Category Archives: Communications

“Do What Makes You Happy” – Semi-Retirement Wisdom

 

 

 

The advice I was given a few months ago was not particularly ground-breaking.

“Do what makes you happy.”

N., a most insightful friend from my writing group met me for coffee in early September when I was still struggling through an episode of depression and anxiety. I had started back on a medication and met with my therapist, but I was not yet myself.

How could I tell?

My sense of humor had gone on vacation without me. And had taken my appetite with it.

Those who know me well know I do not miss a meal – or a snack. And on that sunny day in September when we sat outside at the busy cafe, the one with great food and coffee, I could barely bring myself to nibble on the edge of a biscotti. People complimented me on my appearance. If they only knew that I’d lost 20 lbs only because I had lost my interest in food. Not a diet plan I’d recommend to anyone.

Back to my friend. She asked me my plans for the fall.

“Why are you taking that course if you don’t really want to?”

“Why stick with that volunteer program if you are not enjoying it?”

And other similar questions that I’d asked myself – and hadn’t given myself any good answers.

She chided me again.

“Do what makes you happy.”

At age 65, five years past my last day at the law firm,  nearly five years out of the hospital after my last cardiac surgery, wasn’t I now entitled to do what makes me happy?

Yes.

I thought I was already doing that. But maybe I was stuck with other people’s expectations and needed to focus more on my own?

So I dropped the writing course for which I had already registered (I was lukewarm on the subject).

I signed up for a different course (Novel plotting and structure) in which I was much more interested.

I made changes in my volunteer activities. I signed up to become an ESL co-teacher at a DC school for adult immigrants. I offered to read aloud (in Spanish!) to 3rd graders at a DC elementary school.

And the greatest change – I was asked to become a writer tutor for international graduate students at the university where I take my writing classes. I get paid for doing what I like to do – – can you believe it? My first job (albeit extremely part-time) in five years.

What’s the common denominator here? It took me a while (five years?) to figure it out, too.

I’m in multiple academic settings – to learn and to teach.

There’s an exercise I should have done years ago. You can try it. Close your eyes and picture where you were the happiest in your student and work years. For me it always was school. Reading, writing (but definitely not arithmetic) gave me pleasure. Particularly when I was in graduate school in international relations, two years in my twenties, living within a community of students from all over the world.

Could I recreate that again in this second (third?) stage of life?

Why I didn’t see this pattern years ago when I first semi-retired, I am not sure.

It turns out that I love teaching. And I am good at it. Who knew? Part of it is having a wonderful co-teacher (hello, H.) Part is having the freedom to expand creatively upon the ESL curriculum. I get to stand in front of a class of engaged and engaging adult immigrant students and use my imagination to make grammar, reading, speaking and writing fun.

I’m back in an international settings. Our ESL students are from Cambodia, El Salvador, France, Gabon, Germany, Italy, S. Korea, Russia. And I’m helping international students from China and other countries with their graduate school writing assignments.

And I’m writing. Which I had not done all summer or most of the fall. My writing gears were stuck. It wasn’t so much writer’s block as a complete absence of creative flow. An empty space where my writing brain had been. Now I’m back to my novel-in-progress. Only 64,000 more words to go!

And perhaps more often to writing this blog? (my last post was September 5. Now it is almost Thanksgiving.)

If you haven’t taken N.’s advice – “Do what makes you happy.” yet, I urge you to do so.

One more thing to be grateful for next week when we celebrate Thanksgiving at my house with my family. My international students are mystified at the appeal of corn pudding and cranberry sauce. But my appetite has returned. On multiple levels.

For that – and for not having to drive on the New Jersey turnpike this holiday, I am very grateful.

 

 

 

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Filed under ESL, friendship, Holidays, Retirement, Semi-Retirement, Semi-Retirement, Teaching, Women, Writing

Major Engine Malfunctions – Personal and Vehicular

 

 

The irony of the flashing message on the dashboard of the car did not escape me.

We were about to leave the parking lot of the Massachusetts motel where we had spent the night to drive to Connecticut to see family on the way home from our Vermont vacation. My husband turned the car on and there it was in bold flashing blue letters –

Major Engine Malfunction. Reduced Power. Get Service Now.”

I would have laughed, but couldn’t summon up even a slight smile. For the first time ever, my sense of humor had left me. Perhaps it went on a vacation of its own? Somewhere restful like the beautiful deep lake in Vermont where we spent a few days in mid-August. The peace of which I could not fully appreciate because I was also experiencing a ““Major Engine Malfunction” of my own. My aunt and uncle and cousins in Vermont were kind to me. They sensed I was operating with “Reduced Power.”

