Friday, January 27, 2017

Growing into our gifts

It’s true. I am that strange fellow who rants, raves, and writes stories about the many ways my October and November friends are growing and changing, continuing to “become,” even at their advanced age.
The fact is, at 60, 70, or even 80, we are always in the process of becoming someone different than we were yesterday. That’s a given. The more important question is this---is the person I am becoming a reasonable approximation of the person I was meant to be? Even in October and November, with all their attendant excuses for settling on something less, am I on track to be the best 'me' I can be, for my family, and my world?
I must admit, I find some of my own answers to that question hard to accept. After all, there are so many ways for us to 'become,' and so many habits and lifestyles that trap us in our old ways, making it hard to change. I was reminded of that a couple days ago when I read the following post.
It is from Brene Brown, Ph.D. (, an author and research professor at the University of Houston. Though she and many in her audience are probably dealing with the July-August time of life, her emphasis on “growing into our gifts” strikes me as another way to frame the notion of 'becoming.' And certainly her closing remark ---”it’s time to show up and be seen” applies just as much to we October and November folks as it does to those August kids.
Here is what she has to say.

I think midlife is when the universe gently places her hand upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear:
“I’m not screwing around. It’s time. All of this pretending and performing - these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt - has to go.
“Your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armor could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy of love and belonging, but you’re still searching and you’re more lost than ever.
“Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging. Courage and daring are coursing through you. You were made to live and love with your whole heart. It’s time to show up and be seen.”

I can hear your October questions--- “How can I be ‘courageous and daring’ at my age? I am too set in my ways, too limited in what I can do---besides, I’m tired.”
Granted, our October becoming will probably not require a strong back and ripped abs. (A good thing too, since most days it is my back that is ‘ripped.’) But there are so many other ways to exploit our possibilities---to move beyond what we’ve been told we can do at our age and try, and in an age-appropriate way, keep ‘growing our gifts.’ 
We have learned so much along the way, more than we normally give ourselves credit for. And we are still on a ‘becoming’ path, whether we admit it or not. It is a matter of finding what works for us. This very afternoon I will be visiting with an October friend, helping him turn the novel he has always wanted to publish into a Print-on-Demand paperback. Even in retirement he is continuing to grow his gifts.
Finally, if Ms Brown’s insights resonate with you, I hope you will share this post and her website info with your July & August friends, including your own children. Help them understand why it is so important to continue down the path of Becoming.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Is This Our October Future?

As you might expect, over the years 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 quite a few of you have suggested a later month. 
Truth to tell, there are days when “November” better describes my mood and physical capabilities. Heck, I’ve probably dipped a toe in “December” a time or two. That’s why a few months ago I stepped forward to add “and November too” to the blog’s title.
But of course my use of “October” was never meant to be simply about age. When I use that label I am thinking of October as a state of mind. More to the point, like the October on a calendar, our October Years (and November too) are a time of harvest---a time to gather the fruits of all the seeds we’ve sown in the course of a lifetime and the things we’ve learned along the way. I happen to believe that even at our later years there are ways we can put that experience to good use.
I will admit that one of the risks I face in telling the October stories I tell is the temptation to dwell on the maudlin---stressing the negatives and hardships of late life. Of course, by this stage of the game we’ve all had our share of bumpy roads and unexpected detours. And there will be more of those. If we’ve been paying attention at all we should expect that. 
But this morning I am prompted to move beyond our individual circumstances and address something I find even more upsetting---something for which my personal life journey and the life views I have accumulated  have not adequately prepared me to deal with.
If you are my age, infirmity and distress are sure to have been part of your personal experience. I can accept that. Yet scarcely a day goes by when this November mind of mine does not struggle to make sense of a more sinister reality---the cultural infirmity and divisive distress that plague our society. 
What I perceive as the chaotic unraveling of our national persona has me wondering if things have always been this way. Having been lulled by decades of relatively-civilized peace, are we simply experiencing a regression to the human norm? Or has there been a fundamental change in the path of social evolution? Is there a new “human norm” being created?
How else would you interpret the headlines that assault our sensibilities daily? On the local level it feels like every morning’s newspaper and every evening’s newscast provides new evidence of predators and perverts, addicts and con-men, not to mention politicians gone amuck. At times it seems we have become accepting of an unprecedented scale of violence and mayhem. 
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.
And while our towns and neighborhoods struggle to stay afloat, our national political dysfunction continues to stir the flames of discord. Finger pointing and blame have displaced bipartisan problem solving. 
In a world of spiteful politics and crushing, always mounting debt, most of which will never be repaid, the great majority of us are being hung out to dry. Meanwhile the Wall Street and Washington vultures slowly circle, fighting to get their piece of the pie before it vanishes into the economic quicksand. The supposedly “drained swamps” still hide menacing creatures, and smell as bad as always.
Surely I am not the only one who wonders what has happened to the world we knew. It becomes harder and harder to recognize the country where I grew up and perhaps thought I understood. Small wonder the October characters I write about are apt to stumble as they try to make sense of it.
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 this bad in “the good old days.” As I recall those same old sayings included hints of ancient cultures where age was equated with wisdom. Truth to tell, I’m getting old, but the wisdom and understanding I had hoped to gain seem to have eluded me.
So, are today’s headlines just more of the same? Did the world of our childhood and adolescence always include the troubles we read about now and watch on the tube? And if it did, is it the scale and frequency of those problems that has changed---or is our increased awareness simply a matter of more thorough reporting, better police work, and cameras on every street corner? 
Whether or not our generation is dealing with something new and different, I have no doubt that for many of us, this crazy new world impacts our ability to “thrive in our 60s and 70s.” If so, I’d say that makes it an October issue.
I would appreciate your help here, your input. If you wish, I hope you'll pass this on to your October  and November friends. (The email link below is easy to use.) As always I'd be interested in hearing your input via “Reply.” (below) 
With that, I will try to calm down a bit in time for the next post.

