances are you’ve found the proper balance in your life. You look ahead, but remember the past. You accept the person you have become, but hope to be more.

Yet I see, and perhaps you do too, October friends who are not thriving---who seem to have been beaten down. Some have given up. Be aware, however, that such judgments are fraught with danger. Who is to say that his or her kind of thriving is the only acceptable kind? I have to remind myself that thriving, and the change that comes with it, is a very individual thing. Your change doesn’t have to look like my change.

I’ve mention “change” before. It seems to me it ought to be an important part of October life. It is, after all, still allowed at our age. One way of viewing life is as an unending chain of choices, adaptations, and changes. Though I can’t judge what change is appropriate for you, I am sure that adapting to life’s changing circumstances is an important part of thriving at any age. To use our October status as a reason to stop “becoming” is to sell ourselves short. What could be sadder than the person who believes that it is too late to become something more---that change is not worth the effort at this late date?

One way to integrate change is in the context of a life lived on purpose. Do the concepts of “purpose” or “intention” resonate with you? Have you ever thought about becoming the person you were meant to be? As you may have guessed by now, I’m a Wayne Dyer sort of guy. In that life view there are no accidents---things happen for a reason. To resist the changes implied by life’s “non-accidents” is the same as resisting our destiny.

As a storyteller I constantly create 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 more desirable place. More than once I have used the notion of life’s “intention” to link someone’s beginnings (childhood perhaps) to a much later October event. In the same way that it happens to each of us, I ask my characters to follow the twisted, but continuous chain of change and adapting to where it leads them.

Take for instance Jack Benz in Becoming. For fifty years, half a century, he has nurtured his improbable dream, knowing the odds were stacked against him---yet willing to stay the course.

For a few seconds he thought perhaps he had lost contact with her, 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 work out. Then today, at lunch, you told me that everything is working out just right---just like it was supposed to.” She turned back to him. “Is that what you think? That this is 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 had first read about it---the idea that there was actually 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 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 was seated comfortably beside him, seeking his interpretation of their unexpected and 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, 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 are reasons that we don’t necessarily understand, for things like strokes and divorces. It might even explain why I’ve been such a pest lately.
“Just think about it.” Shifting in his seat to face her more directly 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 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, maybe 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 or her growing hope that he was right? “And maybe all those things happened because we held hands?” she wondered out loud. “It makes you think, doesn’t it?”
“I’ve asked myself over and over,” Jack continued, “if it could be just a coincidence. There must have been a million different ways to get from where each of us was on 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 the becoming something new and different. It may be something good. It may be something bad. But no one can stay the same. For you and me it seems like 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. She was no longer the youthful school girl who had first caught his eye. Like him, she had changed. Yet even 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 could say that I’m selling change. 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 must keep striving, and thriving, to become the person we were meant to be.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Thriving - can that be done at 60 or 70?

Today’s post will be a short one. It’s a holiday and the grandkids are waiting to thump Grandpa at croquet. However, just to keep things interesting, I’m including a holiday homework assignment for you. Something I hope you’ll take me up on.

Did you notice the new sub-title at the top of the page? It now includes “thriving in our 60s & 70s.” It’s an idea that came to me in the wee hours a couple nights ago. That happens a lot. It’s why I keep a pad next to the bed. Without turning on the light I scribble my notes and hope I can read them in the morning. It’s become a necessary skill, since story ideas seem to arrive on their own schedule, not mine.

I woke the other morning to find ”Thriving at 60 and 70” spelled out in large letters, partially written on top of each other. What the heck was I to make of that? Like so many other great notions, this revelation and its context had been swallowed by my return to sleep. That’s happened to some of my very best ideas. At least I think they were. I can’t remember for sure.

Anyway, being the impulsive fellow I am, I tweaked my original note a bit and came up with a new sub-title. Please note, however, that it still reads---”a writer’s blog.” That’s because - 1) I write books, and 2) I’ve found the blogging format to be a good way for me to explore what I’ve written, and why. I have no interest in backing away from that.

Yet the main blog title---”October Years”---is intended to focus on our 60s and 70s, as my stories do. I happen to find it a fascinating time of life---for reason I’ve posted about before, and certainly will again. Hopefully, the time I spend on these posts will help make my stories more real and effective.