My long-time therapist labeled it Depression – which I have never before experienced.

Anxiety, yes, that is a familiar condition for me. Years of it. (SEE the title of this blog.) But Depression? That’s been something new this summer. Feeling flat. Low energy. Sad on the sunniest of days. Not enjoying spending time with my grandsons at the beach (my usual happy place.) Dull, no interest and little appetite.

And I couldn’t write. Not a word. For weeks. The space formerly occupied by my creative self was blank. Not so much a writer’s block, but a nothingness.

The Depression kind of crept up on me in June, then steamed full ahead in July and by early August my therapist decided I should try a new medication. Which I did. And experienced a full set of horrible side-effects (which luckily for you I will not enumerate.) Poor timing as they put me in distress during my longed-for few days in Vermont. The lovely lake, the green mountains, the quiet of the woods, the water rippling at the dock; none worked their usual magic on me.

My therapist agreed I could taper off the new medication but wow, its side effects were persistent. I was still feeling awful on that bright morning in my old college-town in mid-Massachusetts when the car’s error message of “Major Engine Malfunction. Reduced Power. Get Service Now” eerily matched my own condition.

In the good news department: the car’s engine did not erupt as we slowly drove to Connecticut where the car got the service it needed.

My 94-year-old Dad always says that a problem is not a problem if it can be fixed by money. Lucky for us the engine was still under warranty and we spent little to have it repaired.

If only our personal engine malfunctions could be so readily resolved.

I am working on mine with the help of a new med, my therapist, my patient husband, and understanding friends and family.

And as soon as the space formerly occupied by my creative self resumes functioning, I will get back to writing – and taking classes and volunteering and enjoying the sunshine.

Waiting also for my sense of humor to return from wherever it went on its own apparently needed vacation. I will keep you posted.

 

 

 

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Filed under grandchildren, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Travel, Women, Women's Health, Writing

Can Wendy Whiner Change Her Ways?

 

I take great pride in my ability to worry. To dread events that have or have not (yet) happened. But unnamed others in my personal sphere have a different view:

As in their comments that I may occasionally resemble one of the following:

  • “Wendy Whiner” (SEE: the sketch character by that name on “Saturday Night Live” in the early 1980’s.)
  • “Debbie Downer” (SEE: due to my hyper-knowledge of every local, regional and world crisis or catastrophe, personal or public.)

At this particular moment in time – I have few active complaints. Everyone in my life is relatively o.k.

Which is in and of itself problematic.

Because of my profound skill in Anticipatory Worrying, I recognize the temporary nature of this present lull.  Soon enough the phone will ring or a text will ping and unpleasant, painful, and/or possibly horrific news will arrive.

Change is inevitable as we get older – a subject near and dear to my now-Medicare-aged heart.

But my position on how to handle sad news may be more malleable than I thought.

The Carolyn Hax advice column in today’s Washington Post contained a reader entry that made me reflect on the Wendy Whiner label.

(Pause here to note the path not taken. I should have become an advice columnist instead of a lawyer. I LOVE giving advice. Solicited or not.)

A reader of the Hax column, known as C., wrote in to give advice on “Losses and Dread” (two of my favorite subjects!) C. explained that she has had a wonderful, devoted friend for over 35 years who “truly understands how to sustain and nurture friendships.”  Because C.’s friend has many other close friends and family, C. felt that she couldn’t be as much of a source of comfort to her friend as her friend has always been to her.

This hit home to me. I, too, have a wonderful, devoted friend who also has a million (slight exaggeration only) other wonderful, devoted friends, all of whom jump up to help her whenever she is in need. I am part of the larger circle, always wishing I could be of more support.

It occurred to me that this kind of imbalance is probably quite common. Some of us are the center of the wheel of friendship and others are pinned to the outer spokes – and always will be.

C. goes on to suggest that one way to be a true friend is NOT to share your problems.

Imagine that.

C.’s tells us that her mother and her wonderful, devoted friend’s mother were the same age. Then C.’s mother died. But C. decided not to burden her friend with her sadness at the death of her mother. C. explains it better than I can.

So what I can do is NOT call her when I am sad – though I know she’d be there for me – and  I cannot dwell too heavily on the loss when we do talk. Instead I can ask her about her grandchildren and let her tell me about their antics, though I’m not a kid person. Time and circumstances will bring us to a common reference point on the loss of a beloved mother…The chance to spare my friend from going to this sad place any earlier and more frequently than absolutely necessary is a blessing.”

Kind of a friendship gift, don’t you think? To NOT bring all our woes to our close friends even when we really, really, really want to.

