Tag Archives: retirement

Why am I here?

In her latter years, my mother used to ask that a lot.  I never knew what  to say, so I usually said something trite like “We still need you here.”  At which she would click her tongue against her teeth the way she did when I disagreed with her politics.

What was she asking, I wondered.  Did she still dream of unrealized ambitions in her nineties?   I always found the question unsettling and frankly, a little annoying.

But now that there are many more birthdays behind than before me, I think I get it.  I think she was reflecting over her long life and trying to make sense of it.  And I find myself doing the same.    What has my life meant?  At the finish line, will I be able to say I have   “fought the good fight” ?    Did I miss my “calling,” my high purpose?  The olympic swimmer,  the nuns of Calcutta, the Nobel Laureate, the musical prodigy;  they had a calling, didn’t they?  A custom made life-suit,  into which they fit perfectly.   Their one true path.  Is there one for me?

In my early life, I was sure of it.    My life would be exciting, full of high purpose, awe-inspiring.   Unlike my mother’s.  Especially, not like my mother’s.

Mind you, my mother  was not a slacker. She was a strong and intelligent woman; a school teacher, an avid reader, a seamstress and amazing gardener.   She make great chicken and dumplings and rhubarb pie. She survived two husbands and lived independently for 92+ of her 93 years.

But.  She never wrote a book, climbed a mountain, ran a corporation (or a marathon)  or held public office.  For most of her life she lived in the same community.  To my impatient, arrogant 18-year-old eyes, her life looked mundane,  aimless, pointless even.  Not mine, I vowed.  I would  set goals for myself and go about achieving them.  Simple as that.

But it didn’t quite work out that way.  My path took unexpected twists and  turns.   It  didn’t  lead steadily  to a noble destination, but instead  wound  through brambles, tangled ravines and rocky boulders.  I ran, I  stumbled,  I climbed, I  tripped,  I fell and I recovered,  with varying degrees of grace.

Admittedly, on its surface,  my life looks radically different from that of my mother.  I left home at an early age, attended  universities in distant states,  managed a demanding career,  travelled the world; accumulated a modicum of recognition for my work.  But at its core,  like my mother’s, my life was made of the usual stuff;  education, career, marriage, children, retirement.   And my path, like hers, was not the work of destiny, but the result of choices.

And  my path has  led me…. here. Not to a mountaintop and not to a swamp.  As it did my mother.

It’s tempting to  fall for the “one true thing”  pitch.  The idea that  we are  entitled to  the one true love, the one perfect career, the one true happily-ever-after is very appealing.   And perhaps it is true for some.   But my life didn’t  come with a blueprint; I made choices, sometimes wisely, sometimes foolishly, that in the aggregate defined my path.  I wasn’t always sure of my choices,  and  they didn’t always lead to the mountaintop.

If I could answer my mother  now, I would reassure her that she didn’t miss her calling.  Like me, she simply made choices that led her to her destination.   And  at the end of the day, it was not our accomplishments, as my teenage self thought,  but the accumulation of our everyday thoughts and actions that defined us. Both of us.

 

 

When life doesn’t get better

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–For some reason, I thought life always got better.

Alice Hoffman  in “Survival Lessons”

 

 

I did, too, Alice.    Until it didn’t.

This kind of thinking is irrational; I do know that.  The headlines scream pain and misery at me  daily.  Friends succumb to  terrifying disease, floods threaten, jobs are lost. But somehow..it’s not about me.  Not this time.  Until it is.

My thoughts crash in on me.  Is this the “new normal?” Will things  ever get better?  Or will they get worse?  Much worse?  The truth is,  no one knows.

But this I do know.  Increasingly my quality of life does not depend on what seemed so important  when I was in the midst of family and career responsibilities;  my street address, my bank account, who and what I knew,   my outward appearance.   Now what matters is my inner wealth: my friends, family,  my faith.  I am blessed that  I have learned to value solitude,  that  I have friends I can tell the truth, who will give me a hug and not judge or try to fix me.   I have learned to value simple things;   long walks in nature, afternoon naps  with a  small warm-tummy dog,  spring blossoms, the aroma of bread baking.

I have choices.  My pain, my trial, whatever it is – is not ALL of my life and never will be.  No matter where life lands me I can always choose where  to go in my mind.