But now I’ve added “Thriving in our 60s & 70s,” and that has become a new kind of challenge. It’s one thing to sound authoritative about my own writing. Whether I  did it well or not, I know what I intended to say better than anyone else.

But what makes me an expert on “thriving in our 60s and 70s”? Nothing. I meet the age criteria. But beyond my thoughts on the importance of relationships, and how they can make broken lives whole, what do I have to add to that conversation? 

This is where your holiday homework assignment comes in. Sometime between now and next Monday I’d like your input, your response to my “thriving” questions. The Google tracking numbers tell me that at least a few dozen of you follow my posts on a reasonably regular basis. I appreciate that. But now it’s time for you to speak up. Tell me---what helps you thrive in your 60s and 70s? Or, if you’re not thriving, why not? I’m sure you have thoughts about that, and they’re probably better than mine.

If the “comments” section below is not your preferred way of communicating, then please email your thoughts to me at thetannerchronicles@gmail.com. I’d really like this “thriving” conversation to be a dialogue. After all, it is a very individual thing. No one person can provide all the answers. More than that, there are bound to be readers who would appreciate your input. I hope you’ll take a minute or two to add your ideas.

Now, enjoy your holiday. Happy Fourth of July.

As always, if you’re so inclined I’d appreciate your comments, posted below. Beyond that, if there are folks with whom you’d like to share this October Years post I hope you’ll pass it on. It’s an easy thing to do. Just click on the “M” at the bottom of this page to email the post, with the video, to any addresses you choose.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Home? - Where the heck is that?

I can definitely relate to Dan Padgett’s frustrating dilemma. Not surprising, since he and I share so much in common. During the last years of his long career in municipal government he nursed his dreams of a mobile retirement---one that would include a well-equipped motor home as the primary residence for him and Nell.

It’s the wanderlust in him that has complicated things, he knows that. Just months before, as his retirement drew closer, the lure of “places-to-be-seen” and “people-to-be-met," especially in the remote, far corners of the country and continent, was growing harder than ever to resist.

In Family Matters, Dan has concluded that his dream is how retirement was meant to be. Predictably perhaps, Nell Padgett is looking forward to their Golden Years through very different eyes. For decades she has followed her husband from job to job all over the state. Every few years she had found herself making a new home in a new town. After half a dozen such moves they have finally returned to Tanner, where their odyssey had begun all those years before. She was finally home, and determined never to move again.

While Nell is looking forward to the permanency of their Tanner home, with no intention of ever living anywhere else, Dan continues to dream his “on-the-road” dreams---of cutting all ties with a home base. That’s what he wants. But why would he turn away from the future Nell dreams of having? What is he thinking? I think I’ll ask him.

GS “Tell me Dan, why does it seem like you’re stepping all over your wife’s dream? I learned a long time ago that’s not a good idea.”

DP Believe me, I know better than that. I don’t mean to be putting her down. I’m just hoping she’ll finally realize how great it would be to see all the places we’ve always dreamed of seeing.”

GS   “Are you sure that both of you have dreamed about seeing those places? Could it be you’re trying to turn your dream into hers too? If so, what if she doesn’t claim it?”

DP “I guess you could say that’s what has happened---at least so far. She’s just so darn stubborn. I’m talking about a way for us to get out from under all the housekeeping, and the yard and garden stuff. To be free, going wherever we decide to go, for as long as we want. Can’t you see how great that would be?”

GS “It doesn’t matter what I think. This is about Nell. And I’m guessing that doesn’t appeal to her?”

DP “You can say that again. She says what she’s looking forward to is the garden, and her clubs. Stuff like that. That’s what she wants to have. Can you believe that? The very stuff I want to get away from, all the day-to-day chores, is exactly what she wants more of.”

GS “Why do you suppose that is?”

DP “I don’t have a clue. I keep asking her to explain, but she can’t---at least not in a way that makes sense to me.”

GS “Would you mind if I took a guess---about what you might be dealing with?”

DP “Go ahead. God knows I’d like someone to sort it out for me.”

GS “Well, how about this? What if the two of you are bumping heads about what each of you means when you talk about ‘home’? Could that be the problem? (As you might guess, I’m prone to playing the pseudo-wise guru.)