And the part that got me the most? From C. again:

“Sometimes our losses – or health or parents or jobs – scare our friends, and they just want to live their regular lives and not think about it – or catch it.”

O.K., so C. and I differ in several important aspects. I’m a grandmother and very much a kid person. Not all my friends have achieved this most wonderful phase of life so I try (honest I do) not to overshare adorable photos and tales of their toddler brilliance.

I am also not as selfless as C. I haven’t (yet?) reached the point where I can regularly keep my mouth closed and not burden my friends with my woes. I am too dependent on having friends to listen and offer support.

Perhaps the next stage of getting older is to recognize, as C. does, that grief shared may multiply it unnecessarily.

I always want to be there for my friends when they reach out  – and I think I am. But maybe I don’t need to add my sorrows to ones they have not (yet?) experienced. Losses are inevitable. Keeping afloat above them is not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aging Parents, Communications, Female Friends, friendship, Relationships, Women, Women's Health

Distraction Dilemma: Breaking, Breaking News

 

 

As I drove out of the supermarket parking lot yesterday, I congratulated myself. Proud that I remembered to bring my groceries with me!

Years ago on a nice spring evening, a Thursday, I exited the same supermarket parking lot minus the eight bags of food and drink items I had just purchased.

Back in the days when my daughter was on the crew team at her high school. Moms (always the moms, let’s be honest here) took turns hosting the team on the Friday nights before Saturday morning regattas. We put on big spreads which, if memory serves, mostly featured some kind of pasta casserole, bowls of salad and buckets of garlic bread. I’m sure there must have been a vegetable side dish and dessert too.

On that Thursday before my turn at hosting the team dinner, I drove after work to the supermarket nearest my house with the “Crew Dinner To Buy” list in my purse. It was dinner time – I was hungry, I was tired, so was everyone else. My body may have been at the store – but my mind was still downtown – at the law firm  – too many client matters remained on that “To Do” list.  I walked up and down the aisles, pulling the items for the anticipated bunch of carb-craving teen athletes in a semi-automated fashion.

The check out lady smiled as she scanned my purchases – having a big party? Yes, I probably said. I paid, left the store and steered the overflowing cart outside the store and left it in the “pick up” area against the silver bars en route to the parking lot.  My intent must have been to get into my car and drive around to the pick up lane to retrieve the eight bags from the cart.

But instead I drove home. Two miles away.  I pulled into my driveway. Still thinking about work, I am sure. Knowing I had emails to check and a project to complete. Parked. Then opened the trunk to find it empty. Because I had left all of the bags in the cart in front of the supermarket. A swear word was likely emitted at that point.

That is the last time I recall being as distracted as I have been in recent weeks.

I did drive right back to the store. Luckily, the cart was where I had left it 10 minutes earlier, I put the bags in the trunk, drove home, took the groceries out, unpacked them, made dinner for my family, caught up on work  – and then hosted the crew dinner the next night. You know the busy/working/mom drill.

I no longer work downtown (still a mom though, and now a grandmother too, just for the record so you can tell that maybe through increased age alone, I’ve earned the right to have distracted moments.)

But now I am distracted much of the time. No longer by lawyering. Or by my kids. Or by my husband. Not by events on my calendar. And I do not have a sudden onset of ADD nor any neurological problem (I get checked.) No, my distraction comes from my own inability to focus for more than 10 minutes without having an insistent craving to turn on the news.

So I do. I check my twitter feed. I look up news alerts. I listen to the radio. I have the TV on in the background. All for fear of missing some new crisis that might have happened while I was doing the laundry or taking a shower.

The crises keep erupting, one piling on top of another, breaking news breaking into new breaking news, breathless reporters and chatty commentators. And yes, I could turn it off. Yes, I should turn it off. But I keep checking for updates.

Last night at book club we talked about this. A few of my friends are not as dominated by the need-to-know-now as I am. Lucky them! Others seem to be able to stay in control of their news needs. I’m jealous.

Part of my problem is I am less busy in the summer. I’m not taking a writing class this summer. With the end of the school year, my college-advising volunteer projects have slowed. Fewer meetings, a lighter schedule, more unstructured time.

Anticipating this summer lull, I created my own structure. A big project.  My Work-In-Progress. I am writing a novel. Writing at least four days a week.  The plan is to complete the draft by the end of August before fall semester begins and I am back in the classroom (with homework.)

What’s my “WIP” about, you ask?

A working mom, a lawyer, with two kids (how creative to use my own life as inspiration!?) dealing with friendships that go awry, possibly unscrupulous clients and unexpectedly competitive colleagues.  I even wrote an outline. And I’ve already written 50 pages – 15, 556 words, to be exact. Only 64,444 more words to go!