Some long-time readers may have noticed that once again I have edited an earlier post (6/27/14) to fit what seems to me a new and different world---one that I am struggling to make sense of. Will this rant of mine change the course of our descent? Not likely. Still, someone needs to speak up about these October concerns.

Friday, January 6, 2017

A return to yesteryear

2017 -- a new year, and the end of another family-centered holiday season. As always it was a time of Christmas cards and Christmas letters---reading about friends and family we may not hear from for another year
If that sounds superficial and synthetic, I would argue that it is not. There is no rule that says we have to see people every week or every month before we welcome news about the life they are living, and relive the memories we have created together. 
This year my personal memory bank was stirred up more than usual by a string of year-end updates from old (I use the term kindly) high-school classmates, who added their voices to the world of cyber communications. As you would expect 61 years after-the-fact, every one of them, like me, is dealing with their own personal form of November Years reality, and thankful for November understanding and support.
Another thing that struck me was the many age-appropriate ways my one-time classmates have found to make their late-life satisfying, even rewarding. As one who writes about those times, I know that it takes a certain resourcefulness to pull that off. Though there is certainly no ‘one-size-fits-all” way to do it, that elusive ‘right answer,’ the one that works for each of us, is well worth seeking.
Perhaps like me, you sometimes find that satisfaction by revisiting the past. I’ll bet we weren’t the only ones who spent a few holiday hours thumbing through photo albums, trying to convince the grandkids that our long ago ‘dorky’ good times were actually fun. Do you know a better way to brighten a day?
Of course, you can take that ‘remembering’ theme a bit further. A case in point---the new story Roma and I recently finished, which is actually a prequel to A Year to Remember. We call this one An Oregon Outback Odyssey and we are actively seeking feedback about how it reads. You can check it and the others out on our Amazon page.
An overview of An Oregon Outback Odyssey, you ask? You tell me, does this sound like a history worth revisiting?

You remember those famous pairs---the ones from our childhood---Roy and Trigger, Gene and Champion, the Lone Ranger and Silver. It was a time when every kid wanted to be a cowboy. Yet, how many of us made that dream come true?
Well, we did. We bought a ranch, some cows, and that all important horse. And though they never made it to the silver screen, Gil and Star might have become a team worthy of  the Outback---if only Gil had learned to enjoy his time in the saddle.
More to the point, could the great Oregon Outback have made room for a wannabe cowboy who hoped to raise hogs?We started out with Priscilla Goodbody, then moved on to the only gay boy-pig in the whole darn county?

However, since I am not writing this post from Poison Creek Ranch, you can probably guess that particular detour did not pan out. Yet, when all is said and done, and I look back at how the last 61 years have treated me, I must conclude that I have been one of the lucky ones. I have a wife and family I scarcely deserve, equally-ancient former classmates to visit with, and the time and freedom to tell the stories I want to tell, the way I want to tell them. Come to think of it, I believe I have hit the jackpot. I hope you have been just as lucky.