Friday, June 27, 2014

Is This Our October Future ?

As you might expect I’ve had a few folks take exception with my depiction of our 60s and 70s as “only” October. So far no one has argued for “September,” but a few have suggested a later month. Truth to tell, there are days when “November” better describes my mood and/or physical capabilities. Heck, I’ve probably dipped a toe in “December” a time or two.

But of course my use of “October” is not meant to be simply about age. The way I use that label, October is a state of mind. More to the point, like the October on your calendar our October Years are a time of harvest---a time to gather the fruit of all the seeds we’ve sown and the things we’ve learned in the course of our already long lifetime. I happen to believe that we’ve reached the time of life when that experience can be put to good use.

One of the risks in telling October stories is the temptation to dwell on the maudlin---stressing the negatives and hardships. Of course, by this stage of life we’ve all had our share of bumpy roads and unexpected detours. And there will be more. If we’ve been paying attention at all we should expect that. In this post, however, I would like to move beyond our individual situations and address something less expected---something for which my personal life journey has not adequately prepared me.

At our age infirmity and distress are sure to have been part of our personal experience. I can accept that. Yet scarcely a day goes by when this October mind of mine does not struggle to make sense of a larger reality---the cultural infirmities and distress that plague our society. I wonder if it has always been like this. Is this the human norm? Or has there been a fundamental change in the path of human development? Is there a new “human norm” evolving?

How else would you interpret the headlines that assault our sensibilities daily? It feels like every morning’s newspaper and every evening’s newscast provides new evidence of predators and perverts, addictions and mayhem. Have we actually become so accepting of such an unprecedented scale of gun violence? Have we grown so numb that we look right past the all too obvious warning signs---middle-school girls being bullied to death---wide-eyed young men unleashing their lethal revenge in our high schools---an ever-increasing number of us, young and old, dependent on mind-altering pharmaceuticals? There are times when it seems that our beloved nation is drowning in a tsunami of insanity.

Surely I am not the only one who wonders what is happening to our world---this place where we grew up and perhaps thought we understood. There are days when I’m not sure I recognize the place---when it feels like everything has changed. Small wonder the October characters I write about sometimes stumble as they try to make sense of it.

I’d appreciate your help here, your input. My question is simple enough. Has it always been like this? I’ll bet every one of us grew up hearing our parents and grand-parents grumbling about “the younger generation,” and how things were not like “the good old days.” Are today’s headlines just more of the same, or is our generation dealing with something new and different?
Did the world of our childhood and adolescence include the troubles we read about and watch on the tube? And if it did, has the scale and frequency of those problems changed---or is our awareness simply a matter of more thorough reporting, better police work, and cameras on every street corner? In either case, I have no doubt that for many of our October friends this crazy new world threatens their ability to “thrive in our 60s and 70s.” I’d say that makes it an October issue.

If you agree I hope you'll pass this on to your October friends. (The email link below is easy to use.) I'd be interested in hearing their input too.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

October Reality - Really

I’ve spent the last couple weeks proofreading October Bold one last time. In that story David and Marian are stumbling toward one another, weighing the possibility of a new relationship against their experience in a long and successful marriage. In the course of their story I’ve tried my best to imagine their hopes and anxieties as they consider a new and very different future.
Like it or not, October reality is inescapable. As I’ve said before, October is not for sissies. Of course, we like to dwell on the high points---our children’s success, the wonderful world of grandchildren, those times when things work out like we planned. Who can fault us for reveling in those good times? More to the point, it is those successes, both large and small, that help us deal with the other, sometimes dark, face of October reality.

Whether as individuals or couples, each of us deals with our own unique set of October circumstances---a very personal blend of issues that may include family, financial, health, and relational challenges. You are bound to know someone who deals with one or all of those. It may be you. After all, by the time we arrive at this stage of life we bring with us an weighty load of existential baggage. At every turn the person we are becoming and the future we are creating is impacted in some way by those October realities. 

Over the years our April dreams have been tempered by a lifetime of personal experience. We continue to update our expectations, creating new understandings of what we consider acceptable October outcomes. We have learned that our dreams are not static. Our youthful visions of a “happy ending” have been reshaped, perhaps more than once. Though we keep dreaming, our dreams are probably very different these days. 