If only I could be more disciplined. More disciplined and not as susceptible to distractions. Like I once was as a law firm partner. Busy, busy, busy. Far too occupied to fret about possible news of ultra-scary national and world events.

Or maybe that was a less complicated time when breaking news didn’t break every ten minutes. Focus, I keep telling myself. Look away from the media. But it is difficult. Distraction is my biggest dilemma this summer.

I am certain I am not alone in feeling this way.

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Filed under Book Club, Communications, daughters, Law firm life, Lawyers, Social Media, Women, Working Moms, Working Moms, Working Women, Writing

Not Writing Because I am a Writer: Self-Doubt as Self Story

Why, you may ask, have I not been writing posts for this blog as frequently as I once did?

When I started this blog in 2014, I wrote one post a week. Every Thursday; very disciplined.  Then once every two weeks. Now it has slipped further. My friend Caroline asked me why I am writing less often.

Because I am now a fully accredited writer, I told her. A writer who is enrolled in a Master’s degree program in Writing at a highly regarded university. And the more I write, the more I doubt myself. 

Which I think is something many women have long excelled at. Self-doubt.

I don’t think it I am alone in specializing in self-doubt.

I wrote once about visiting a law school professor during his (always “his” back then) office hours to question my grade on a final exam. I thought it was too high! Can you imagine, I suggested he’d made a mistake in giving me an “A” because I didn’t think I deserved it. The professor politely confirmed that his grade was correct and shooed me out of his office.

Some of us never learn. We think every good “grade” in whatever field we are in must be a mistake on the part of the grade-giver.

That close cousin of self-doubt, self-comparison, has also been visiting me lately. You may share the same unwelcome cousin, those thoughts that compel us to compare ourselves to others.

Though you haven’t asked, I will tell you that I have been getting (unexpectedly IMHO) excellent grades in the writing course I am taking this semester. In “Contemporary American Writers” we read both fiction and non-fiction written by a diverse group of American (duh) writers and then write Critical Response papers analyzing their work from the perspective of a writing craft technique such as character development, point of view or structure.

True Confession:  I had to google the term “Critical Response.”  It did not help when our young adult son told me that he learned how to write a Critical Response when he was in middle school. When I was in middle school, it was then called “junior high” which tells you (a) how long ago it was that I was in junior high and (b) that I never learned to write a Critical Response paper.

But I do now!  I received a very good grade on the first one I wrote. And an even better one on the second.

Does this mean I am a good writer? Or simply a person who is good at following the professors’s directions? Both? Neither? Or someone perennially plagued with self-doubt.

The doubt factor has even crept into my reading for pleasure. I am a rabid reader. The kind of person known to read the back of Kleenex boxes when nothing else is available and is desperate for the printed word.

In the greatest of ironies, now that I am learning to read like a writer, I am enjoying it less! I read a few paragraphs in a much-anticipated novel or a favorite mystery and then start to think:

  • wait, isn’t this too much back story?
  • shouldn’t there be a scene here instead of summary?
  • did the author just make a mistake in her point of view?

Sometimes I want to go back to my old self who was not consciously aware of the distinctions between “alliteration,” “anaphora” and “assonance.”

Perhaps I have also mislaid my writer’s “voice.”

At a meeting of my amazing DC women’s writers group earlier this week, my writer pals unanimously concluded that while my writing has improved (they credit the classes I’ve been taking),  I seem to have lost some of my writer’s voice.

I’m not as snarky, not as sarcastic, not as candid, not as clever. Not as much me. Perhaps because every time I sit down to write I am too damn careful to use every bit of writerly craft I’ve been learning correctly.

Too much focus on craft = loss of authentic voice?

The supportive women in my group reassured me that I will – someday – recover my original voice. That once I get beyond this “wow, look what I learned today” phase of my writing career (which is, by the way, annoying the heck out of my husband), that the craft part will come more naturally and the authentic me part of it will return.

Will I also outgrow the “self-doubt” part as well? Or will I always be that person double-checking the transcript to see if my grade is correct?

I vote for the latter. Self-doubt is not easily outgrown. Look at this way: like many women, I will always –  effortlessly – get an “A” in self-doubt.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Blogging, Books, Communications, Education, Female Friends, Law School, Reading, Second Careers, Women, Writing

2016: Your Year in Review

 

 

2016 review banner - text in vintage letterpress wood type block with a cup of coffee

If you are on Facebook, you recently received your unrequested, but they sent it anyway, FB-produced personalized “Year in Review. I watched my short video. Cute enough.

