Archive for the ‘Boomers’ Category

Through Your Eyes

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

The way you look at someone–and smile–will affect them in ways you may never know.

Some of us take a lot of trouble with our appearance–to present the best possible countenance to the rest of the world. We gaze in the mirror and refine our looks with gadgets and beauty products, preening and posing until we are satisfied with the way we look. Sometimes we even smile at the reflection we see…and guess what…it smiles back! We leave feeling good about ourselves.

But what about the “look” we give the rest of our fellow travelers in our daily rounds? Are we as generous with each of them–as pleased with what we see in their faces? Maybe some of us are not even pleased with the image we last saw in the mirror. Bad hair day? Acne? Didn’t get the makeup quite right? And, oh no–wrinkles!

Remember that the most perfect “look” you show the rest of the world is the way you look at others, the way you see them, and the way they see themselves reflected in your eyes.

Don’t forget to smile.

Another Woodstock Relic

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

A recent New York Times article celebrating the 40th anniversary of the three days of Peace, Love and Music in Bethel, New York, in 1969 surprisingly drew a lot of nasty comments http://tinyurl.com/mkeatu. Most of the negative criticism and “get-over-it-already” attitude appeared to be the opinions of those aging baby boomers who didn’t attend.  They are either still harboring a 40-year grudge that they missed it, or else they are the same uptight crowd that give us baby boomers the evil reputation (among younger generations) of being greedy old bastards who are hell-bent on destroying the economy and the planet.

I’m one of the relics, a leftover of the 400,000 or so who made their way to Yasgur’s farm to spend three days and nights listening to the premier musical artists of our day. What we found when we arrived was something even more amazing, and that’s one reason we’ll never forget our experiences. It’s the stuff that cultural legends are made of, a story to hand down to future generations. I’m sorry if the uptight crowd still thinks we were a bunch of unwashed, drug-addicted, sexually depraved hooligans. I’ve lived another 40 years as a contributing member of society and I’m going to tell my story, if you care to stomach another version of the Woodstock legend. Those three days changed my awareness, all for the better:

It took a couple of weeks to convince my boyfriend to come back from his summer job in New Hampshire to accompany me to what was being touted as the music event of a lifetime. Eventually, he gave in and we purchased tickets for all three days. I don’t remember exactly what they cost, but I do remember it was a hefty sum for two teenagers in those days. The irony, of course, is that when we got there, so many people had shown up, that tickets became irrelevant.

Neither of us had a driver’s license, so we bummed a ride up to White Lake with some high school friends of mine. About 3 or 4 miles outside of the festival, the two lane highway had turned into a massive parking lot headed one way to the festival. We got out with my friends’ camping gear and walked the rest of the way. It was the first time in my life I can recall walking that far. It seemed like such a great distance for me, spoiled and pampered as I was at the tender age of 17.

There were a lot of people even on Friday afternoon before the concert started, and as the evening turned to night, more people kept showing up. I remember the opening act: the rough urgency of Richie Havens’ voice and guitar, and then Melanie, young, slender and pretty, who later immortalized her own memories of looking out from the stage into an ocean of hopeful young people as we lit matchbooks and candles in the rain. When I saw her years and years later performing for free on a beach in Florida, the crowd broke out the cigarette lighters, shining like stars in a sudden downpour. I filled with my own sudden downpour of tears. I was older, Melanie was a plump, aging hippie with two grown daughters, and it seemed like Love, Peace and Music was a dusty concept to brush off and air out at concerts performed by has-beens.

Many wax ecstatic over their memories of Woodstock. Like the old joke about the ’60s…”If you remember them, you probably weren’t there,” I have my doubts about the validity of most of these reminisces. After all, most everyone was high, and they are all 50 years old or more now. I can barely trust my own memory, and I wasn’t stoned that weekend. What I do remember, besides the thirst, the hunger, the heat exhaustion, bug bites and waking up in a cold puddle of mud was the sheer power of almost half a million young people spontaneously coming together to celebrate life with a collective free spirit that had never been seen in such magnitude.

Without hearing many of the groups perform that I’d come to watch, I begged my boyfriend to help me find a way home on Sunday morning. Painstakingly, we hitched rides one after another until we got to New Jersey, and from there we took a train to New York City. As we passed a newsstand in the bowels of Penn Station, I saw this headline on the front page of the Sunday New York Times…”300,000 at Folk-Rock Fair Camp Out in a Sea of Mud.” A 5×6 aerial photo showed the stage in the right bottom corner and the rest of the frame was filled with tiny dots, somewhere among them my own. Like 100s of thousands of pinpricks of light, we had come together in a galaxy of peace for one brief weekend in time.

