A time to blog about gratitude

I’m taking a page from Paige (Paige Worthy, her real name) and hopping on the NaBloPoMo bandwagon, shooting for a blog post every day.  For the uninitiated, NaBloPoMo stands for National Blog Posting Month and is a take on NaNoWriMo, which is National Novel Writing Month.  I should be doing NaNoWriMo, but I am opting for NaBloPoMo for a variety of reasons I won’t go into here.

Furthermore, I will continue the copycat trend by blogging about thankfulness.  It’s the season of gratitude, and Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  This is the perfect recipe (I hope) for getting me into the habit of posting more often.

I sat here for ten minutes trying to cook up an idea on thankfulness.  My mind was blank.  I got up to make dinner while thinking about what I am most thankful for… family, friends, health.  But it seemed a gross understatement to blog about being grateful for those things.  I think we need an entirely new word for that.

Then I looked at those three words and saw instantly a common thread — time.  None of these things can be appreciated in the absence of time.  Can you give and receive love from your family without committing time to them?  No. Can you appreciate the support and company of friends without spending time with them?  No. Can you enjoy good health without putting the time in to maintain it?  Not if you’re a midlifer, at least.

The more I age, the more precious time becomes in my life.  I can remember slow-moving Sunday afternoons in my twenties when there seemed to be just enough time… and maybe a bit too much… to enjoy the day.  It has been so long since I haven’t felt the window of time closing on one activity to move on to the next.  The pace of my life is frequently abrupt, and I cannot picture it going any faster than it does now.  Even when I am waiting impatiently, I think about how my time could be spent doing something else, and I feel the lost opportunity as the minutes pass.  When time walks out the door, it’s over.  It never comes back.

So, I am launching this month with my thanks for time.  I wish I spent it more wisely.  Every day I recognize that I don’t manage it as well as I would like or always use it in ways that are productive.  But I am very grateful for all that it has given me.

Autumn, the season of midlife

Wish I could credit a source, but no photographer was listed.

Autumn is my favorite season, and I am in the autumn of my life. Frequently, I am seriously ignorant of this fact, though, especially when I wonder how a big party night can have such a lasting effect the next morning or when two days of Weight Watchers doesn’t result in me dropping a size.

But there is no denying that it’s autumn for me, and I’m starting to do those things that I never thought I’d do as a sit back and view the past through the golden tones that only memory can create.  A woman in the locker room at my health club juggles a diaper bag, tiny wet swimsuits and her own gear while keeping one hand on her almost-ready-to-stand child.  I say, “Oh, what a sweet little man!  Enjoy.  It goes by so quickly.”  I know that this is this little boy’s only October as a toddler.  Next year he’ll be running all over, and in a handful of Octobers, he won’t be able to come into the ladies locker room anymore.  She’s probably thinking, “That’s easy for you to say, lady, dressed up in yoga gear with no spit-up stains.  Looks like you had time for a haircut recently too.”  Fortunately, she smiles and thanks me for the compliment.  I get to leave the locker room thinking about how I have given the true gift of perspective to this frazzled mother.  She wonders how long she’ll have to wait until she can do one thing with two hands instead of seven with one.

And that is what autumn has always been for me… the chance to turn around and collect in my mental arms all the beautiful things the world has given since the first seedling reared its leaf-tops through the soil many months ago. All the failures, regrets and pure pain fall way, and I am left with lessons learned, rewards relished and the swell of duende that allows me to render my pain and happiness together as the definition of living.  Without both sides of that coin, we cannot say that we are truly alive.

Some people liken autumn to death.  The plants die back, the leaves fall from the trees, the grass goes dormant.  I think of it as the opportunity to savor all that has passed, and recast it in the perspective of someone who now has a little bit more experience.

The obstacles of age bother me.  It is inconvenient that my energy isn’t the same, and my body doesn’t respond to change so quickly.  The annoyances of the season frustrate me at times too. But, I am enjoying this autumn of life as much as the one that comes once a year.

Every generation blames the one after

Courtesy of Time Magazine from 1990

Do you remember being called a “slacker?” Maybe no one used this term to describe you personally, but if you are a GenXer, I’m sure someone said this in reference to one of your friends, roomies, co-workers or classmates.

I’ve noticed a number of reports popping up about the current generation of 20-somethings, and so many of the complaints are identical to the ones made about us 20 years ago.  Young adults are returning to their parents’ homes to live.  The 20-somethings, pampered and coddled as children, and unprepared for life.  This new generation doesn’t have the same work ethic as the previous — they want everything without having to earn it.

