Rock on Ancient Queen

Stevie Nicks says she never had a family because she knew from a very early age that music would be her life. She’s in her 60s now, and music still defines her. I recently turned 60 and everything that had previously defined me went away. Not overnight, but slowly, over the last six months or so, the things that once made me who I am, or thought I was, disappeared. I’ve suddenly got a clean slate.

For most of my adult life I have been held aloft by four pillars: family, friends, teaching, and writing. One by one, I have seen these things that used to hold me up recede. They still stand, but apart from me, as if at a distance. I continue to love my family and friends, but they take far less room than before. There is an empty spot inside me now and it is not a bad thing. It feels spacious.

I no longer teach and even writing is on pause as I contemplate what my life, going forward, will look like. What will hold me up now that my children have children of their own and live thousands of miles away? Who will fill my days as friends move to warmer climates, travel to visit their own far-flung families, become hands-on grandparents or deal with aging parents, death and illness? What will replace my days as the lesson plans and students fall away and my writing feels tentative and not at all important?

None of this is exactly causing me distress. It feels natural, inevitable. But a question remains: what IS important to me now that I’m 60? Now that those outer pleasures cease to fulfill quite as effectively as before? I found a clue this past summer, although at the time it felt more like a blow. It was in fact a car accident that threw me into an uncomfortable place, somewhere I’d been before, somewhere I didn’t want to go again.

Delos

I felt a great need to escape. I wanted to leave every part of my life behind, but running away was not an option. I was in the middle of my final semester before retirement. I had not one but two grandchildren on the way, and this, even in my terror and sadness, was a wonderful thing, a shining full circle from the past when I had wanted, with every fiber of my being, to be a mother. Now my children were carrying on the tradition, passing on the genetic code. Such a sweet and satisfying feeling for me, but (obviously) infinitely more for them.

Then there was the novel I was writing. It decided to take a surprising turn, and, while the events of the plot shocked me, I stuck with it, even while my marriage of three decades eroded for reasons I found difficult to understand. Slowly, I worked out what was not working. Slower yet, we found our way back to each other. But it is different now. Everything is different. Because I am different. I think I am finally me. Not mom, not BFF, not teacher, not writer. Just Cindy. Who is she? What does she want? What does her sixty year old heart need to feel whole?

IMG_1465

I have been looking for answers and found some surprising thing about this person I call my “self.” For example, I am capable of great pretense. I suppose that goes along with the fiction writing. For as long as I remember, there have been things I glossed over, pretended to like when I didn’t, pretended were okay when they weren’t, pretended made me happy when they did not. Learning this brought on a state of shock. To understand that my happy life had been a kind of lie I told myself was almost more than I could handle.

I spent months unpeeling the layers of my discontent, taking apart the components of my fear. And what I found was that I could not outrun fear. I could not control panic with pills. I could not manufacture a convenient contentment. But I could, if I scraped together some courage, face those fears. I could learn new habits, replace old ways with new scaffolding. Repair. Rebuild. Regenerate.

What does that even look like? I have no idea. I’ve been moving forward by instinct. Signing up for workshops, planning solo cross-country trips, acquiring a new desk. That desk was a clue. Maybe writing still had a place in my life. Maybe Stevie Nicks had a point. Perhaps it’s the inner life, the creative life, the secrets softly spoken to the self, that stay with us for a lifetime.

Good Things

IMG_0902One of the perks about getting older for me has been the soundtrack in my head. There’s a lot of good music in there. Like a Paul Revere and the Raiders song from 1967 floating through my head for the last week or so. I have so much good in my life right now. A fews days ago all the lights dimmed, but if you cultivate gratitude, joy follows.

Every day, even on bad days, I find so much to be grateful for–mostly the people in my life, the ones I love. I have a really nice house and many material things, but I’m just grateful for a roof. I’ve had nice houses before. Possessions do not bring me joy. Well, yoga pants and fuzzy socks, but it’s the comfort factor. When my body feels happy, I feel happy in my head, too.

Among other nuggets from the Bard, I shared Shakespeare’s famous soliloquy “The Seven Ages of Man” with my students. It’s a set piece in my favorite play As You Like It that starts out “All the world’s a stage/And all the men and women merely players/They have their exits and their entrances…” When I started reading, I said “Everyone’s heard this, right?” I’m thinking it right now. You know this one, right? Or no? Most students had never heard of it.

