Moments of Happiness

The-Happiness-Project-Book-Review-Gretchen-Rubin

 

I recently ran across Gretchen Rubin’s website, and read about her new book The Four Tendencies.  Then yesterday at the Atlanta airport, we were having lunch inat the Intermezzo Café/Buckhood Books, and right by our table, The Four Tendencies was on a shelf looking at me. After taking her quiz to discover which “tendency” was dominant in my own personality, I was fascinated and subscribed to her daily quotes. This one from September 7 was especially meaningful to me:

“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”
- Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

And this one from September 12:

“Finally I am coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition is to be what I already am.”
- Thomas Merton, Journal

Okay, here’s one more from September 13:

“Of all the tasks which are set before man in life, the education and management of his character is the most important, and . . . it is necessary that he should make a calm and careful survey of his own tendencies, unblinded either by the self-deception which conceals errors and magnifies excellences, or by the indiscriminate pessimism which refuses to recognise his powers for good. He must avoid the fatalism which would persuade him that he has no power over his nature, and he must also clearly recognise that this power is not unlimited.”
- William Edward Hartpole Lecky, The Map of Life

If you haven’t discovered Gretchen Rubin yet, maybe you’ll check out her website, books, or subscribe to her daily quotes. As a person who has focused on a lot of darkness in my life, I’m happy to be finding some points of light.

Pilgrim Interrupted

SusanwMoOlympiaI’m putting together a collection of personal essays with the working title, Pilgrim Interrupted. Many of the essays have been previously published, and as I’ve been going through them again, I’ve pulled out a few representative quotes. I’ll share them here, as teasers for what I hope will become my next book. (I’m querying literary agents for this one.) The essays are grouped into six sections: “Icons, Orthodoxy, and Spirituality,” “Writing, Editing, and Publishing,” “Alzheimer’s, Caregiving, Death, and Dying,” “Family and Adoption,” “Place,” and “Mental Health, Addiction, and Sexual Abuse.”

Thirty essays. Four poems. Numerous icons and other pieces of original art. I hope there’s something here for everyone to reflect on, and that my readers will find some measure of joy or inspiration from the journeys I’ve shared. My pilgrimage—mostly in the “Christ-haunted South”—has definitely been interrupted over the decades of my life, but hopefully the prose, poetry, and art that litter the pathway are of some value.

Here are some samples:

“Maybe my brokenness, like the egg yolks that I use to make tempera paint for my icons—themselves a form of life interrupted—is part of my offering to God.”—Susan Cushman, from “Chiaroscuro: Shimmer and Shadow” (published in Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality, University of Alabama Press, 2012)

“Sometimes I stop and look at the unfinished images with a melancholy longing. The other day I paused before the icon of Christ, fingering a soft sable brush and scanning the jars of pigments on the nearby shelves. There are eggs in the refrigerator, waiting to be broken for Him. Their yolks, themselves a type of life interrupted, are ready to bind the dry pigments and fill my palette with a range of ochres and siennas for the face of Christ. Everything I need is here, waiting for my touch.”—Susan Cushman, from “Blocked” (published in the Santa Fe Writers Project, literary awards finalist, July 2, 2008)

“Sobriety—it’s about more than not being drunk. It’s clear-eyed brush strokes and poetry that knocks your socks off and page-turning prose. It’s Iris Dement singing, “I choose to take my sorrow straight,” and Natalie Maines (of the Dixie Chicks) turning a personal affront into a hit song with, “I’m Not Ready to Make Nice.” It’s Mary Chapin Carpenter singing, “forgiveness doesn’t come with a debt.”  But it’s also allowing yourself to be human, and turning that broken humanity into something redemptive with every stroke of your pen or brush or keyboard.”—Susan Cushman, from “Blocked” (published in the Santa Fe Writers Project, literary awards finalist, July 2, 2008)

“The distinctive chug chug chug of the wine filling the glass. It’s not really a cork—it’s a rubber wine stopper (from Rabbit) and its phallic shape and texture is tempting. I place it in my mouth and suck the last drops of wine from its surface as I slowly pull it away and push it back into the bottle. The first swallow is always the best, bringing instant gratification, holding promises of relief, of edges softening, jaws relaxing, mind slowing down, dark clouds abating. And sometimes it makes good on those promises, but the relief is only temporary.”—Susan Cushman, from “Eat, Drink, Repeat: One Woman’s Three-Day- Search for Everything,” published in The Shoe Burnin’: Stories of Southern Soul (Rivers Edge Media, 2015)