DP “What does that mean?”

GS   “You tell me. How would you define ‘home’? What does the word mean to you.”

DP (I won’t include all of Dan' false starts---the hemming and hawing that proceeded his reply.) “Seems to me that when you get right down to it, home can be anyplace we decide to be---anyplace where Nell and I are together. For me it’s not about a certain place or a special building.”

GS “How about Nell? How would she describe ‘home’? Would it be the same as you?”

DP “Not a chance. Her idea of home is the house we live in. It’s all about her friends, and gardens, and clubs, and church. For her it’s very much about this particular place and everything that does with it. Every time I try to explain that it doesn’t have to be that way, she keeps throwing all her Tanner stuff back in my face.”

GS “So the real hang up, what has you two at each other’s throats, is about ‘home,’ and what it means to each of you. Right?

DP “I suppose so.” (He pauses a moment, before asking his question.) “If that’s the case, how do we get past that?”

GS “Oh man, that’s not an easy thing. I’ll bet I could write a whole book about that. In fact, I have.”

Thursday, June 27, 2013

October Bold -- you still have dreams, so why be timid?

Unless I change my mind, which sometimes happens, the story I’m working on now will be titled October Bold. It’s interesting how a storyline, and what I want to emphasize, changes as I go along. Over the course of a couple hundred pages what started out as a couple’s bumpy trek toward some hoped-for common ground has taken an unexpected turn.

David and Marian are slowly realizing that finding such an elusive space will require a change of course, and attitude, for both of them. Are they willing to do that? Do they have the nerve to try? Near as I can tell their situation calls for a dose of October Bold---a willingness to move beyond their normal responses, to try something new, and take a chance---in dealing with relationships or any other activity.

Of course, like most everything else, the October version of “Bold” bears little resemblance to the carefree, sometimes foolhardy boldness of our youth. By the time we reach October all of us have gathered our share of barnacles and baggage---excuses for not trying something new, or different, or a bit risky. In the same way that barnacles can slow down a ship, our own doubting logic may hold us back, making us more timid than necessary. I’m not talking about some exaggerated risk or betting the farm on some untried dream. For us October citizens it’s about finding the courage to stretch the envelop a bit, to follow an appealing possibility beyond the reasons we would normally use to avoid it. What I call October boldness is about moving beyond our self-imposed impediments.

I count it as boldness when you finally decide to pursue a hobby or interest you’ve always wanted to try, but never ventured to do. In my own world, writing relational stories about my Tanner friends, then having the nerve to tell everyone what I was doing, qualified as boldness. As does creating a blog about those October adventures. From the beginning I wondered what gave a rank amateur like me the right to be doing that. But the further I ventured down that path the more I realized I was there because I wanted to be. As long as I’m not hurting anyone else that’s reason enough.

This October boldness of mine is not a matter of daring adventure or great physical risk. It’s a willingness to move beyond my comfort zone to pursue something I really want to do. To hold back or hesitate because of what someone else may say or think about my feeble efforts strikes me as a cowardly and very unbold reason for not acting.

After everything we’ve gone through to reach October, isn’t that how it should be? Haven’t we earned the right to be bold---in an October sort of way? Why not scrape off those limiting barnacles and be open to taking a chance of your own? So what if you end up looking silly or out of place. If you’re like me, you’ve been there before.

Jimmy Brooder’s first steps toward boldness in Conversations With Sarah are what I call “backdoor bold.” Though his dream is bold, he hesitates to act. But rather than turn away he resorts to his own timid, but decisive approach. In true “John Alden” style he asks Hank Rolland to do what he cannot do for himself---arrange a date with Gladys Horner. When Gladys finally unravels his indirect invitation she is in his face, asking questions of her own.