A recent post in the New York Times blog Motherlode from a 20-something sets us straight.  These comments cannot be applied to everyone in her generation.  And, I’ll take that a step further… these comments can be applied to any generation.

Twenty years ago, GenXers frequently were cast as a woeful lot.  Kids who should be adults doing things like living in mom’s basement apartment, taking a lower paying day job because it freed up time to play in a band at night and squandering a bachelor’s degree on a job at a gas station in order to escape Midwestern winters.  Two decades later, where are these people now?  Of the three referenced here, two are successful entrepreneurs and the other has advanced significantly in her chosen career.  I know many other stories of humble and questionable young adult beginnings.  From what I can see, how one chooses to spend their years before 30 has less to do with their success afterwards than we sometimes fear.

My guess is that similar comments were made about Baby Boomers in the late-60s and early-70s, kids who spent their time partying and protesting the war when they should have been working in responsible jobs with respectable haircuts.  A walk through The Haight in San Francisco echoes of young adults who eventually moved on and out, creating lives that measure up to the standards of adulthood that we use to judge the generation behind us.

Based on what I’ve seen as a middle-age GenXer, I’m not too concerned about this “entitled” generation.  I worry about plenty of other things in our future, but very little of it has to do with a minority of people who will probably make it okay in the end.

Gen X at Midlife without a Sports Car?

Check out this piece from Forbes.com .  The writer spends some time moaning about the state of the GenX midlife crisis, and I think it is interesting.  For many years, I grumbled about the unfortunate position GenXers were put into, especially being on the older end of the generation and leaving college into a nasty job market.  Moaning about our lot, especially in comparison to the Baby Boomers, is a generational imperative… a result of our apathy, our disaffected disposition.  The tone of this piece certainly begins woefully, and like many articles and essays of its ilk, wraps with the silver lining of how many things GenX does have going for it.

This reminds me of something I saw the other day on The Today Show.  Al Roker was interviewing a financial expert on the — gasp! — increasing trend of grown children not leaving their parents’ home.  Wow!  How did this come about?!  Al even said something to that effect, feigning (I hope) mild surprise on this odd state of young adulthood.  Well, I think Al was around in the early 90s when many of us were still living with mom and dad, post-graduation and then even a few years more.  In the news cycle, perhaps enough time has passed to make this new again, but I recall the same topic covered ad nauseam by media when I was not living in my parents’ home but paying a decent portion of my paycheck for a studio apartment the size of my patio in the pre-dot-com 90s.  (This says a lot more about the size of my apartment than it does the size of my patio.)

The article certainly calls out the role of circumstance in a generation’s misfortune or good luck.  I am not entirely sure that I agree that things are so dismal for GenX.  The writer says that GenX has hit its “collective wall,” and I am assuming that is measured only in terms of earning power.  True, GenXers have suffered through two horrible economies.  And, they are approaching what has been understood to be peak earning years during one of these downturns, but this is all based on assumptions of how things are “supposed” to work.   And hasn’t each generation had to suffer through their own challenges and bask in their own advantages based on the circumstances at the time?  We can’t continue to measure ourselves by the generation that has come before, precisely because things are different.

My parents are on the initial crest of the Baby Boomers, and they never had a sports car or any of the other trappings of the midlife crisis.  When they entered their forties, they had the pleasure of paying for college for three kids.  My neighbor who just turned forty has been rolling around town in a new BMW convertible.  It’s all situational, and perhaps it doesn’t have as much to do with what generation you are in as it does choices you have made (my parents starting a family in their early 20s), and whether or not you have benefitted from the economy past, present or future.

Did the stock market downtown hit your retirement savings or the income you live off of in retirement now?  Did you start your career expecting to stay with the same company forever and have a great retirement pension, or did you know going in that it was completely up to you to save?  Do you have a huge environmental mess on your hands?  (This, I think, is the worst legacy we’ve received, and it is multi-generational.)  These things are generational.  But many other factors can influence the outcome of one’s life too.  Perhaps the GenX midlife won’t be associated with sports cars, but it might be associated with something else… like launching a second career, entrepreneurialism or re-inventing one’s life.  Regardless of what it is, it also a reflection of personal circumstances as it is of birthdate.

Record Store Day — Something I Can Get Behind

How many of you feel sorry for the younger generations — and even the youngest of GenX — because they did not partake in the pleasure of purchasing their music on vinyl?  …I thought so.  I know there are still some very cool record stores around, but it’s not the pastime that it once was for pre-digital generations.  Record stores evoke a different experience now, I think, though I continue to enjoy a good browse through them.