“After binging all day on chips and grilled cheese and sausage biscuit and wine, the self-hatred drives me to my knees once again. But not in prayer. My reflection in the bottom of the toilet bowl—and a fetid memory long ago encoded in my frontal lobe—are enough to trigger my seasoned gag reflex. This ritual takes less than a minute. I puke up most of what I’ve eaten in the past couple of hours. It brings relief, but not without more self-loathing. I cannot, as James Baldwin urged, “vomit the anguish up.”—Susan Cushman, from “Eat, Drink, Repeat: One Woman’s Three-Day- Search for Everything,” published in The Shoe Burnin’: Stories of Southern Soul (Rivers Edge Media, 2015)

“It was surreal— like an invasion of the profane into the sacred— and it continued for about forty-five minutes. They would enter to the right of us, in their khaki shorts, fanny packs, and white Keds and cameras (which weren’t allowed inside the cave) and move slowly along the wall where Saint John had once sat, dictating to his scribe, Prochorus. The tour guide alternately pointed to the hole in the wall where the disciple pulled himself up after sitting for hours on end, and the crack in the ceiling where he heard the voice of God. Their mouths formed large, silent “O”s as they crept along, nodding at one another. Then the guide would wave the tourists through the tiny chapel, and they would walk in front of us as they exited.”—from “Pilgrim Interrupted” by Susan Cushman

Dear Diary,

teenager-diary-50sI kept a diary when I was a little girl. It had a little lock and key and I kept it hidden. I remember once when my brother found it and threatened to read it… not sure how I got out of that one. And here I am many decades later with a very public diary. Most of the time I write things here about books, writing, editing, publishing, art, spirituality, etc. But sometimes I write about more personal things like depression, eating, drinking, addiction, and grief. Today is one of those days.

Today’s post is in place of yesterday’s and tomorrow’s… because I’m feeling pretty empty right now. Just running on zero. My three-month book tour is over (until I start back up for Cherry Bomb in about six weeks) and it will be a few weeks until I get the galleys to proof for the anthology I’m editing, so I’m in a lull. I hate lulls. I tend to get a bit stir-crazy if I don’t have a project. I’m even considering starting to clean out the storage bins in the garage.
As I wrote here a couple of weeks ago, I had originally planned to use these weeks to get started on a new novel. But after one false start, and reconsidering a novel I started a few years ago and put down, I’m just not feeling inspired about either of those. So I’m “researching” a bit… and reading… and even watching some old movies on TV. And I’m thinking, what on earth do people do when they “retire”? At 66, I feel like I’m just getting started, and yet my vehicle seems to run out of gas more easily lately.

A-writer-never-has-a-vacation-for-a-writer-life-consists-of-either-writing-or-thinking-about-writing

So, if you’re reading this and you have a brilliant idea for my next novel, please send it my way. Especially if you know of a historic heroine I could fictionalize. Or something fascinating in the field of art. (One of the two novel ideas I’m considering involves Jackson Pollack and Lee Krasner.) I’m still thinking about Rill, the river gypsy orphan child in Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours, and I’m still wishing I had written that book.  She and Mare (my protagonist in Cherry Bomb) could be such good friends.

Meanwhile I’ll try to exercise more, eat and drink less, and get plenty of sleep. And hope to hear some brilliant ideas from my readers!

Life is Hard

Yesterday I attended a funeral for the brother of a young friend who goes to my church. His brother took his own life. Father Phillip Rogers, our pastor at St. John Orthodox Church, gave a wonderful talk at the grave-side burial service. Basically (but with much more eloquence and with tears) he said:

  1. Death is terrible. Whether it happens to a child or an older person, or someone in between, it’s not what God created us for, and we mourn it.
  2. Life is hard. Whether a loved one dies from a physical or mental illness, young or old, often it reflects a struggle to find light in a dark world.
  3. Christ is risen! When Father Phillip said these words, many of us at the service responded, “Indeed, He is risen!” as we often did during the recent Paschal (Easter) season at St. John Orthodox Church.
  4. God loves us. Even more than the family and friends who were present at the burial love their son, brother, or friend who died.

thoughtAnd then my friend Ethan spoke (also eloquently) about his brother—their lives growing up in a rural setting where they enjoyed nature and the beauty of God’s creation. Their mother’s love, and her love for God, which she instilled in them.