Turning back to face Gladys, Jimmy nodded toward the far end of the hallway, away from the others, and nudged her in that direction. “Tell me,” he said as they walked. “Does what you heard have something to do with you and me?” He noted her cautious nod. “Maybe something about a date, a double date, to the Big Band Concert?”
She moved closer, straining to hear his soft words. A second later she offered her response. “Yes. That’s what I heard. From Angie. Who heard it from Hank.”
“In that case, I need to bail Hank out of the trouble he’s got himself in.” Jimmy was scolding himself for creating such confusion. He had gone looking for Hank’s help, to ask Gladys the question he could not bring himself to ask. Hank must have asked Angie to do the asking. No wonder Gladys was confused. Still, since it was apparently a bad idea from the start, it was not fair for her to be blaming Hank. 
A single tug on her arm turned Gladys toward him. “Look, I’m sorry. This is my fault,” he said. “It was something I wanted to happen. But I can understand why it sounds so crazy to you. Anyway, if you’re going to be mad at someone, it should be me. I’m the one who asked Hank to help me. I just didn’t know he would be getting Angie involved.”
“Why did I ask Hank to lend a hand? Because I thought going to the concert with you was a good idea, something I’d like to do. I still think so.” Jimmy was already moving back toward the Fellowship Hall. “Anyway, I’m sorry I caused such a fuss. Why don’t we just drop it. Okay?”
“So you still think it’s a good idea. Is that what you’re saying?”
“Then why didn’t you just ask me? Why did it take Hank or Angie to do that?”
Jimmy Brooder had the look of a man prepared to run away, to escape her probing questions. Why did she have to keep pushing? It was time to end their ridiculous charade. “Gladys Horner, you’re not going to the concert with me---out there in front of all your high-society friends. I knew that all along. You’ve got more sense and good taste than that. So let’s just forget about it.”
Gladys paused long enough to draw herself to her full five foot two, looking up into his face, assembling her parting words. “Jimmy Brooder, you are exactly half right. I won’t be going to the concert with you.” She started toward the front door, before adding over her shoulder, “Not if you don’t have the nerve to do the asking yourself.”
He stood rooted in the middle of the hallway, watching as she walked away. Replaying her words, he asked himself again if she had actually said what he thought he heard.

Boldness, in its October form, is a frame of mind. It can be a timid, but decisive decision to act in the face of all the reasons we have created over the years for not acting. The kind of October Bold I advocate does not entail physical danger, but rather the risk of hurt feelings, embarrassment, or head-shaking snickers. It took me longer than it should have to realize that my sometimes fragile ego can deal with those injuries.

Perhaps someone buys my books---maybe they don’t. My blog may be read---or not. Either way, it feels like October boldness has earned me a very satisfying opportunity to be true to myself. And I pray that you too can be bold in your own October way. If there is something you want to try or do, and there is nothing more than your own timidity holding you back---then do it. What are you waiting for? Will it be easier next year? Be Bold.

As always, if you’re so inclined I’d appreciate your comments, posted below. Beyond that, if there are folks with whom you’d like to share this October Years post I hope you’ll pass it on. It’s an easy thing to do. Just click on the “M” at the bottom of this page to email the post, with the video, to any addresses you choose.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Senior relationships -- the October kind -- do you believe in Geriatric Adolescence?

October relationships---the ones I write about---are very different than the March and April connections we once pursued so eagerly. Heck, if you’re an “October” you don’t need me to tell you that. To begin with, you can probably set aside the obvious difference in hormone levels---nature’s sneaky and very effective way of continuing the species. For most of us, by the time we reach our October Years other matters have become primary. 

Of course, the most fortunate of us remain in a satisfying, time-tested relationship. That’s where I am, and very glad of it. But too many of my Tanner friends are alone, even isolated. For some of those folks that's exactly where they want to be. They have no interest in a new relationship. But for others, like the ones I depict in the Tanner Chronicles, the need for companionship and affirmation have taken on a new importance. In that case, they have become candidates for my stories.

On the surface those in that “seeking” mode might appear to be replaying an earlier experience---one that perhaps began as a teenager. Yet the reality of their new and slightly disorienting "geriatric adolescence" is not at all like the first time. For one thing, the measure of a prospective partner has changed. Appearance, status, income, even sex appeal, have become less important. In their new circumstances the comfort of a caring companion---someone willing to show that he or she understands what a “special” person you are---means everything. It's that undisguised affection and caring that really matters.

Case in point. Johnny Blanton is one of my very favorite people---at least of the Tanner seniors I have imagined into being. In Best Friends and Promises he has left the hospital to move in with Jan Pierce, a lonely and very caring librarian. Truth be told, Jan hardly qualifies as an old friend. They first met less than twenty-four hours before Johnny’s latest heart attack. Yet she has invited him to spend his recuperation with her.

