Monday, January 14, 2019

Living in the past......and why not?

“Come on, Dad. We know the old days were a lot better than we have it now ……at least in your mind. You’ve made that point before.” It was one of our own children, one of the outspoken ones, gently disputing my oh-so-logical logic.
“But remember, we live in today’s world, where cell phones, tweets, and a bunch of other stuff you’ve never heard of, are part of our lives. And still, here you are in the past.
If you are a resident of my October/November neighborhood you have probably heard similar complaints, both out loud and implied. While our grandkids are usually too well behaved to resort to such criticism, at least within range of my hearing, our four children are sometimes less reserved. Heck, there are times when Roma offers that same assessment.
Just so you know, I do not LIVE in the past. Though I may visit there more often than some folks, it is certainly not my permanent residence. Still, I hope the world will excuse those moments when a faraway glaze comes over me, when it may appear that I have been transported to someplace beyond the present. Truth to tell, I happen to believe we all deserve an occasional return to times past……to the places, people, and lessons we remember so easily.

Why is that, you may ask. Why do so many of us occasionally retreat into the ‘past,’ to what once was? More often than not those journeys to our personal memory vault come without warning, triggered by something we have seen or heard, or perhaps a random, out-of-the-blue thought. 

      (Pause…..if you are old enough to remember, you can imagine the sounds of Jack Benny entering his underground vault. That is the image I have in mind right now.

You know how those visits work, the way they can grab your attention. Once there you might simply shrug off those intruding thoughts and return to the present……or you may dwell a while in that comforting space, wringing all you can from the pleasant recollections you find there.
I sometimes encounter those ‘reaching into the past’ moments in my writing, when a particular scene has me searching for a convincing way to describe my character’s thoughts and feelings. What better way to imagine how he or she feels than remembering how I felt at times like that?

Or perhaps we return to our past for other reasons, seeking pleasant, well-remembered good times to serve as an antidote for a not-so-pleasant present. In any case, when I try to understand the reasons for my ‘living in the past,’ I keep returning to one important product of those unscripted mind travels …….a hoped-for result I call Affirmation.
         Defined as “emotional support or validation,” affirmation is a deep human need we all share. Everyone of us has moments when we need to be reminded that we are worthy, even when life has us doubting. That ‘validation’ provides the motivation for much of what we do......good and bad. Moreover, our need for that is as real in late-life as it was when we were youngsters. Small wonder that revisiting our own life experiences, the memories that affirm our intentions and remind us of lessons learned, strikes me as a worthy reason to keep remembering.
After all, no matter where our life has taken us, by our October and November years we have accumulated a sizable inventory of affirming memories. Some are true-to-life recollections, recorded exactly as they happened all those years ago. Others may have been reconfigured over time to better suit our purposes. And now, in late-life, still nursing the same need for validation, it may be easier to find the comfort and support we seek by returning to those earlier memories, rather than creating new ones. 

Caveat - There are also totally dysfunctional memories lurking in the dark corners of my mind, ones I usually avoid bringing to the surface. True, there are times when those well-remembered “gotchas” remind me what not to do. But as a rule I prefer to visit the positive, affirming bits of my past.

Why shouldn’t we return from time to time to the favorable moments we have stored in our memory vault? I can’t think of any reason to feel guilty about doing that. In fact we ought to consider it a blessing……an opportunity to select the moments that mean the most to us. So what if a particular recollection has been embellished over time to better fit our psychic needs? Perhaps it is all the more affirming because of that.
By this time of life the person we have become is certainly very different than the one who created those memories we like to revisit. In all likelihood our world has shrunk in size and scope, in keeping with our diminished mobility and energy. And our lifestyle is probably less vigorous by a factor or two or three….or seven or eight.
I have claimed over and over that I want to keep Becoming in my late-life years. Yet the pursuit of that hopeful possibility calls for a reality check ……to help me understand that a realistic version of Becoming has changed with time.
I tell myself to keep reaching out, to be more than I was before. I believe we are meant to do that. Still, the realistic results of my reaching will not look like the affirming moments of times past……the high points and lessons learned the hard way, the ones I like to remember.