There was a slight breeze at Elmwood Cemetery, as I found relief from the early summer heat under the shade of the green tent set up near Erin’s grave. Our pastor’s words (and his tears) also gave relief, to our grief, to our near-despair. But I won’t despair, as I believe Father Phillips’ words that God loves Erin, and has him in his loving embrace.

Life is hard. But Christ is Risen!

An Eternal Present

nursing-home-residents-playing-bingo-1In his post today on his blog, Glory to God For All Things, Father Stephen Freeman writes about his weekly visits with a parishioner who lives in a nursing home. There was much that sounded familiar, similar to my visits with my mother who lived in a nursing home for eight years. The BINGO games. The sameness and monotony of the days, the food, the activities, or lack thereof. I often wonder how I will handle this situation if I find myself a resident in one of these homes some day. I have already begun to ask God to give me grace to bear whatever comes.

And then Father Stephen said something that resonated strongly:

True moral/spiritual progress should be measured more by the ladies in the nursing home. It is in just such a situation that very average citizens, regardless of religious background, are forced into a rather monastic setting. Life is not your own. The routine is as set as the hours of prayer. Everything is focused into the present, or, at most, turned toward an eternal present.

A monastic setting. Depending upon whether or not Alzheimer’s has taken parts of my brain, I can imagine myself entering into the routine as though I was living in a monastery. I feel the need to develop a stronger prayer life as I grow older. To be ready to enter the eternal present.

My husband and I are in Charleston this week, so I’ll let Father Stephen’s post “fill in” for mine today. You can read it here:

“Old Friends”

And now I’m off to have lunch with an “old friend”… Nicole Seitz, an author who lives in Mount Pleasant, just 20 minutes from our hotel here in Charleston. We haven’t seen each other in seven years. Nicole has contributed a wonderful essay to the anthology I’m editing, Southern Writers on Writing (University Press of Mississippi, 2018) about the importance of friends to writers. Perfect. Have a great weekend everyone. 

Rituals

 

Mom and me when I was crowned queen of the little league, circa 1961

Mom and me when I was crowned queen of the little league, circa 1961

With Mother’s Day coming, I find myself thinking about happy memories of my mother. I’ve been doing this a good bit this last year, since my mother’s death last May. And this first memory might surprise some of you (who remember that my mother was frequently abusive to me, verbally) but I think you’ll understand once I explain it.

When I was a little girl—probably around seven years old—my mother would come to my room every night to kiss me goodnight. My brother and I had small rooms right next to each other at that point, and I would hear her go into Mike’s room first, and then come to me. I don’t remember us saying prayers or having long conversations at bedtime, but I clearly remember the words she said just before leaving my room every night:

Good night, darling. I love you.

Those exact words. I would close my eyes, wrapped in an emotional security blanket, and go to sleep. No matter how she had treated me during that day, this was what I craved, what I longed for and thankfully received just before sleep. My mother’s blessing. If I heard her say something to Mike after that, I would call her back into my room to say it again. I wanted those words to be the last I heard before sleep. A benediction of sorts.

Fast forward forty years to 1998. My father was dying of cancer, and I spent the final days of his life in my parents’ home in Jackson (we already lived in Memphis) helping Mom with his care. (We also had help from Hospice.) Dad had a lung removed in May of 1997 and lived for fourteen months as a semi-invalid, on oxygen and often in a wheelchair. I would visit them about once a month during that time, and that’s when I observed their rituals. Dad bringing Mom coffee in bed (which he did for me on school mornings when I was in high school); Mom and Dad reading their morning devotionals together; and especially the greeting and response they said to one another every morning:

This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

I remember telling my husband about this and we decided to begin this ritual, which we do to this day. Something about that mutual encouragement to acknowledge God and to decide to rejoice often kick-starts my day in a positive way. When my husband is out of town, sometimes we text the message first thing in the morning:

TITDTLHM.

LURABGII.

