Sunday, October 6, 2013

Reading the old journals

I've started working on a new book, about our travels; it will include material from journals and blogs I wrote between 1994 and 2013. To that end, last Wednesday I pulled out the old handwritten and typed pages to refresh my recollection - and I came upon my life in the 90s, when we lived with teenagers. I read for hours on Wednesday, remembering.

Amidst the daily reflections, I glimpsed a view of my self at 50. I still recognize me in the pages, but I can see how I've grown and changed since then.

I was exhausted just reading about my life. We had two resident teenagers and two more who visited their dad three times a week - plus another four offspring who turned up from time to time. They were normal adolescents for the most part - moody, messy, partying procrastinators wanting freedom but eschewing responsibility, getting in their share of trouble that parents worry and grieve over. I spent many journal pages wishing they were different and looking forward to the time they would be grown up and gone. During that same period I was working full time and taking two classes. My life was crowded and chaotic. I yearned for quiet and time for myself.

Now those teenagers are grown. The two who lived with us are today a nuclear engineer and a marble and granite fabricator, with the financial resources to make it on their own, paired with the restricted freedom that comes with adulthood and responsibility. I'm pretty sure they would have turned out about the same if I had been more relaxed about the whole adolescent thing. But I hadn't learned that yet.

Now I have. Our house is quieter these days. We're still busy, but with different activities. I can usually detach from the issues of family members unless my assistance is requested.  My children and my husband are managing their own lives without my participation, leaving me free to embrace my own life.

In some ways, though, I'm the same as I was 15 years ago. I still don't like the dark days of winter, still worry obsessively about my body even though I'm very healthy, still bemoan the excess weight I carry. But I am now a regular exerciser instead of making excuses for not doing it. I've learned to leave my husband alone when he's in a mood rather than trying to track it down and discuss it with him. I rarely try to get him to get rid of all the useless stuff in the garage and the shed. And most days I don't worry about a future as a bag lady.

Since the kids left home, and especially since I stopped working three years ago, I've taken time to identify and prioritize my values, which I've discussed in previous blog posts:
  • spirituality
  • health
  • community
  • curiosity 
  • purpose
When I had kids at home, I might have had the same values, but they were buried by the day-to-day jobs of parenting and work that came first.

I'm looking at my values now and am grateful for the progress I'm making in aligning my life with what I think is important. I started going to church in June and am now involved in that community - I participate in small group discussions and a drum circle and have gone to Sunday services, vespers, and, recently, a celebration of the autumnal equinox.

The local senior center opens its doors to the homeless on nights where the temperature is expected to drop below 33 degrees, and teams from my church feed and shelter the people on Monday nights. I can only do this until we leave for Arizona in late December, but I signed up for the Mondays I'll be in town. On the cold nights I'll be at the senior center from 6 in the evening until 8 the next morning. This activity actually hits all five of my top values, but I've never done it before, so I have a decent mix of apprehension and anticipation.

Now that I've finished reading the journals, I'm looking forward to my work on the new book. As I gather and develop the material, I expect many reminders of the gifts of my life. That's partly why I'm writing it. To remember.


Olga said...

It sounds as though you are learning and growing. I do think the best part of age is the time to use on the activities that are most important to us.

Out on the prairie said...

Its fun to review ones thoughts and enjoy your progression. I think you may have some interesting tales working at the senior center. I always wonder why someone would give up and become homeless.

DJan said...

I have sixteen journals from the late eighties through the nineties. I have picked them up and read parts of them, sometimes I would be amazed at who I was then, and other times embarrassed, but most of all, thankful I can actually go back and visit the person I once was. I'm looking forward to hearing what you will do with all this, and glad than I get a chance to visit you at the end of this month! :-)

Travels with Emma said...

You are certainly a much deeper thinker than I. Good for you.

Sally Wessely said...

I found this post quite fascinating. I wonder what we would have written about, and what our responses to each other's blogs would have been had we blogged when we were parenting teenagers. I wonder if we would have dared write publicly what was going on in our lives during those days. I think it is a good thing I didn't blog when I had kids at home!

Things have certainly changed for you in the past 15 years. I love how reflective you are. I learn so much from you. I can't wait to see what you come up with in your writing of a book.

Linda Reeder said...

I fear you are a much deeper thinker than I am too. Or at least deeper in the whole aspect of your values and what gives your life purpose. I don't spent much time thinking that way. I guess I just live life. And right now that is working well for me.
I have often started journaling, but have never carried it through. I do have albums full of photos that trigger memories. I marvel at how much I;ve changed and how much I've forgotten during those years.

wheels4me said...

That is an inspired list of priorities.


Lynilu said...

Reading old journals is enlightening. I do that from time to time and it is humbling and inspiring all at once. I'm often surprised at how I keep growing, even at this age!

Dee said...

Dear Linda, I applaud your decision to use your journals to write another book. The book you and your husband did on Vietnam was so well done and I'm sure it helped many people.

Writing is such a labor of love. For myself I find that not only does it help me remember, it also helps me discover what I think. And that's a great gift. Peace.

Sandi said...

I'm glad I stopped by your blog tonight. I see a few parallels in our lives. I've got a pile of old journals as well, some going back nearly 40 years. I think I was lucky in some ways, as I had two completely different families as an adult. But, even though I was able to relax a lot more with the girls as adolescents, I still didn't remember what I learned from the boys twenty years before!

I also write to remember, and to clarify my thinking. I think I write to discover. It's always a journey.

Good for you, stretching yourself and spending your Mondays with the homeless.

Looking forward to the upcoming Vashonista weekend!

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

You are always taking on new things, and ambitious ones at that. I think it keeps us alive to do new things that we approach with a decent mix of apprehension and anticipation.

Speaking of which, our non-profit organization was involved in a mediation recently, and I gained a bit more understanding of the process. I can see why you like providing this service.

Suzanne said...

I have journals beginning in 1990 when my daughter was born. I wrote a lot back then because it was a lonely, hectic, joyful time for me - mid-thirties, with a new born, adjusting to leaving a career, raising a child and making new friends. I was not inclined to say out loud much of what I was thinking, so my journal became a great place to share and learn and eventually grow.

I love reading the sometimes insightful, often silly rantings of that young woman and recognizing that so many of my fears were completely unfounded. Mostly, I just needed to relax and trust myself.

There are so many lessons to learn from our younger selves that can be passed on to others. I know your new book will be filled with wonderful stories and helpful advice. Best wishes.

Willow said...

I happened across your blog while at Ms Sparrows .
So glad I popped in. I very much enjoyed your post . I am a keeper of journals as well.

Deb Shucka said...

So excited for you as you embark on this new adventure. I hope we'll get to read the final product. I like that you've defined your retirement time as a time to become more fully yourself. I can hardly wait to hear the details of all these changes in less than two weeks!

MyMaracas said...

You are indeed an inspiration. Being newly retired, I feel as if I've just awakened from a very long dream. Still getting my bearings and trying to decide what's next. I do wish I had kept a journal during all those years.