So now, in late-life, when my efforts come up short I give myself permission to resurrect affirming recollections I created in times past……hoping they may serve as a tonic in the face of today’s troubles.
At times like that why shouldn’t we retrieve a memory to soothe our distress? I understand that living in the past, as a permanent resident, is not a healthy frame of mind. But an occasional visit, to remember and relive the dreams we had, the battles we won, and the special people who have made our life journey worthwhile……I consider that time well spent.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Why Hide My Insecurity?

       It is amazing how things can change so quickly? A couple weeks ago I was ready to fold my blogging tent. As I mentioned at the time, it felt like I had said everything I had to say. And who needs a blogger with nothing more to add?
Dozens of you have been following these posts for years, and I sensed that perhaps you too were growing a bit tired of it all. So, as I set off on my 83rd year it seemed like a good time to call it a day.
Then, scarcely a week later, with a single mouse click, I was unexpectedly transported to a very different set of possibilities. You know how I am, selling the virtues of the road less traveled and reaching beyond our comfort zone……at an age when less traveled and reaching out are not always the norm. 
As you may already know, I am not a joiner. Actually, I am rather fussy about who earns my allegiance. It has to be a fit……which is why until now my only affiliation (besides our church) has been my honorary membership in The Dull Men’s Club.
That’s right. Dull. What adjective better describes a November fellow who writes relational stories about his late-life peers? And if that same storyteller finds it awkward, even hard, to tell the world why his October stories ought to be read……you might say he is also Insecure. Generally speaking I am a reasonably secure guy, but when it comes to my stories, probably not so much. 

Surprise……I have just learned there also is a club for Insecure Writers. Think of that, I’m now a member of two clubs…..…Dull and Insecure. Am I on a roll or what? 
Over the years you’ve read my doubts in these pages ……about the stories I tell and the way I tell them. You’ve seen me grumble that no one seems to care that those stories are out there waiting to be read, even though my modest Gil Stewart Website is welcoming, and my Amazon Author's Page offers 20 books just waiting to be discovered. So it should not be surprising that this newly discovered group of creative souls, who are willing to openly discuss their insecurities about something as personal as their own writing experiences, had me feeling quite at home. My first visit to the Insecure Writers Support Group (IWSG) website convinced me I belonged there.
True, lots of those folks are kids……20s, 30s, and such……and most are women, which seems to be the norm for wannabe writers. If I was younger that might be intimidating. But I’ve outgrown that. To be sure, their stories are not at all like the Geriatric Adolescence tales I tell. But its been fun to read about the many paths they have followed on their creative journeys.
Yet no matter what their age or what they write, as I trolled through the nearly 180 member blogs, each of them linked in their own way to the same creative impulse that keeps pulling me along, it felt like I was eavesdropping on a family affair……the sort of clan I would like to be part of.
Truth to tell, at any age (even in their November years) unpublished or self-published writers are apt to find themselves in an insular space…..perhaps lacking the skills, resources, and/or the contacts to have their work refined and noticed. In a world where thousands of self-published stories are released every week it is easy to feel like we are creating something good, but no one knows about it. Seems to me that is a likely recipe for writer insecurity.

IWSG’s stated purpose is very straight forward……to help us share our writing experiences and encourage those who have set out on that path......while at the same time accepting their input about our writing efforts. The goal is to provide a forum where writers feel comfortable asking questions, offering advice, and discussing the doubts and concerns they have about their craft…….i.e. a safe haven for insecure writers, no matter what they write.
     With that in mind IWSG offers the promise of support that many of us are seeking. As part of that effort the first Wednesday of each month (that’s today) is designated as Insecure Writers Support Group Day, when we are asked to post about our own writing experiences……the doubts, the highs, and the lows……while encouraging others who share those challenges.
At the same time we will be visiting blogs of others in the group, connecting with them and sharing our input. Some of them will be visiting this blog, offering their comments. As always I’m hoping you regulars will be willing to join in the conversation.

Is it real, IWSG and the connections it promises? I suppose time will tell. Odds are it won’t create miracles, but I applaud their efforts to help us wannabe storytellers reach out and connect with each other. In the meantime, I hope you will check in on future first-Wednesday posts and help me track where all those insecurities take us.