I was paralyzed with a feeling like pride, and realized that I had just been part of something significant. I had, for the first time in my life, experienced something much bigger than just myself. It took many years for me to begin to understand how we are all a part of one another, something a lot of people who came to Woodstock that weekend already seemed to know. Still, it was a start for me, and though I wish I’d been less self-absorbed at the time, I could not help but take away a seed of understanding that germinated and grew long after we left the festival behind.

Peace be with you,

Long live the spirit of Woodstock 1969: Peace, Love and Music

Whose Suffering Is It Anyway?

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

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In the final days of my cat, Natasha’s life, was human comfort or feline comfort my priority?

Already a spectral presence, frighteningly thin, weak, and silent, my dying cat took up residence under the bed exactly far enough from either side that she could not be reached. I lay on the floor, my arm outstretched towards her as far as possible, begging her to please come out where I could stroke her. Those great liquid eyes stared back from a place I couldn’t go, a place where pain and exhaustion took her when they became her new mistress. It was a contest I couldn’t win.

I cried to her to please not die under  my bed where I couldn’t touch her.  Again, those big, empty eyes turned towards me at the sound of her name: the end of her tail flicked. I still don’t know whether her tail registered happiness that I was near or annoyance. Like most of my species, I needed to believe my life made a profound difference to hers.

In the end it did. I chose to stop her suffering prematurely…and mine. Always the supposedly good human, I had to take control of her death as I’d always had control of her life.

I have to remind myself now of the times when I was sure I made a happy difference in Natasha’s 16 years, of the affectionate head butts, the late night snuggles, even the cold shoulders I received when I was away too long: the rejection that seemed to say Hey Human, pay more homage to your cat next time!

For the last two-and-a half years of Natasha’s life I measured every day in 100 ml dosages of the subcutaneous fluids I painstakingly administered to her, giving her failing kidneys another 24 hours of usefulness and another day of the pleasure of my company. Eventually the fluids strained her failing heart.

Did she want to live? Did she want to die? I’ll never really know, will I?

In the end the decision was a human one. The only feline input was the big void of her eyes staring back already near the other side of life, the place we humans have a really hard time with. I pleaded with her not to die under my bed, and finally when her weakened body couldn’t fight me off, I overpowered her and whisked her off to the vet for a professional analysis of what I already knew.

Did she want a quick release from her suffering, or was it human suffering I was more interested in ending?

I only know her suffering presence is gone from under the bed. For me now, imprinted in my mind’s eye is the slender, regal gray cat whose whole tail shuddered with joy, I’m certain, the moment I entered the room.

We humans  interpret the world so full of our own importance.

A peak a week

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

I live in a region of the country where outdoor recreational activities abound. Last night I overheard a couple of young men standing behind me at an open-air concert discussing their hiking plans for the summer. Not wanting to turn around and stare, I could just imagine two strapping, healthy youths sporting robust backpacks and hiking boots. One was telling the other, “It’s my plan to hike one new peak every weekend.” He began mentioning the names of various local mountains. I could just imagine the breathtaking vistas to which he would treat himself along the way.

Even in my younger years I was not a mountain goat, so scaling peaks is not in my game plan. Negotiating the cable car hills of San Francisco when I lived there a few years ago was a good enough challenge at sea level.  I am still proud to say I succeeded at climbing some hill or other each week when I belonged to a city hiking group. I still do a 3-mile walk occasionally, up and down the hills of my current neighborhood nestled in the Sierra Nevadas.

These days my real challenges are more sedate, but nonetheless steep. The hills and valleys of writing a novel keep me fretting over whether I “can make it.” When the terrain gets a bit rugged and I can’t catch my breath, I sometimes stop to rest and to consider my next step carefully.  Turning back before I reach the pinnacle, however, is seldom an option. I know it’s too beautiful to miss the view at every milestone of the climb, and if the interim vistas are this good, I can’t wait to see the view from the top.

I’m glad I overheard that hiker’s declaration last night. It encouraged me, too, to set my goals “a peak a week.”

When is nature not theatrical enough?

