The Waiting Room

33f98cedcdb846c0743b8121f56fa391The waiting room at a cardiology imaging center is a microcosm of the medical world of Baby Boomers. This afternoon I spent three hours getting an echo cardiogram and a nuclear stress test. In between each phase of these tests, patients return to the “interior waiting room” (in our hospital gowns) to wait for the next part. Today the two men and four women in my group shared interesting stories and bonded in a way you wouldn’t expect strangers to bond in a three-hour period. Especially knowing that you’ll probably never see each other again. And although I was a bit anxious about having the tests done (because of an irregular EKG of unknown cause at my annual physical recently) my anxiety was lessened by the company of these men and women.

Most of us were in our sixties, although one woman must have been in her seventies since her grandchildren are in college or recent grads. But she looked so young. Sadly, her mother died of a heart attack at age 36, and she had her first one at age 40. She’s got stents in her heart, her legs, even her kidneys. Also a new-fangled pacemaker (dual chambers?) So she was used to having these tests and more (like cardiac caths). She had a beautiful smile (loved those dimples!) and was calm and cheerful all afternoon.

One of the men was nervous about whether or not he could do the treadmill test, since he had a hip replaced a couple of years ago. When he returned to the waiting room to tell us he aced it, we high-fived him like old friends.

The hot topic was the injection they give to stress your heart if you can’t do the treadmill test. My husband had this done about  ten years ago and felt like he was dying—I guess he had a strong reaction to it. He claims they have quit using that drug, but I was scared to try it and was determined to do the treadmill test. Although I have screws in my right ankle and haven’t done anything more stressful than the elliptical (no impact) or walking 5-6 miles a day in Paris last May, I wasn’t sure how I would do. NO PROBLEM. Sure, my blood pressure got up to 180/something, and my pulse hit 160 (which they wanted it to) but my ankle never hurt and I wasn’t huffing and puffing too badly. More high-fives when I returned to the waiting room.

A 62-year-old black woman who looked ten years older and was too impaired to do a treadmill test was also anxious about the injection. She also has a pacemaker. The last time she had it she got nauseated and threw up, feeling like her heart was leaping out of her chest. Today’s experience for her was much milder, thank God. They must have changed the chemical they use.

The other gentleman also has metal in his foot and leg (like me) from falling out of a hunting blind and wasn’t sure he could do the treadmill. Another ace. Another high-five.

The last woman in our group was a bit overweight and unable to do the treadmill, but she weathered the injection fairly well, telling us that her blood pressure bottomed out and they had to deal with that, but otherwise, no problem.

I left three hours later greatly relieved (and feeling healthier than others in the group) although I won’t know what’s causing the irregular EKGs until some time next week. I’m always more anxious about the tests themselves than the results (I know that’s irrational but I’m a wimp) so for now I’m just glad this part is over. Next up? A colonoscopy this June. I’m three years overdue and finally getting my courage up. (I have done the FIT test every year for the past few years.) I’ve heard they’ve made the prep much easier (I threw up doing the prep last time, which was 13 years ago) so I’m getting ready to schedule this for early this summer. I don’t think the recovery room at the GI Center will be nearly as much fun….

Writing “Full Bore”

WD1216_1_1There’s an excellent article in the November/December 2016 issue of Writer’s Digest called “How a Month of NaNoWriMo Can Lead to a Lifetime of Better Writing” by Grant Faulkner. If you’re not familiar with NaNoWriMo, it the National Novel Writing Month that takes place each November. Participants sign up with a goal of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, or about 1,667 words a day. At the end of the 30 days, some people have actually completed a novel, and others have made a great start. I think it’s the discipline of writing for an extended period of time every day—and knowing that others are doing the same (like in an exercise class)—that encourages people to participate.

Faulkner’s article cites the importance of “practice” in order to excel, noting that most successful authors write thousands of words that end up being thrown away before ever publishing anything. I certainly did. So even the words you produce during NaNoWriMo don’t end up in a final product, at least you are writing in a disciplined manner. And the program includes “pep talks” from bestselling authors to each participant during the month.

Finding time to write is crucial for most writers who also have (1) day jobs and/or (2) children at home. Since I don’t have either of those commitments, and consider myself a full-time writer, time isn’t my problem. It’s how I choose to use my time that matters. And yes, I’ve been productive these past few years, and the work is paying off in the form of four published books coming out between January 2017 and spring of 2018, although two of those are anthologies I edited rather than books I wrote. So now I’m ready for another project, and I’ve decided to write another novel. This is so much harder than organizing and editing an anthology (at least for me) so I know I’m going to need some motivation. I’m not going to wait until November (NaNoWriMo month) but I am going to take some of their concepts to heart. Since I’ll be starting a book tour in just over a week, I won’t have an uninterrupted month until June, but on the days I set aside for writing, I plan to look at them as though they were part of that month. As though I had a deadline. One advantage, according to author Hugh Howey, who has participated in NaNoWriMo since 2009 with successful results, is this:

crest-05e1a637392425b4d5225780797e5a76Piecing a novel together over a year or more, one paragraph at a time, with days and weeks off in between, does not produce the same quality for me as writing full-bore.

