Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Bag Lady has an off week

Yesterday I woke up depressed and bored. Actually, I've been waking up that way for the last week or so, but only yesterday was I able to nail down the descriptive adjectives. I knew my mood was low, but adding "bored" was clarifying.

I've been in a frenzy of activity since our return from sunny Tucson to the cloudy Pacific Northwest - mostly trying to declutter and organize. I always run into some resistance from my husband Art when I try this, so it's been somewhat of a struggle. My sister finally suggested I lay off for a week or two, to allow Art to rest up from the onslaught of my suggestions. So I have. I recognize that sometimes I engage in "whirling" behavior when I'm trying to avoid thoughts percolating in my mind. 

When I quit my job three years ago, I had goals I worked toward and accomplished:
  • We've taken 27 trips since June 2010
  • I took a course in teaching English as a second language and decided I didn't want to teach; that was a relief, actually
  • I participated in builds for Habitat for Humanity and realized I don't have the stamina to work alongside laid-off 30-something construction workers; I'd rather take a nap after lunch than go back to work, and I'm afraid of standing on scaffolding or roofs
  • We wrote and self-published a book
  • I spent 140 hours to become a certified mediator practitioner
  • We lived on our retirement income and I am pretty sure I won't become a Bag Lady
  • We became snowbirds during the darkest of the Pacific Northwest months
  • I developed the habit of exercise besides walking - water aerobics and line dancing
As I pondered my depressed and bored mood this week, I realized I'm in transition. Not a comfortable place for me. Doing all the same things I did three years ago doesn't suit me now. But I'm not sure what I might be doing instead. I know this three-years-into-retirement thing isn't uncommon. That's a comfort, somehow. Here are some thoughts that may be part of moving through my transition.
  • I like diversity of ages around me.  I'm not real keen on spending a lot of time just with people my age or older, unless they're active and inquisitive types.  In my community I like the energy of little kids shrieking on swings, and young parents pushing strollers as they jog, and tattooed young people with that attitude of "I'll never get old" - the same one I had at their age. I have taken a few classes through Lifelong Learning organizations, but I think I may look for one at a community college that's not just for seniors. And I suspect I may need to switch my water aerobics schedule so that once a week I'm in an evening class where I'll be exercising with all ages of women.
  • The dressing room of a community pool is an eye opener. I've been excessively modest all my life; in college the three classes required for P.E. that I took were archery, golf, and bowling, because they were the only offerings where you didn't have to dress out. So many different kinds of bodies in the dressing room at the pool!  I'm glad to finally be participating in the diversity.  Everyone there is exercising, and that's a good thing. There is a nearby Korean spa I have heard is a fabulous experience, but it requires nudity. I have never even considered it. I might now.
  • Yesterday I went to the mall and bought new lipstick and eye shadow. Nothing dramatic, but not the same thing I've worn for the last 20 years. The young woman found me new shades that look natural. That probably could have happened years ago, but I was proud of "I always get the same thing" when I handed the clerk the old stuff and asked for a replacement just like it. I don't wear makeup a lot these days, but I'm becoming willing to choose something other than the same old, same old.
  • While at the mall I bought a pair of flip flops at REI - my first pair in 30 years - and some clothes at Chico's. These were all to prepare for next month's trip to Kenya. I let the woman at Chico's choose colors for me that I never wear ("I only do black and red and blue") - but look pretty good (cream and tan cropped pants and a muted olive green t-shirt). Something different, you know. And the new clothes will be fine for next winter in Tucson.
  • I like sharing my thoughts and ideas with my husband Art in a friendly way. When I told him yesterday that I was depressed and bored, he put down the paper and listened to me. He was especially thoughtful all day. I should spend way less time talking to him about things I think we (he) should be doing! I printed out a map of Kenya, marked it up so he could see where we'll be each night of our trip, and read from the Lonely Planet  Kenya book about each park. Now I feel like we're taking this trip together. That's a good feeling.
  • There is nothing I can do about gray weather this time of year. But I can make my to-do list flexible enough that, when the sun comes out for a few minutes or an hour, I can stop what I'm doing indoors and sit in an Adirondack chair - on the deck or in the garden - facing the sun. Even if it's 8 in the morning and I still have my pajamas on. There are birds out there, singing, paying no attention to the weather.
So I'm in transition. I wish I knew where I was going. But if I say "yes" to what comes along, I'm more likely to find my new path than if I doggedly pursue the same one.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

If not now, when?

When I was a young woman my parents seemed unchangeable in their 50s and beyond.  Except for their changing physical appearance and capacity, they were who they were, at least to my mind. They played bridge, attended cocktail parties, watched the evening news, kept a tidy house, travelled. I didn't observe any new hobbies or interests or ways of thinking. My perception was that people stayed the same once they got older - that you only got to grow and change until you were a certain age.

I'll be 65 this year. Since my husband and I quit working three years ago, we've taken 27 trips ranging in duration from 3 days to 75. We wrote and published a book Return to Viet Nam: One Veteran's Journey of Healing.  I took 140 hours of training and became a certified mediator practitioner. I've been called "adventuresome" by a nephew, and my kids are impressed that I can snorkel. A few of them have met us for a few days at a travel destination. Another few of them are surprised by how active we are. Do they have the same ideas about "my parents the older people" as I did?  Maybe. I don't think being able to snorkel at 65 is that big a deal. You just put on your mask, put your face in the water, and you're there.

When I go to my water aerobics class three mornings a week at the community center, most of my classmates are women my age or older. They chat about kids and grandkids and recipes. I feel like a total outsider in those conversations.  I think that might be why I so enjoyed our two months as snowbirds at an RV resort in Tucson. I was around people more like me.