Watching Darien walk away, Jan Pierce was trying to make sense of the sudden and dramatic changes in her normally pedestrian life. She had always thought of herself as stable, to the point of boring---given to cautious expectations, cautious deliberations, and cautious actions. An impulsive one-night affair was not her style, any more than inviting a man she scarcely knew to share her home. Why then was she feeling so comfortable, so committed to her unlikely choice?
Truth to tell, she was not accustomed to having a man in her life. She had not been a cute baby and had never grown into that condition. From her perspective the only constant in her life had been weight, too much of it. She had never married. As far as she knew, no man had ever considered proposing. Over the years there had been a few casual liaisons, including one that lasted for several months, largely because she had been willing to settle for the minimal security it offered. 
Then, just days before, in the course of a single night, a worn-out Johnny Blanton had accepted her caring as something special. Later, during his days in the hospital, as she waited to learn whether he would live or die, she had felt that caring grow.
Now, back in the apartment Johnny was sitting at the end of the sofa when Jan returned. He patted the cushion beside him and nodded for her to join him. “You know, I really appreciate this,” he said. “Letting me stay here. I’m not sure what I can offer to make all the trouble worthwhile.”
“Just be yourself. That’s all.” Resting her hand on his knee she leaned against his shoulder. “We’re much too old to be playing silly games. I want you here. That’s enough reason for me. Besides, it’s not like I’ve ever had men chasing after me.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“You should. The thing is, from the first time we talked, about my scotch-on-the-rocks of all things, it was like I was talking to an old friend. It just felt right. Besides, I like being able to help. It’s been a long time since anyone needed my help.” 
“You’d better believe I need you and your help. And not just because I’m feeling so puny.”
She looked over into his deep set, weary eyes. “So tell me, Mr. Blanton. Why does this work for you?”
“To begin with, I’ve never been very good at being alone.” How blunt should he be? “But, at the same time, I’m not everyone’s idea of good company.”
“Why would that be? What’s not to appreciate? Is there something I should know.”
“Oh my, how can I describe it?” Was there a polite way to explain, in words that would not be graphically offensive? “I’ve been called ‘undisciplined’ and a 'free spirit.’ To some folks I’m a ‘loose cannon.’ And there are other descriptions I can’t repeat in mixed company. All that stuff is pretty negative, but I suppose it’s partly true. The thing is, I’ve never cared much what people thought of me.
“But there’s another side to that,” he continued, taking her hand in his. “The part I want you to know about. When I’m on your side I’m there one hundred percent, no matter what. That’s something you should know. I’ll be here for you in any way I can.” There was a moment of quiet as he searched for a way to spell out his final concern. “And there is something else.”
“What’s that?” 
Jan had never before witnessed Johnny’s obvious, almost blushing embarrassment. “You may have noticed,” he said. “Based on one night’s experience, that I’m no longer the youthful love-machine my mind tells me I once was.” There, was that subtle enough? Had he made his point?
Jan stifled her own laugh and poked playfully at his ribs. “Do you recall hearing any complaints?” 
“You were very kind not to bring that up. The thing is, my situation has changed a bit since then. For the worse, I’m afraid.”
“Well, after a heart attack, I should think so.”
“When we were kids we used to joke about wanting to die making love. If you had to go, that sounded like the best way. Just so you know, that is no longer my goal.” He paused to let her soft laugh wash over him. It was the best tonic he could imagine. “I just don’t want to misrepresent my reasons for moving in.”
Jan wrapped her fragile old man in a most affectionate hug. “Don’t you ever worry about that. I want you here with me. You want to be here. What other reasons do we need?” 
Indeed, Johnny was weak and tired. She was right about that. But in the midst of his weariness, he felt the pleasant knowing that he was wanted. For him, that meant he was exactly where he belonged.

There you are, my friend. If you happen to be one of those seniors in search of your own relationship I hope you’ll remember to set aside those “April” qualifiers and focus instead on October attributes. In fact, I could do worse than suggest you look for a Jan Pierce or Johnny Blanton.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

I love Paris in the spring -- but Bogota or Bangkok in October??