Writing full-bore. That’s how I need to approach this next novel. I really don’t want to spend six or more years on it (as I did with Cherry Bomb, when you count time off for my car wreck, and months spent querying agents and publishers, and revising with several different editors) and I hope that I’ve learned some things that will move the project along better this time. We’ll see….

The Iris: Heralding the Transcendent Self

ASB CoverThis morning I’m reflecting a bit about the image of an iris on the cover of A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. Sally Thomason, my neighbor, friend, and mentor, who has an essay in the collection, emailed me some information about the flower:

Iris was Zeus’ messenger who traveled to the underworld to gather water from the River Styx, the boundary between Earth and the Underworld (in Jungian and modern psychological understanding, between the conscious and the unconscious mind)—meaning that one must confront the unconscious demons in order to bring forth new or renewed life.

And this, from a book of symbols:

On a golden Japanese scree, the irises are perpetually alive, a vivid reminder of springtime’s renewal….the diverse exquisite hues of iris …represent the integration of all qualities in the Stone.  Just as Iris heralded the approach of the gods, so, psychologically, the show of many colors [within the blossom] heralds the transcendent self in which the many facets of the personality, once opposing each other, are brought into a unity.

irisHow wonderful that this meaningful image adorns a book about second bloomings, about women finding themselves as they move into (or continue in) the second half of their lives with newfound creativity, wisdom, and maturity. Most of these women have confronted demons (conscious or unconscious) in order to “bring forth new or renewed life.” They have also discovered their “transcendent self” and have in many cases brought the many facets of the personality into a unity. What a perfect image for this book!

I looked up more about irises and loved what I found on the Teleflora page:

The iris’s mythology dates back to Ancient Greece, when the goddess Iris, who personified the rainbow (the Greek word for iris), acted as the link between heaven and earth. It’s said that purple irises were planted over the graves of women to summon the goddess Iris to guide them in their journey to heaven. Irises became linked to the French monarchy during the Middle Ages, eventually being recognized as their national symbol, the fleur-de-lis.

The February birth flower, the 25th wedding anniversary flower and the state flower of Tennessee, the iris’s three upright petals are said to symbolize faith, valor and wisdom.

irisesIt’s like icing on the cake that the iris is the state flower of Tennessee, since four of the contributors and I (the editor) all live in Memphis.  Faith, valor, and wisdom. Yes, these women are models of these virtues, and I’m so proud to have them in this incredible book. The five of us (Tennessee authors) will be at Memphis Botanic Gardens(fitting, right?)  for an afternoon (3 p.m.) reading and signing on March 26. I’m thinking I need a vase of irises for the punch table….

So Y’all Think You Can Write

Y'all notebookFour months ago today I queried University Press of Mississippi for an anthology I wanted to edit—So Y’all Think You Can Write: Southern Writers on Writing. They jumped on it and we signed a contract right away. They asked me to have the complete manuscript to them by April 1. Today I sent them the completed 73,984-word manuscript, with 26 essays by southern writers (women and men) from ten states: Alabama, Washington, DC, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, and Tennessee. (I’m kind of proud that Tennessee has 8 contributors, the most from any state, with Alabama having 6 and Mississippi contributing 5.)

Y'all insidePutting this collection together was so much fun. Alan Lightman wrote the Foreword! The essays were so polished that my work as editor wasn’t difficult. I had a great time grouping them into sections with themes, finding quotes to go with each section, writing an essay myself, and writing the introduction. SNEAK PREVIEW: Here are the contributors. If you aren’t familiar with their work, just Google them, buy one of their books and get to know them. They’re all amazing writers. We even have a few poets in the group.

Julie Cantrell

Katherine Clark

Jim Dees

Clyde Edgerton                                                                                               

W. Ralph Eubanks           

John Floyd                                               

Joe Formichella                                   

Patti Callahan Henry

Jennifer Horne                                   

Ravi Howard

Suzanne Hudson                                   

River Jordan

Harrison Scott Key                                                                                               

Cassandra King                                                                                   

Sonja Livingston

Corey Mesler                                               

Scott Morris

Niles Reddick

Wendy Reed

Nicole Seitz

Lee Smith                                                                                    

Michael F. Smith                                   

Sally Thomason

Jacqueline Trimble                                   

M. O. (Neal) Walsh

Claude Wilkinson

It’s gorgeous outside! I think I’ll go for a walk before heading out to dinner with a friend, followed by my first ever experience attending an opera—“Pirates of Penzance” is playing at the Germantown Performing Arts Center. Have a great weekend, everyone!