And who knows.  It  could get better!

Hoffman, Alice (2013). Survival Lessons, Algonquin Books, Kindle Edition.

 

From the Fast Track to Appalachia, by Lissa Brown



Lissa plays banjo_edited-2After forty years of satisfying careers in teaching, marketing and public relations, I decided to follow my body parts and head south into retirement. I’d always imagined living in a log cabin in the mountains, so I unleashed my inner Heidi and drove to southern Appalachia where I’ve lived for ten years. It’s been an adventure, one that I had to document in my first book, Real Country: From the Fast Track to Appalachia. A fellow writer who is a native of the North Carolina mountains warned me not to put my picture or real name on the book because, “Them boys will burn you out.” I’ve since learned she’s prone to hyperbole, but I used a pen name.
I was born and raised in New Jersey and lived in the Washington, D.C. area for twenty years before this latest, and what I hope will be the last, move. My spouse and I live in a log cabin in a mountain holler surrounded by the best that nature has to offer. Most of our immediate neighbors are also transplants. The local residents down the dirt road are pleasant but rather reserved. We wave and occasionally chat about weather, but it’s clear we’re regarded as ‘foreigners.’ There’s a clear delineation between the ‘been heres’ and the ‘come heres’ in this part of Appalachia, but we share a love of the mountains.
Our urban backgrounds weren’t much help when we arrived. Despite three years of bluegrass banjo lessons that I’d hoped would help me adjust to this part of the South, I still faced challenges with the language, food and customs. But now, I’ve become so accustomed to this bucolic rural life that I dread going back to the metropolitan areas where I used to live. Being retired certainly accounts for some of my new relaxed state, but the slower pace of life in the region plays a major role. I’ve pretty much gotten over ignoring strangers and charging into stores intent on getting out without having to speak to anyone. Once in a while I still grow impatient when someone takes twenty minutes to get to the point of what they want to say, but I’ve learned to wait politely and smile. Depending on what they finally say, I might even reply with a heartfelt ‘Bless your heart.’
At age seven I penned a newsletter that antagonized half the neighbors in my New Jersey neighborhood, and writing has been part of my life ever since. I’ve been a columnist, speechwriter, ghostwriter and anything else that allowed me to earn a living. I still write because I need to, but now it’s for my own satisfaction and enjoyment. That’s so much more fun. Since moving to the Southern mountains I’ve found my muse. I’ve written three novels and several essays that appear in a variety of anthologies. I’m honored to have received awards for my books and am certain that I could not have written them in any other place. I use my real name now. http://www.lissabrownwrites.com

And Sew It Goes

Vintage sewing machine

I love sewing. My mother sewed, and my grandmothers and their mothers before them. For my mother, it was cost effective, and my grandmothers had no other alternative. But there was something else about sewing; a sisterhood, a measure of womanhood. In my family, women who did not sew their own clothing, well, just didn’t quite measure up.

And their standards of a “good wife and home-maker” have stayed with me, below the level of consciousness, motivating me to sew, conjuring memories of trips to the fabric stores, of sitting with Mother at big wooden tables leafing through pattern books, matching fabric to patterns. I can see our dining room table draped with fabric, pattern pieces weighted with jelly jars, pincushions and thimbles strewn about, 50s dress Patterncolored threads in sewing boxes, buttons in mason jars, scraps and pattern pieces littering the floor. I hear the crunch of scissors slicing through fabric, the whirr of the sewing machine motor, I inhale the musty-starch smell of new fabric. All is well. It’s magic. Something wonderful is being created.

Well, sometimes. Unfortunately, more times than not, even my mother’s finished product fell short of the vision in my head. First of all, my body bore little resemblance to the whimsical drawings of hourglass-shaped models. Secondly, neither of us was very good at matching fabric to garment, so the finished product never looked quite the way we had imagined.

My mother and grandmothers were all excellent seamstresses. I was not so blessed. I don’t have their patience nor did I inherit their sense of spatial relationship. Patterns always seemed to be written in some secret code. So it’s not surprising that my finished products left something to be desired. Hems were uneven, seamlines bulged, things were a little too loose here, too tight there. But so much had been invested! The fabric, the notions, the time! The pretense had to be maintained, at least for awhile. It wasn’t that bad! And besides, hadn’t Mother said, if you looked hard enough at a store-bought dress, you’d find mistakes? And the fabric in store-bought clothes is so flimsy things never last more than a season. That’s why we sew our own clothing….it’s just the right thing to do.