In my current town, Laurie’s Planet of Sound exists today.  In my hometown, the Wooden Nickel comes to mind.  These places existed all over the country.  These places were the destination point where fans connected with their favorite artists, discovered new music, and flipped through the albums, posters, rock magazines and other assorted record store goods for sometimes hours.  The dudes behind the counter (almost always dudes) were either totally into almost any artist you came in to find, or they completely minded their own business and kept their nose out of yours.  Either way, I didn’t mind.

Recently I found a website for Record Store Day.  I had heard about this last year, but after the fact because I am completely middle age and don’t hear about cool stuff like this before it happens anymore.  (Renewing our subscription to Rolling Stone has helped only slightly.  I retain more from the political/social/cultural features than anything else.)  I stumbled across it again this year, and although I do not anticipate recognizing any of the artists slated for the new releases, I do know their ambassador (Iggy Pop), so I feel relatively welcome to engage.

The thing is, I spent hours upon hours in my town’s local record stores.  I was a record store snob.  I rarely visited the chain stores in the mall, and when I did, I often made comments about their poor (or non-existent) selection of Gang of Four or early-career Depeche Mode.  (I often hear my teen self laughing at my midlife self when I download music from iTunes now.)

Kids these days — there, I said it — have no idea how indulgent it is to commune among the album bins with a BFF or boyfriend on a Saturday afternoon under the somewhat watchful eye of a record store employee.  Recently, a friend of mine talked about a record store her mom owned, recalling the massive cardboard ham and eggs that dangled from the ceiling during the release of Supertramp’s Breakfast In America.  I totally remembered those promos!  I can see them hanging in my favorite record store.  I could probably even give you the dimensions if I thought hard enough.  When I think about it, the hilarity brings forth a chuckle — giant ham and eggs to sell an album?  It was all so innocent.

There is a lot to be said about the experience of listening to music on vinyl (another post, another time), but my memories of record stores also bring back that bittersweet feeling of desperation when a new album was on the verge of selling out.  Yes, albums could sell out.  The store could be out of stock with no hope of replenishment for a month.  Four weeks was way too long to wait for a beloved new release!  I remember hiding the last copy of John Lennon’s Double Fantasy at my local record store, hoping that the next potential purchasor would walk away without a thorough search in the artists nearby, but the record store dude must have watched me place it among the Ms.  Not ten feet from me as I pretended to peruse the A and B artists, he pulled it out and handed it to the man.  (Fortunately, my parents had already secured a copy for Christmas morning.)

I still have that album, along with hundreds of others comprised of my husband’s hefty collection, many of his dad’s old jazz records and a handful of albums I’ve bought at garage sales and antique stores.  Last year, a friend of ours put me to the test.  When I asked what he wanted to hear, he said, “Do you have any Adam & The Ants?”  Maybe he really wanted to hear them.  Maybe he thought I couldn’t deliver.  But I did — both in digital form and on vinyl.  I can picture that album, Prince Charming, sitting among the very few Ants albums our record store had… “Adam” with his war paint and pirate-inspired ensemble.  I can remember my thumb nail cutting into the shrink wrap that encased the cover when I got it home.

I don’t remember the specific occasion of every album I purchased, but I do recall more than I probably should.  How about you?

Things This GenXer Learned To Appreciate In Midlife

There are some things our younger selves just don’t “get.”  I am not talking about the typical “responsible adult” stuff that we all (or most of us) have to accept as age creeps upon our shore, like mortgage payments and 401Ks.  Rather, I am talking about things that require a certain perspective that is gained over time to truly appreciate.

Recently, I read a post by another blogger on the topic of things she doesn’t get.  And that got me thinking about things that I appreciate now that I missed when I was younger.

Risk. Perhaps some people take more risks when they are young and become more conservative as they age.  For me, I think the opposite is true.  As a young person, I only took risks when I had no idea what I was doing was risky.  I may have had big and different ideas, but I frequently wavered when I needed to stand up for the choices I wanted to make, and I ended up doing a lot of things simply because it was the safer option.  Did I go for that philosophy or English major instead of selecting a field of study that provided more defined career options?  No, I graduated with degree that would help me get a job.  Did I take that job teaching English in Japan when the appeal of “broadening my horizons” was so strong?  No, I chickened out when they told me I would be living in a closet without a phone.  Did a follow up with a major rock music promoter after he was impressed with an event I put on for a charity and asked me to call his office to schedule a time to talk about working for his company?  No, I figured he was just being nice.