I remember the first time I read certain stories and poems, and many other special “firsts” — that magic of learning a new thing. Like the power of gratitude. I started practicing daily gratitude 15 or so years ago. Some days it is really hard to drum up one little bitty piece of it. “Grateful to be here now, with the time and mental focus to know it” is a fallback for anyone who just can’t think of one good thing that happened to them that day, or one good consistent thing in their lives. I have other ones I say every day: “I’m grateful for my family.” And “I’m grateful for my true love.”

Good things bring the joy, and one of those good things is coming up: the weekend! As Paul says, “It’s a groovy world.” So, dance if at all possible. Maybe to this:

 

Golden Years

sunset-TimI had a professor who one day talked about the theme of aging. She was lecturing to a bunch of kids and one twenty-something (me) about this topic. She started out by saying that youth is wonderful, life is vibrant for the young, without responsibilities and duties and desires left unfulfilled. We were with her. Oh, yeah. We got it.

Then she said “but there’s an upside to growing older, too.” and all the nodding heads stopped so fingers could scratch scalps. We lost her there. Could not think of an upside to aging. She asked. Nobody raised their hand. Not even Miss Smarty Pants. (Who was not ME btw.) Then she did the teacher thing where she calls on individuals but each of her stars shook their heads. Sorry. No clue how there could possibly be an upside to old.

She was pretty old. We felt bad for her about that, even though she wasn’t the nicest teacher at the college. So we sat there with our blank sad-for-her faces and she screamed “WISDOM. With age comes wisdom, yes?” Oh that, okay. Well, we were not going to tell her we already knew all about life, probably more than she did, as we were in the thick of it, but obviously she drew great solace from this wisdom riff.

Flash forward to me, old but still not wise. There’s so much I don’t know and I want to know it all. Because everything is so interesting. Well, okay, not money or politics, but everything else. For example, why are the sunset years called golden? I know from our Michigan shores that when the sun melts over Lake Superior there is a golden effect low in those layers of color.

This is what I’d say about getting older. It’s beautiful like a sunset. Not because of wisdom so much (although when you’ve been through the same shit several dozen times it does become easier to cope) but because it just keeps getting better and better. I’m continually amazed at this fact, but it’s true. You’ll see. Unless wrinkles really freak you out, then maybe not.

I’m 59, but my personal sun is not setting yet, not even close. I feel like I have so much left to do and see and figure out. More students! And poetry! A grandson! Laura Zera! (Laura is a social media friend who I am meeting for lunch in RL while in Seattle seeing baby:) Why not add meeting social media friends in real life to the list? So much fun. And Skype! More books to write. And read. Some of them to Baby J. Music. Love in every form. Many many more sunsets await me.

Also I really like figuring things out. Why am I here? What more will I learn about myself, dharma, and about the world? What will happen tomorrow? Will there be a tomorrow? And if there isn’t … what comes next? Anything? I’m hoping next means learning the secrets to the universe. Isn’t that the real question everyone wants the answer to? Where does infinity end and if it doesn’t how can that be?

I don’t know the answers but I do know that the questions bring a glowing light to golden.

Smile & Go Slow

I wanted the smile lines at the corners of my eyes to show in this photo. I like my smile lines. It means I’ve been happy a lot in this life. Wrinkles don’t bother me. I feel lucky to have come this far. It’s interesting to be older. I’m not saying it’s all roses. But I’ve developed a theory over the last six months, which, apart from the births of my babies, have been the happiest of my life. Every decade gets better.

I’m working on the inside these days. My head used to be a mess. Meditation took care of that. Now the body has rebelled after years of mindless abuse. So I’ve added walking to the yoga and am taking it slow. The first day I used the treadmill in my new house, I had to hang something over the too-bright winter white outside my window. (We still have not gotten around to fixing up the basement.)

I hung a pretty saffron colored scarf my yoga teacher brought back from India. It lets in light and shows the black patterns. Perfect. But before it was hung for real, I tried thumbtacks (no way) and hammer and nails (wrong chair) overreached and fell from the tall chair into the low one. Was fine. I walked the treadmill, listening to music. Closed my eyes when I felt like it.

The next day my middle had some bruising. It didn’t hurt and I’m not going to be wearing a bikini again in this life, so I shrugged it off and moved on. But those bruises are trying to get my attention. They say I need to connect with my movements, grow more aware of my surroundings and actions. Can’t just spin a dozen plates anymore and hope one doesn’t crash.

Slow down. Savor. For an Aries, this is a huge order. We’re an impatient bunch. But it’s important enough that Mars (my planet) itself is slowing down for a bit. And that kind of forces me to slow down, as well. Which is a good thing.