Sewing RoomAnd so the charade continued through the years; untidy stacks of fabric hoarding closet space, sewing machines capable of every imaginable stitch and flourish, lavishly equipped sewing rooms, sewing classes. But still, garment after garment joined the procession from the front through the back of the closet, on its way to the charity bin. Each time I was sure this garment would be beautiful. I would build a wardrobe around it. I would be the envy of all my friends, whipping out these little fashion statements in my spare time. After all, I’m getting better at this, right?

Wrong.

Last week I began a pair of pants that I have planned for years. I bought the fabric during the Clinton administration. It was all the rage. And I had been waiting for just the right moment to whip them up. They would be stunning, long and flowing. Just the thing to set off a summer wardrobe. The pattern was dirt simple. What could possibly go wrong? I’d have it done in an afternoon.

But. It had pockets. Two of them. The first of which I put in backward. Twice. And then I sewed it in properly…on the outside of the pants leg. Once corrected, I put in the other pocket. Inside out. So now the top-stitching was on the wrong side. You get the drift. Each time I ripped out the seams, the edges frayed so that when they were re-sewn, everything got smaller. But after ripping out and re-sewing over three afternoons through countless Modern Family reruns, Viola! One slightly- smaller-than-expected-leg completed. Delighted, I held it up to the mirror. It was, well…awful. I tried to convince myself that it would look much better when the pants were finished and hemmed. Or perhaps I should just rip it out, put the pieces back together and make a skirt.

“What’s that?” my husband asked absently as I walked by carrying my failed pant-leg.

“Just something I’ve been sewing” I mumbled.

“But,” curious now, “what IS it?

“A pants leg?” I said defensively.

He looked confused. “You spent an entire WEEK on one pants leg? Aren’t there two?”

” Well, yes,” I said, “I ran into a little trouble. But now that I’ve got it down..”.my voice trailed off.

Amazingly, he didn’t laugh. “Did you enjoy doing it?” he asked, gently.

I said nothing.

“Hey! Give yourself a break! Go to Chico’s and buy some pants.,” he said, going back to his magazine.

Although the need for pants was never the point, I think I’ll take his advice. It’s been a painful lesson, too long in coming. I am just not good at this. It will be humbling to find a home for all that fabric, the patterns, and expensive dress form. But it’s such a relief to honor my limitations and give myself permission to do what I like rather than what I think someone else expects of me. For years I have tried to sew clothing to meet my concept of my mothers’ standards for a good wife and homemaker. Although I knew on a conscious level that the days are long gone when it was more expensive to buy than to sew clothes, the irrationality of my obsession to master the art of garment sewing completely escaped me. Early lessons are not easily unlearned, if ever. I bet my mothers would have jumped at the chance to shop at Chico’s. And I’m amazed that it took a week of rainy afternoons in retirement for me to realize that it was my unrealistic expectations, not those of my mothers, that have been hounding me all these years.

But I won’t give up the comforting connection with my mothers that sewing provides. I need something that doesn’t require a pattern or have to fit anything. And something I actually enjoy! Maybe I’ll try quilting. I can even use some of that fabric stash. I think my Mothers will be relieved. They must have been cringing all these years.

 

Photography from Flickr Creative Commons:  Sewing room; Kristen Roach;  Simplicity Dress: Carbonated; Sewing : plaisanter

On Retirement….

Woman on beach1

 

ON RETIREMENT

Gone now
Meeting at 8
Deadline at noon
No time, no time
Faster, rush faster
They need what I do
They want what I do
They like what I do
I do what I do – well
I am well

But they are
Gone now
No meeting or
deadline at all
No need to rush
Time to think
(But I don’t want to)
They don’t want what I do
They don’t care what I do
I don’t do this well
I am not well

When there was no time
there was no muse
I did not want one
(Monsters there)
Concentrate, focus
That’s what it takes
And I’m good at it
Ennui, denial, and death
in my Muse
Call me. “Listen”
(But I’m not good at it)
I run, try to hide,
(And I’m good at it)
But my Muse is relentless
And she will be heard now
But I do not think
I will be good at it.