Are we simply creatures of habit, or is there something more spiritual—perhaps even more ethereal—at work here? I believe that rituals are a big part of why I love the Orthodox Church. There is something comforting about the rituals we find in our church tradition.

6088bb5795d4447b8b1a56bd32e67bc3When our children were young, we would bless them before bed. If my husband was around he would do it, partly because he’s a priest. But as a mother, I often said a blessing before kissing my children goodnight, and made the sign of the cross, touching their forehead, chest, right shoulder and left shoulder. (Or even just signing them in the air in front of their faces.) The intent was to call down God’s blessing on them, yes, but also to give them comfort. My husband does this for me most every night, and also says a special blessing for me whenever I travel. And when we travel together. We get into the car, sometimes set the GPS, and then he says a prayer/blessing for our safe travels.

I remember a priest sharing with me many years ago his habit/ritual of crossing himself in the process of putting on his seatbelt when he got into his car, and saying, “Lord have mercy.”

There is something comforting about the repetitive nature of the liturgy. How many times during each service do we say, “Lord have mercy”? Can we ever say it too much? Why do we love the repetition?

Ths article in Psychology Today says we engage in rituals for several reasons. One is to try to maintain a sense of control and order to our lives. Another is to find meaning and comfort after a loss, like when people pray after a tragedy. In the Orthodox faith, we have specific prayers for the dead at regular intervals after their death, and sometimes special liturgical foods are shared after the prayers. One practice is to read the Psalms for forty days after a loved one dies. I’ve done that many times over the years and I always find comfort and draw closer to God during those days. Part of that is, I’m sure, that I’m more aware of my own mortality, having just buried someone I love, especially when the person is close to my own age or even younger.

reading to my three oldest granddaughters at the beach last month

reading to my three oldest granddaughters at the beach last month

Have you ever noticed how children love to watch the same movie over and over (often on their iPads now) or read the same books over and over? When I first started reading to my granddaughters and noticed this I would think, “Wouldn’t you rather read something new?” But they seem to find comfort in the familiar, and never tire of the same episodes of Paw Patrol or the latest Disney movie or the words and pictures in a favorite book.

As I finish today’s post, I’m thinking about how writing for this blog has become a ritual of sorts. I started the blog ten years ago this August and have posted three times a week—usually Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays—for almost every week of that decade. I wake up on those days thinking about what I’m going to write, if I haven’t already written the post earlier and saved it to publish on a certain day. Of course there are days when I can’t think of anything to say, and it bothers me throughout the day until an idea comes to me. Once it’s done, I find myself calmer, like a child whose mother has just kissed her goodnight.

 

Two Kinds of Happiness

meaning happinessIn Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, there’s an interesting question and answer in Dan Ariely’s column, “Ask Ariely.” The column title is “The Two Types of Happiness.”

(Dan Ariely is the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University and is the founder of The Center for Advanced Hindsight and also the co-founder of BEworks.)

The person who wrote in asked Dan why things that make him immediately happy—like watching basketball or going out drinking—don’t give him a lasting feeling of contentment, while the things that feel more deeply meaningful to him—like his career or writing a book—don’t give him much daily happiness.

I loved this question. It’s a dilemma I face daily if not hourly or minute-by-minute. I’ve been so busy the past few weeks with my book tour that I haven’t had many unscheduled days in which to be able to make these choices, but yesterday afternoon was one of them. My husband was out of town and I had caught up on paperwork and domestic chores. My foot is healing (I fell and tore a ligament in my ankle a couple of weeks ago) so I couldn’t use it as an excuse to watch TV all day and night, but that’s still what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to sit at my computer and work on my new novel.

Ariely addresses my quandary in his column:

Happiness comes in two varieties. The first is the simple type, when we get immediate pleasure from activities such as playing a sport, eating a good meal and so on…. The second type of happiness is more complex and elusive. It comes from a feeling of fulfillment that might not be connected with daily happiness but is more lastingly gratifying.

I thought about his words as I reflected on how “happy” I have been these past few weeks on a book tour for my first book, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s. Each event—whether in a book store or a private home—has brought much immediate satisfaction. Reading and signing my book and discussing it with an audience makes me happy. But that book didn’t write itself. It didn’t just happen while I was watching TV or out drinking or doing other “fun” things.