I’ve mentioned before how I sometimes took advantage of my dad. This morning I am reminding myself that he too was capable of his own dirty tricks. For all the good things he did for my mother, brother, and me, the Old Man managed to bequeath to me his own particular curse---a pesky and persistent infection he called “wanderlust.”

The symptoms were there at an early age. By seven or eight I was spending hours leafing through the big Rand McNally World Atlas the folks kept under the coffee table. From map to map to map---I did my best to sound out the strange names and tried to imagine the people who lived in those far away countries, wondering what they were like. At twelve I ran away from home, determined to see the world---or at least spend a couple days in Eastern Oregon. Later, I was fortunate to visit a few of those places---as many as our resources and family situation would allow. I was born with that urge to see new and interesting places and meet the people who live there. I’ve never outgrown that. Perhaps you have some of that in you.

Then in my mid-sixties, I retired and moved on to my own October Years. Surprise---it was still there, the undiminished lure of wanderlust. The difference was I finally had time to indulge myself in those fantasies. But how much travel could we afford, even if we wanted to? As always, those with a hefty pension have more choices. Though the pull of friends and family may have them staying close to home in retirement, they could decide that “home” ought to be in the sunny southland---Arizona or Florida for instance.

Of course, some of us who don't have the necessary resources want those same things. In that case, we might find ourselves considering other options. That's where the internet offers a whole new world of possibilities. One of my favorites arrives every couple months, as it has for years. Near as I can tell the message has changed little over the years. I have only to open the email or envelope and recite the first sentence or two to have my wife is heading for another room.

“The hibiscus are in bloom,” the message begins. “As they are every month of the year. The gardner watches over them and the rest of the grounds, while  the maid/cook maintains order in your bright and airy home. Just months before you would never have dreamed the two of you could retire in such luxury for less than $1,800 a month. But now you have learned what so many others have not---that the good life, including affordable health care, is well within your reach.

You’ve probably seen the pitch. You can afford the retirement you dream of---somewhere. And perhaps you find a certain appeal in dreaming about that. I know I do. Fact is, for decades more and more of our fellow Americans have taken advantage of low cost foreign retirement, especially in Mexico. Lately, in the face of an increasingly harsh economic environment, that trend has taken on a new and novel forms.

In this brave new world of ours an updated list of well-publicized retirement havens is enough to send us back to the atlas. Just ask yourself what it would take to make Colombia a viable place to live out your Golden Years? Or Peru, or Thailand, or Uruguay? I see weekly emails advertising $300 seminars that will provide all the information you need to establish a home and live the good life in any of those countries, at a fraction of the cost you’d pay here in the U.S. The sponsors claim they can make the case for that. Could they convince you?

By all accounts the “offshore” retirement trend will continue to accelerate. We read everyday about how many retirees will not have saved enough to fund an decent retirement---at least not in the USA. For a certain portion of that population the lower cost of living “overseas,” especially the reduced cost of health care, will make that sound like a viable option.

Lately the articles I read online tout two particular retirement destinations---Panama and Belize. Certainly Panama has a long history of dealing with and providing for US citizens. Belize, on the other hand, was formerly a British colony. It is the only Central American nation where English is the official language. Each of those countries already hosts a sizable ex-patriot population.

But in the end we’re left to decide what “retirement”---the label we assign to life-after-work---means to us. For a wanderlust junky like me the lure of inexpensive living in new and far-away places, especially some exotic, out-of-the-way locale, is hard to ignore.

Then, about the time I get caught up in the wonderful possibilities, another of those pesky October attributes kicks in. “Is it really practical?” I ask myself. We're a family-oriented family. How would it work, having Grandma and Grandpa living on the seashore of sunny Belize, thousands of miles from the clan, following the grandkids on Skype? Beyond that, both Roma and I are kind of set in our ways. How would we adapt to a very different way of life, no matter how luxurious or inexpensive it was, or how adventurous the challenge?

How about you? Do the possibilities of tropic splendor on a shoestring resonate with you? Or does “Is it practical?” win out? I'd like to hear what you think. 

As always, if you’re so inclined I’d appreciate your comments, posted below. Beyond that, if there are folks with whom you’d like to share this October Years post I hope you’ll pass it on. It’s an easy thing to do. Just click on the “M” at the bottom of this page to email the post, with the video, to any addresses you choose.