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Yosemite is practically in my backyard since I moved west in 2004;  so yesterday, with no advance planning at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, my friend and I drove the 2 1/2 hours to get there, and I saw Yosemite for the first time in my 57 years. Years of exposure to Ansel Adams’ stunning black and white photos and Sierra Club calendars did nothing to diminish my joy and delight at actually being in one of nature’s finest temples. I am ready to return in a heartbeat, so please don’t take what I’m about to say as a put down of nature’s majesty. I’m a huge fan. I’m just curious about how constant exposure to movies, TV, Internet and other media affect our real life experiences of those same things.

On the drive home, we decided to take a longer route through a narrow mountain pass. At midnight, we were still negotiating hairpin turns and trying to avoid a) hitting deer which were roaming all over the one-lane road, or b) plunging over steep inclines to our certain death. The thought of stopping to stretch our legs in the thick of what could only be described as the “forest primeval” (or “prime evil” depending on how many slasher movies you’ve seen), filled me with visions of chainsaw toting, hockey-masked killers or giant grizzly bears lurking behind every tree.

When we finally did stop to use a campground latrine, the only thing looming was silence and the milky way so resplendent you couldn’t count the stars. Can you believe it was something of a let-down? My pooling adrenaline was left unsatisfied!

I recall as we drove on and on and on through miles of towering trees (reminiscent of Hollywood or Broadway fairy tale sets) that in the headlights, those trees looked too pristine, too perfect to be real. The deer were too placid, the night too peaceful without a menacing soundtrack.

I hate to think after my nearly six decades of exposure to movies, theater and TV that life doesn’t imitate art well enough! I really don’t want to believe that what was millions of years in the making isn’t thrilling enough for those of us who have witnessed feats of technology in the last few years to make one’s head spin.

I keep remembering those trees lit by our headlights as we drove through the night and how I wondered whether they were real enough.

Doin’ What I Love

Friday, May 1st, 2009

I’ve always loved to write for 3 reasons: words flow easily for me, I love to entertain others, and I suffer from a need to express myself!

I started writing creatively when I was only 8 years old. Everyone told me I should be a writer, and I did write poetry, articles and essays over the years, some of which have been published. It didn’t occur to me to write a full-length novel until I discovered the NaNoWriMo challenge last November–to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Not even believing I could do it, I jumped in and amazed myself by creating a rough draft of a pretty good story (if I do say so myself.)

Now I’m hooked. I realized that I can express my need to entertain and amuse a wider audience than just my immediate friends if I can write, publish and market a humorous novel. So, last month I began writing a novel about a zany NY baby boomer gal with a bit of a body image issue (to put it mildly). On a road trip to visit her best friend Esther the Bod, she encounters some women with their own issues, and together they find out you may want to be careful what you wish for!

I’m 12,000 words into the book and having the time of my life writing it. I look forward to finishing, publishing and marketing so I can make all 3 of my reasons for writing a reality. And if I fall on my face? Well, that’s another comedy style altogether, but you know what happens next, right? I’ll pick myself up and get knocked down as many times as it takes to realize I can chase down whatever keeps hitting me!

Down The Internet Rabbit Hole

Monday, April 20th, 2009

My friend emailed me this morning to say she had gone down another “rabbit hole” on the Internet.

I know exactly what she means. When you are easily distracted by a wide variety of ideas, as I am, it is easy to forget what you started looking for and end up getting excited by something that leads you away from your reason for getting online in the first place.

I’m beginning to think I could benefit from a support group for souls lost on the Internet, if I could only find one without winding up responding to other people’s blogs for a couple of hours or joining another online Baby Boomers group found while following bread crumbs on Twitter.

I wonder if I actually did stop surfing long enough to find an online group for networking-holics, whether I’d be tempted to surreptitiously surf while participating in the group,thus dooming myself to complete and utter failure.

I might as well face facts. If I’m procrastinating this afternoon by answering a survey from a social networking website about why I use social networking websites, I have a bit of a problem. I mean, taking 3 Facebook quizzes a day that analyze what I already know about myself so I can agree with the results is no longer serving my original purpose for networking!

Cherish the old while embracing the new

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

The end of one year and the beginning of another signifies leaving behind the old to embark on a journey into the unknown. For some, shedding what we know and identify with is a daunting, if not downright scary proposition. Many of my fellow baby boomers frequently send me nostalgic emails that are a medley of the wonderful icons of our youth–The Mouseketeers, The Beatles, Elvis, Hula Hoops–the list goes on and on. They opine the loss of “the good old days,” although for anyone who doesn’t suffer from selective memory, the old days had plenty of not-so-good things that I’m glad are gone–McCarthyism, big hair, lynch mobs, and 8 Tracks, to name but a few.