So as I sat down to work on my new novel yesterday afternoon, I thought more about something Ariel shard in his column:

The social psychologist Roy Baumeister and his colleagues distinguish between happiness and meaning. They see the first as satisfying our needs and wishes in the hear-and-now, the latter as thinking beyond the present to express our deepest values and sense of self. They found, unsurprisingly, that pursing meaning is often associated with increased stress and anxiety.

No wonder I don’t want to sit down and write my next book. What if I can’t do it? What if it isn’t any good? What if….

I often seem to come back to seeking balance in various areas of my life, and maybe this is another one of those situations. Maybe I need to balance the times of “fun” with the times of hard work (as I write this I feel like you are thinking, “Duh, of course!”) in order to experience both happiness and meaning in my life. But Ariely’s advice isn’t about balance; he leans towards the more difficult path:

Simply pursuing the first type of happiness isn’t the way to live; we should aim to bring more of the second type of happiness into our lives, even if it won’t be as much fun every day.

Again, this isn’t rocket science, and it might sound obvious, but I needed this reminder right now.

This Close to Happy

9780374140366_custom-bf6b7b4c35093d0b7d5c541f859ae01e511360bb-s200-c85I just finished reading my 6th book of 2017—This Close to Happy: A Reckoning With Depression by Daphne Merkin. Looking at my list so far this year, I’ve read two novels and four nonfiction books. I’m getting in the mood for some southern fiction next, and have recently gotten interested (again) in Anne Rivers Siddons, probably because of Pat Conroy’s words about her in A Lowcountry Heart. I read a couple of her books many years ago, and now I’m thinking of reading one of her oldest books Heartbreak Hotel (1976), which is about growing up in the South in the 1950s. But I’ve also got a copy of The Girls of August. Maybe I’ll save that one for this summer. But for now, back to This Close to Happy.

Daphne Merkin is an accomplished writer, with regular contributions to The New Yorker, Elle, The New York Times and other publications. Her novel Enchantment won the Edward Lewis Wallant Award for best novel on a Jewish Theme, and one of her two collections of essays was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

Here’s an excellent review in the New York Times by Andrew Solomon.

And here’s an interview on NPR.

So I won’t write a review here, other than to say that I think this is an amazing book. I’ve read a fair amount of books about mental illness in general and depression in particular. This is one of the best. Merkin not only knows her stuff—from years of therapy and pharmaceutical treatment and detailed research—but she has also lived with this disease her whole life. Growing up in a home where she was abused by a nanny and never received even basic, minimal nurturing from her parents, she suffered clinical depression even as a child, through post-partum times, into young adulthood and middle age. And yet, she is still here. (She writes about suicide a lot in the book.)

One of my favorite quotes:

The opposite of depression is not a state of unimaginable happiness, but a state of relative all-right-ness.

There’s so much wisdom in that one sentence. When I’m depressed, I imagine a “high” I’m missing from life, not just a calm “normal,” whatever that might be. And being a writer, I’ve always assumed that I come by my depression honestly, as did Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath and a plethora of others. As Merkin says:

It is by now well documented that nonlinear creative types, artists and writers in particular, often suffer form depression; whole books have been devoted to exploring the high incidence of both unipolar depression and bipolar depression in this group. Anywhere you look, there they are, the unhappy poets and painters, drinking or drugging themselves into a stupor….

Daphne Merkin

Daphne Merkin

I can relate. When I’m actively (and successfully) working on a creative project, I experience a bit of a high. But as soon as the project is finished or I’m floundering with what to do next, depression creeps in. What does Merkin say life has to offer at these times?

But perhaps I’ve all along underrated the pull of life itself, slyly offering up its enticements. I tend to give short shrift to these enticements when I’m sinking, but they are very real. They would include but are not limited to the supreme diversion of reading and the gratifications of friendship, the enveloping bond of motherhood and the solace to be found in small pleasures, such as an achy Neil Young son or finding the perfect oversized but not voluminous white shirt.