For some, however, loneliness, worry, and doubt have become dominant elements of their October existence---testing the responses they have spent a lifetime learning and creating what I consider spiritual challenges. No matter how you choose to label those soul-deep trials, my personal sense is that the most effective coping response, whether you view your dilemma as transcendental or purely coincidental, is likely to be the right person who happens to arrive at the right time.

It is that conviction which nudges me toward the October relational stories I tell---the ones that illustrate how a new or renewed relationship can be an effective antidote for the distressing landscape of October reality. Connecting one more time happens in real life, as well as the Tanner Chronicles.

But take a moment to consider that challenge. What kind of person would choose to start from scratch with a new partner? If you’re like me, you’ve spent a lifetime learning to live with “the one.” (And he or she with you.) At this October stage of the game, would you be willing to relive that sometimes difficult learning process yet again?
In the course of nine novel-length “relational” stories I have followed my Tanner friends, the ones with their own October issues, as they travel toward what they hope is “one more time.” From time to time I have paused to wonder if my expectations for a “second chance” relationship are too simplistic. After all, I’ve lived out the deeply personal process of learning to live with a life partner. I know that the merging of any two lives into a meaningful partnership is not an easy thing. That must be especially true when each of them has spent a lifetime in the company of someone else, acquiring their own unique set of habits and preferences. The first time, all those years ago, required realistic expectations, chemistry, trust, patience, and a huge dose of luck. Seems to me that October relationship must be built on those same elements.
But there are so many variables. How can they be sure that what worked so well in one relationship will succeed with a new and different someone, especially someone they are still getting to know? Is that realistic? Small wonder that not all my stories end with a gift-wrapped, happily-ever-after bow. Yet even then, who am I to say they shouldn’t have tried?
When I step back to consider my own experience I remember the first times I seriously considered a future with “her”---and how that youthful me charged ahead, relying on a perhaps too-naive “I’m sure it will work” model. Fortunately, it did. But there were no guarantees. That was true then, and still is. 
Perhaps you can tell that digging deep, looking for unseen motives is an occupational hazard for someone like me. If that’s true I accept it as the price of making my stories as authentic as possible. I want them to be something more than feel-good caricatures of lost and lonely souls seeking inevitable happiness. My Tanner friends know it’s not always like that. Truth is, you’ll find very few ivory towers in an October landscape.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Ramblings of a Retired Mind

Truth to tell I liked this page of "Retired" observations that came to me via email. Since I don't have a link for them I am using the October Years blog to do that. It's not my usual blog material, but I hope you enjoy it.

---I was thinking about how a status symbol of today is those cell phones that everyone has clipped onto their belt or purse. I can't afford one. So, I'm wearing my
garage door opener.
---I also made a cover for my hearing aid and now I have what they call blue teeth, I think.
---You know, I spent a fortune on deodorant before I realized that people didn't like me anyway.
---I was thinking that women should put pictures of missing husbands on beer cans!
---I thought about making a fitness movie for folks my age, and call it  'Pumping Rust'.
---I've gotten that dreaded furniture disease. That's when your chest is falling into your drawers!
---When people see a cat's litter box, they always say, 'Oh, have you got a cat?'Just once I want to say, 'No, it's for company!'
---Employment application blanks always ask who is to be notified in case of an emergency. I think you should write, 'A Good Doctor'!
---I was thinking about how people seem to read the Bible a whole lot more as they get older. Then, it dawned on me. They were cramming for their finals.
---As for me, I'm just hoping God grades on the curve.
---Birds of a feather flock together .. . .and then Poop on your car.
---A penny saved is a government oversight.
---The older you get, the tougher it is to lose weight, because by then your body and your fat have gotten to be really good friends.
---The easiest way to find something lost around the house is to buy a replacement.
---He who hesitates is probably right.
---Did you ever notice: The Roman Numerals for forty (40) are XL.
---If you can smile when things go wrong, you have someone in mind to blame.
---The sole purpose of a child's middle name is so he can tell when he's really in trouble..
---Did you ever notice: When you put the 2 words 'The' and 'IRS' together it spells 'Theirs...'
---Aging: Eventually you will reach a point when you stop lying about your age and start bragging about it. Some people try to turn back their odometers. Not me, I want people to know 'why' I look this way. I've traveled a long way and some of the roads weren't paved.
---One of the many things no one tells you about aging is that it is such a nice change from being young. Ah, being young is beautiful, but being old is comfortable.
---Lord, Keep your arm around my shoulder and your hand over my mouth . . ... . . .    AMEN