Here's the deal. I'll be 65 whether I stay at home or whether I travel. Whether I watch TV all day or whether I write a book. Whether I putter in the house or take water aerobics.  I know 65 is a just a number, but it's also a chronological age. I hurt my back a couple of years ago and am still affected by that injury. I'm healthy now but have no guarantees that it will continue. So I have choices as to how I'm going to live.

I was at an exercise class in Tucson earlier this year. About 60 55-plus folks were setting up their mats on the floor of a multipurpose room. A woman spoke to a newcomer, a man, who was on the sidelines. He said, "I don't know whether I can do this." The woman said, "We're older. We all hurt somewhere. Come on over and try this exercise." And the man did.

My sister Alyx will be 58 this year. She has had a colorful life. In two weeks she will be pinned as a nurse in Anchorage after two years of rigorous, exhausting training. Here's her blog entry about that event. My husband and I will be there, as my mother would say, "with bells on".

If not now, when? "Come on over and try."

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Bag Lady is cranky

That's what my sister told me yesterday, and it took me by surprise. Really.

It's been a month since we got home from Arizona. Here in Washington State the weather is cooler than normal for this time of year, and we've had a rainy time of it. We haven't planted our garden yet, though the soil is ready. I've not been interested in toiling out there under a cloud cover.

I've been doing some downsizing, some cleaning out, since we got home. In my closet, in the kitchen. My husband Art is the shopper and the cook, and he is also a keeper of things, so it's been a little touchy at times - even though redoing the spice rack got rid of nine empty bottles and relocated duplicates to the pantry. Did you know that spray Pam has a shelf life of 100 years?

A few days ago I got Art's consent to go through the pantry and remove the cans whose use-by date passed more than six months ago. There were about 100 cans, I think, from days when we were eating more canned food. These days we eat mostly fresh. It was hard even for me to put ten cans of expired baked beans in the sack for disposal.

We've also cleaned out cupboards and drawers in the kitchen. We have a couple of boxes of pots and pans and utensils and bowls ready for the Goodwill.

I like to do this stuff in the springtime, for some reason. Until Art and I moved in together 20 years ago that always happened. Not so much since then. And maybe because my schedule is a little light, I seized on the thinning almost as a mission.

I should also admit that about a month ago I upgraded the operating system on Art's computer and forgot to ask him first. I conscientiously upgraded his financial software but not Microsoft Office. I really didn't know he used Word. But then when he need to update a flyer for a picnic, he couldn't open the old version. I taught him how to email it to me and then I opened it. Still, I was a little embarrassed by the inconvenience to him. I usually remember these things.

One of the outcomes of my activities is that Art got silent. I hate it when that happens. I'm not usually sure what the problem is, and he usually doesn't tell me. I feel like a bad girl, like when I was a kid and my mother got silent.

Eventually I apologized for the operating system upgrade without consultation, and that helped.

In the meantime, though, nearly everyone around me got annoying. Conversations with others bugged me. I did a LOT of venting with my sister.

Finally she said, "Uh, you are cranky."

Thinking about it, I'm coming to realize I don't have enough to do right now that's meaningful and interesting and challenging. So I'm keeping my eyes open for new opportunities.

Today we made the final payment on our upcoming trip to Kenya. Time to start thinking about what to take. That will keep me busy part of the time.

But it occurs to me that maybe it's time to look for a part-time job. Maybe even one that pays. I'm hardly ever cranky when I'm busy.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


I'm a talker, but I'm really an introvert.

I recently read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. That's when I reaffirmed my true nature.

When I was a kid, I loved to read. When my mother would host a party, she'd want me to mingle, and I would want to go into another room and read. I remember once when I was in high school and committed some now-forgotten transgression, my punishment was that I couldn't read for pleasure for a week. I still remember that, over 50 years later.

I like one-on-one or one-on-several conversations with people on topics I'm interested in. And talk to my neighbor who has become my friend. And talk to the proprietor of the Greek-Italian restaurant in our small town, or the local barista, or any of my kids, or my husband.

If I've made arrangements to have coffee or lunch with a friend and they happen to bring along someone else, I am annoyed. Or if they say, when we're confirming the time and place, "Is it okay with you if I bring along a friend?" I'll say sure, but I'll mean no. I may even take a raincheck if I can figure out how to do it on the fly. "The more, the merrier?" Absolutely not, in my book. That makes me an introvert.

I don't like going to parties, even if I know everyone. Especially if I don't know everyone. If I can get out of going to a party, I will. I'd rather stay home and read, or write, or have a nice chat with one person of my choice.

If I'm asked to speak at a gathering - whether five people or five hundred - I'm good with that. According to the book, introverts can behave in an extroverted fashion when they're engaged in an enterprise for which they feel passion.  I interpret that to mean that I'm willing to put myself out there in order to get the word out. And I do.

Last summer I organized a weekend gathering of six bloggers. I had met only two of them in person. But I felt like I knew every one of them before the weekend, from reading their blogs. I also knew we'd each have our own bedroom and plenty of space for solitude. The weekend worked out very well, I think. But if I hadn't been the organizer, or if there'd been a couple of people invited whose blog I didn't read, I might have said no thanks.

Yesterday I was in a water aerobics class. All around me women were chatting with each other. Well, gossiping. I wanted to put in a pair of ear plugs. I hate chatting and gossip. I like meatier conversations. I am seriously considering looking for another water aerobics class so I don't have to listen. But I suspect they'll all be like that.

I'm not shy or antisocial. But it's nice to reconfirm my status as one of the introverts of the world.