The Afternoon of Life

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In Monday’s post I wrote about three seasons of life as I saw them in Petula Clark’s song, “Fill the World With Love,”—the morning, noon, and evening. Yesterday I was talking about this with a friend (who is in her eighties) over coffee at her kitchen table and I said, “You know, I think I may be in the afternoon of my life. Surely I am past the noontime and not yet to the evening.” She agreed and encouraged me that the afternoon of our life holds much that is wonderful.

At home later in the day I found an email from her with a quote from Jung, so I Googled the topic and found this article which reflects on Jung’s wisdom about this season, “Enjoying the Afternoon of Life: Jung on Aging.” There is much wisdom in this article, but I especially like this part:

Jung called the elder years—those from c. age 56 to c. 83—the “afternoon of life,” using the analogy of the passage of the Sun through the sky from morning to night. Youth was “morning,” noon corresponded to mid-life, and night was old age, while the sixth and seventh decades see life energy wane, much as the Sun’s warmth declines as it sinks lower in the sky. Just as we need the full cycle of the Sun to support life, so we are meant to live out the full cycle of human existence, and Jung recognized this. More than just living, Jung urged us to enjoy the “afternoon” of life….

So how are we to enjoy these years, where so many of us “Baby Boomers” find ourselves? I see many people trying to stay young—those with money chasing the elusive fountain of youth with personal trainers, expansive wardrobes, makeup routines (and plastic surgery), and behavior which denies aging. While I want to remain active, I don’t want to compete with younger generations. My body won’t let me, and I want to be content, to actually enjoy the afternoon of my life. But the article at the Jungian site describes a lifestyle I’m not ready to completely embrace:

The interval between age 60 and age 80 is the time most people retire from full-time participation in the work world. Generally in this interval children have grown up, gone off to college and set up their own families. This means there is more leisure, fewer family demands, and minimal restrictions in daily life due to the demands of work. Ambitions and desires tend to decrease, and oldsters often feel relief as they “downsize” into smaller homes, condos or collective living arrangements. There may be relief also in the realization of no longer having to keep up with new technologies.

Since I never had a “career” (I was a stay-at-home mom most of my life, other than running an aerobic dance business and doing some freelance writing) I’m not “retiring” at age 65…. I just had two books published and have two more in the works. I’m just getting started! And yet, I’m doing these things without the restraints of a mother with children still at home, and yes, with more leisure. I can choose what to do with my time, which is a great gift for which I try to remember to thank God daily.
I guess my main “complaint” in the afternoon of my life is the limitations placed on me by my body—although those limitations are mostly my own fault for not taking better care of it. The weight gain, the daily aches and pains (many from the car wreck three years ago), the sagging chin and drooping eyelids, all scream at me and make me yearn for my youth. But do I really want it back, with all its anxieties? No!

Today I will move forward, learning to enjoy the afternoon of my life. I will even allow myself to take a nap when I need one, or read a book or watch a movie in the middle of the day. But I also realize that my privileged leisure comes with a responsibility to others. No longer my mother’s caregiver, and with my grandchildren 2000 miles away, it’s easy to become lazy about reaching out to others. And to feel guilty that I’m not doing more volunteer work. I talked with my octogenerarian friend about these things yesterday, and she encouraged me that I have a gift to offer—my writing—and that in order to do my art, I will need to go inward and not spread myself too thin doing multiple “good deeds.” I’m still thinking about that, and trying to consider my writing as a full time job. That and taking care of my body. I’m so lazy when it comes to exercise, which will greatly help the aches and pains and weight management.  So how do I move forward?

Jung felt the older person had the opportunity to re-imagine him or herself. Approaching life with a new sense of freedom and individuality, the oldster can improvise more, with less need for perfection and more boldness in affirming his/her uniqueness. No longer feeling the need to honor the past, no longer needing to honor dysfunctional family patterns, the oldster can even dare to be outrageous, to adopt the persona that feels right, rather than conform to what society expects.

I love what this says about no longer needing to “honor dysfunctional family patterns.” I’ve struggled with issues from the past for 65 years. Many of those issues have fueled my writing, but as I begin a new novel (yes!) I want to move on, to leave those issues in the past, and to “dare to be outrageous,” whatever that might mean for this season of my life. Hopefully I can tell a new story (one that has been percolating for only a few weeks) without those shackles. Here’s to the afternoon of life!

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