2008 was the year we voted for CHANGE, and I’d like to see Boomers, along with their younger fellow citizens, step up to the plate and embrace the new, and sometimes scary, present and future. It’s a great idea to “make new friends, but keep the old” like a song I remember from MY good old days. No need to ditch The Beatles to listen to a new rock band, or throw out your cherished collection of vinyl while downloading iTunes to your mp3 player. Hang onto the old, but welcome the new. I hear too many boomers dissing new technologies, new ideas, saying “I’m too old to change. This is how I’ve always done it.”

“Yes I Can” applies to those of us over 45, too.

Do you really need to know your life purpose?

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

I recently read a post from another life coach that made a case against expending time and thought to uncover your life’s purpose. Her main argument is that we all have life purposes, often more than one, but if we waste time trying to discover what they are, we waste our lives, period. In other words, just get moving and you’ll be following the path of your purpose…it happens naturally.

I’ve been pondering her post for a few days. It challenged me, and I had a strong reaction to it, but I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was just my ego reacting because I had recently written an article extolling the benefits of uncovering one’s life purpose. My point was that if you struggle with decision-making, it is easier to evaluate competing options by measuring them against the standard of your life purpose. Which decision aligns you with your reason for being, if you will? If you know where you are going, but are momentarily “lost,” you can get out the compass of your life purpose and find your way again.

The argument she made, however, was interesting in that if you just stop agonizing over where you are going and follow your instincts, you are bound to naturally end up somewhere you will ultimately benefit from being. I can see that, because I believe that whatever you encounter in life, it’s an opportunity for growth and learning. Sooner or later you stop in a town that feels enormously familiar and if you are open to possibilities, not limited by a narrow view of “this is my purpose; this is who I am,” then you may frequently discover new and remarkable places to explore in your life.

But what do we mean when we talk about life purpose, anyway? On a very basic biological level it is nothing more than to survive and procreate. As a species, we have done that quite well–all too well–and often at the expense of each other, as well as everything else on this planet. It does not require any conscious thought to follow our biological imperative and find a way to continue our existence, no matter the cost or sacrifice. It does, however, take conscious effort to consider the consequences of our biological imperative, which brings us to the spiritual, or at least philosophical, question of why we are here, beyond the mere fact of our existence and instinct to survive as a species.

It’s true that there is no need to ask this question in order to keep traveling through life, but if we don’t stop to consider, “What is my life purpose?” can we ever really say that we are “in choice’ about the myriad of options we face moment to moment?

Time for you, yet?

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

Everyone used to tell me to take more time for myself, but I was on the proverbial treadmill, doing for my bosses and always being available to my loved ones when I wasn’t at the office. Time for myself was out of the question. I became so compulsive about doing for others that when I didn’t have anything to do for anyone else, instead of enjoying an activity of my own choosing—something that nurtured the things that I’d always claimed were important to me—I would pick up the phone and call a friend to find out what was important in her life.

I seem to have equated my self-worth with how perfectly I could serve the needs of others. I thought by so doing I could prove I was not self-centered and self-absorbed. I was so wedded to this concept of serving others that I couldn’t conceive of letting go and noticing all the large and small ways I was not serving numero uno. A voice inside often reminded me that taking precious time to consider my own needs was selfish, even though my childrearing days were long over.

Then, one day after I’d studied coaching, it struck me that I was giving away my priceless life in service to others who were using it to pursue their own dreams. At my job I was getting paid well, but I was not spending any of my time practicing or pursuing activities that nourished and supported me in ways other than financially. For me, the only way to overcome this inequity was to do something radical. I quit ignoring my needs cold turkey. I left my job, retreated to relative seclusion far from family members, and got a friend to pay back a loan I’d made to her by covering my living expenses for the year.

I have spent the past year being completely self-absorbed—and learned to love it! I’ve devoted myself solely to examining who I am and what my purpose is, and to acquiring some of the skills I need to live a fulfilling life. My loved ones (none of whom really needed my attention 24/7 anyway, since they are all adults) survived well enough. I seem to have defined new boundaries for myself in the process. I realized that I’d actually been resentful of all that I did for them, so I was constantly reminding them of what a huge sacrifice I was making on their behalf. That was tantamount to holding them emotionally hostage, which is what my slavish devotion to them actually was doing to myself!

On a recent airline flight I was reminded of the common sense logic of all this, as the flight attendant went through the familiar litany of instructions in the event that the oxygen masks drop. Put on your mask first before helping others. Helloooooo.

If you aren’t breathing, it’s awfully hard to help anyone else!