Granted, it’s easy to assume the outcome of rejected paths would be much better than it might have turned out in reality.  But I am glad that I have loosened up a bit in my midlife and have begun to act on my instincts more and conventional wisdom less.  I hope I have the guts to keep going.

Bob Seger.  Where I grew up in Northeast Indiana, Bob Seger was an artist who earned single-name status, and at group functions of all kinds, people shook it to his back-to-the-basics anthem, “Old Time Rock-n-Roll.”  I knew he had other songs, but at the time I was very into newer acts and very frustrated with my hometown radio’s resistence to the artists I was seeing on MTV, so I took a bit of offense to a certain extent when I heard someone encouraging people to reject the new.  His music irked me, and I refused to enjoy anything he recorded.

But, a couple of years back, I found my finger hovering over the preprogrammed station buttons on my car stereo when a Bob Seger song came on the radio.  I dismissed it as a guilty pleasure, but then I stopped changing the stations more often when I heard his music.  Eventually I began to admit, “Yeah, I like a few Bob Seger songs.”  This past summer, I found myself responding to a post on Facebook stating that, “I woke last night to the sound of thunder… how far off, I sat and wondered,” was one of my favorite lines from a song.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m a fan, but I do appreciate his music now that I’ve actually really listened.  I’m a writer, and even if I don’t relate to everything he covers in his songs, I enjoy hearing how he tells a story.

I think this is a universal thing, opening up to an artist you’ve refused in the past.  Several years back I forced my husband to come along with me to see Depeche Mode — a band not guitar-driven enough for his tastes — and he had a great time.  He ended up really liking their music and the performance.  I can probably name a handful of other artists I now appreciate, but Bob Seger is the one that really surprises me.

LMAO.  It’s not that I didn’t laugh as a young person.  I laughed hard.  I laughed so hard that my stomach muscles hurt.  But, I was under the impression that laughing was a given… that I was entitled to that kind of entertainment all of the time.  I took it for granted, even thought it was one of my favorite things in the world.

When I grew up, I realized that laughter does not come with a guarantee.  People don’t just automatically laugh at things when they are older.  There is a lot of serious business to attend to, and some grown-ups get so caught up in these things that they no longer pursue laughter.  And they sometimes block it out entirely.

There is a lot about getting older than can bring you down, certainly.  That is why I appreciate having things to laugh at.  A couple of months ago, I was at a small gathering when one of my friends said something that touched just the right nerve. I responded with much heartier laughter than the comment deserved.  For whatever reason, I was receptive to that break in reality brought on by unchecked laughter.  This exists in all of us when we truly — even momentarily — let go of our troubles for the sake of just enjoying ourselves.  It feels even better now to laugh than it did all those decades ago.

Anything you now appreciate that you didn’t before?  Comments welcome!

Child’s Play

The house is silent. Sunlight streams in through the bare branches of the trees.  I stop shuffling around our toy room and take in the view for a moment.

My attention turns to the blocks on the floor. This is the final pile of toys that I need to put away in my effort to clean up my children’s toy room. Generally I ask them to keep this room tidy, but occasionally the Clean-up Elves visit.  Today is my kids’ lucky day. I’ve been focusing on organizing, containing, shelving and purging.  But in front of these blocks I rest.

The space that surrounds me looks like an ad for The Container Store again, expect for this pile of primary-colored wood in front of me.

In this moment, I have no particular place to be aside from in front of these blocks. I pick one up, truly feeling it for the first time in ages. I feel the corners and smooth sides against my palm and the pads of my fingers. The weight of their mass evokes an impression of sturdiness. I perceive the potential… how many things you can do with these blocks.

I line them up according to their size.

I line them up according to their shape.

I pile them together according to their color.

I put blue and yellow together. I make a checkerboard pattern with the red and blue cubes.

How far can I stack these blocks into the upper reaches of the room?

I build a pile that creates a rocky hill for a tiny imaginary woman to climb. I have never scaled such a landscape, but the lady in my mind will.

Children recreate the world as they see it and want to see it with these blocks. They lose themselves when they need to and when they can. And they “live” in those blocks. Why don’t adults do the same thing?

My children grab five minutes before walking out the door for their play. We hear often how important it is for children to discover through creative activity. Why does it stop in adulthood? Why is it not essential to our development? After all, we are still growing.

I am convinced that our generative abilities are the source of value in our contributions, even moreso in an era where machines can handle a lot of things. Why do we not nurture that through things as simple as these wooden blocks?

My mountainous pile is done, and the clear plastic shoe box that holds these blocks sits to the side. It is time for me to put them all neatly in this organizational vessel. Instead, Ileave them in the sunlight and walk away.