The things in life that entice me might not be all the same things that pull Merkin back from the edge, although some are similar. She’s not a spiritual person (not even a religious Jew, and doesn’t believe in an after life) like I am, so there’s that. Even at my darkest moments, I would never consider suicide. Instead I cower emotionally at home with bags of potato chips and excessive amounts of vodka or wine. Reading Merkin’s book doesn’t fill me with hope (not her intention, she says) but gives me a feeling of community with others who suffer depression. Mine is extremely mild compared to hers, but she would be the first to tell me that it’s mine, and not to diminish it.

So I give this book five stars. And I hope that Daphne Merkin has found a prolonged state of relative all-rightness. Actually, I’d love to picture her even closer to happy.

Happy Lent, Mardi Gras, and Five Star Reviews

keep-calm-and-happy-clean-mondayWhile the folks in New Orleans are still celebrating Mardi Gras (today is Lundi Gras and tomorrow is Fat Tuesday, the final day of the Mardi Gras celebration) and Western Christians (mainly Catholics and Protestants) begin Lent the following day with Ash Wednesday, Orthodox Christians (like me) all over the world begin our Lenten journey today, with Clean Monday. We prepared for the launch of this season of spiritual renewal with last night’s service, “Forgiveness Vespers.” At the end of the litany of prayers, everyone present exchanged the kiss of peace, asking one another for forgiveness and responding with “God forgives and I forgive.” As we formed a line around the inside walls of the nave, exchanging hugs with our fellow parishioners, we stood together against enmity, jealousy, anger, pride, and everything else that often keeps us divided. We stood together for love, forgiveness, acceptance, and community. We did this not only for those of us present in the church last night, but for our families, our neighbors, our communities, and the world. It’s a powerful service.

Great Lent is a time for reflection and repentance, of drawing closer to God by removing some of the shackles that keep us away from Him, which is why fasting is part of the ascetic struggle. We also have many extra church services, and redouble our efforts with our personal prayers. All of this can feel overwhelming at times, and it’s often hard for me to approach it with a positive attitude. The fact that it happens as winter is slouching away and spring is arriving doesn’t help. Our non-Orthodox neighbors are outside firing up their grills and the aroma shouts “fun” while we’re fasting from meat. Spring break vacations and other events are scheduled and often conflict with the added church services. It all goes against the grain of our culture. And yet, I choose to participate, although I have in the past called my participation “Lent Lite.”
2009-02-lent-big copyThis year I’m calling my participation “Happy Lent.” I’m choosing to be happy. Matthew 6:17 instructs us to anoint our heads with oil and wash our faces when we are fasting, which pretty much means don’t make a show of it. Don’t look all sad and talk about your self-denial. I know some folks choose to go off social media during Lent, and that’s fine, but don’t tell everyone on Faceback that you’re doing it to be more spiritual. Drawing closer to God shouldn’t make us sad, and certainly shouldn’t cause us to shun the company of others, unless we have need of solitude for a period of time in order to take stock of ourselves. Even as I write these words I realize I can judge others who choose to do this, and that judging is wrong. We each have our own paths and may God bless us all in our struggle.

Happy readingI just started reading two books (because I’m not sure I’m going to continue one of them) that don’t sound like “Happy Lent,” but I guess I’m searching for something. This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression, a memoir by Daphne Merkin and The Dark Flood Rises, a novel by Margaret Drabble aren’t spiritual books. But they both talk about aspects of our humanness that I care deeply about—emotional health and care for the aging. I’ll post reviews if I finish either or both of them.

Meanwhile, I’m thankful today that our son was several blocks away from the nightmare that happened near his apartment in New Orleans on Saturday. A drunk driver ran his truck through a crowd at the Krewe of Endymion Mardi Gras parade injuring about thirty people. People who were celebrating life. Thankfully Jon and his friends weren’t close enough to get hurt, but the incident was jarring, so today he’s too concerned to ride his book the short two and a half miles to a friend’s house for a cookout. There are just a lot of crazy and irresponsible people in New Orleans right now, making the celebrations dangerous for those who are just finding some happiness in the festivities. May God protect him and others during these final two days.

indexI’m also thankful today for my first (FIVE STAR!) reviews on Amazon and Goodreads for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s. I don’t know the reviewer personally, but she asked for a copy of the book and offered to review it in a couple of newspapers and online. What a nice way to start Lent.

May God help all of us who are choosing to participate in Lent—at whatever level we are able and willing.

The Afternoon of Life

irene-carr-blog-post21

 

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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