But, even though FB earnestly prompted me to do so, I resisted the urge to share my “Year in Review” for friends and family to watch on my FB page.

(And if you are not on FB, you are not alone. My husband, JP, has a FB page, but rarely checks it.  A very smart and technically-able man, as I’ve said in this blog before, he finds FB incomprehensible. “I just don’t get it.” he will say. What’s a page? What’s a news feed?  And most important – What if I don’t want to “friend” someone in return? Sadly, JP is far too kind not to “friend” someone back, even if that person is someone who he never talked to, but who may have had a locker near his in high school. That’s what happens when you are my husband, the still-popular-to-this-day president of his senior class. So not my problem.)

Which is one of the reasons why I did not share my “Year in Review” on my FB page.

One thing I’ve learned this year – in my own self-produced, virtual “Year in Review”  – is that no one is as interested in you as you are.

(grammatical correctness? Unsure. But feel free not to scold me. My 93-year-old Dad has that role covered.)

But you take my point. You care more about your quotidian details than your friends or family do.

For example: One day you leave the house thinking your hair looks hideous. No one cares. Next day you leave the house wearing extremely old yoga pants. And you’ve never taken a yoga class. No one notices. Once this fall I dressed very quickly and wore a casual shirt inside-out. (it happens.) Then someone did notice. A very nice younger woman sweetly and non-judgmentally pointed it out to me in a supermarket aisle as I was selecting among the apples. I slinked back to my car, slid down in the seat, reversed my shirt and went back inside to finish my food shop. Life went on.

So on the point of your own “Year in Review”, the only person who really cares how your year went is you. Your husband/spouse/partner/child/best friend – trust me – they really don’t want the details.

And you may not remember the details.

More and more as I get older, I find the details, not only mine, but those of others slipping away. Like when a good friend who lives on another coast calls to update you on a significant event in her life and you listen to her very closely, but you cannot for the life of you remember anything about her significant event.  Was it her brother-in-law who suddenly got very ill a few weeks ago  – or her sister-in-law? Once the conversation has begun, it’s too embarrassing to ask your friend for a refresher. So you listen harder and hope that you will pick up the thread as she continues to talk. Thankfully, she seems not to notice. She probably experiences the same problem.

My self-produced “Year in Review?” I was hoping you would ask. One way to measure it is by the number of times I had to visit a hospital in 2016. Three times total. 2x for sad reasons. 1x for a very happy reason (our second grandchild is now nearly ten months old.)

I think the ratio of 2 sad-purpose visits to 1 happy-purpose hospital visit reasons per year is probably about right for someone who is nearly – not quite but counting the months – inching up to Medicare.

More of my 2016 numbers:

  • One brave new venture (applied to, accepted by a grad school M.A. in Writing program. love going to class, doing the homework and learning to write fiction.)
  • Two grandchildren thriving.
  • Three vacations taken.
  • Four times we thought about selling our old house – and didn’t.
  • Five weddings of the adult children of friends.

You, too, can personalize and self-produce your own ” Year in Review.” But my advice is not to dwell too much on 2016.  Look ahead to 2017 – because 2017 promises to be a rather eventful year for everyone. Politically, if not personally.

What was that famous quote from the wonderful old movie “All About Eve” – ironically starring the aging Bette Davis as an aging actress dealing with the take-over efforts of her younger, competitive actress rival?

Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

Bumpy 2017, here we come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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December 12, 2016 · 8:59 pm

10 Days Later: Not The “New Normal”

election-signs

 

I told myself that I would not – would definitely not – write any kind of post-election blog post. However, if you are reading this post now, I must have changed my mind. But I will keep this short.

After nearly 10 days of reflection, I have a three-fold mantra – –

1. Change Happens.

2. We Can Deal With It.

3.  It’s Not the New Normal.

No matter which “side” you were on before the presidential election on November 8th, you may still be in shock. Shock that your candidate won – or shocked that your candidate lost.

Either way – see #’s 1, 2 and 3 above.

What did “we” learn from the election results?

That “we” who have always lived inside the Washington, DC bubble had no clue how people in other areas of our country were feeling – or what they were really thinking.

My husband’s family is from Detroit and we visit there, so I knew the U.S. economy was not sailing along on a wave of prosperity everywhere. But it did come as a surprise to me that so many voters felt disenfranchised and wanted change — especially since that promise of change arrived in the form of a bombastic, erratic and narcissistic candidate who seemed to say aloud whatever (often outrageous and deeply offensive) thoughts he was thinking.

I may be in the minority here – but let me go out on a (hopeful? delusional?) limb, I don’t think that our POTUS-elect really, deeply, truly in his inner soul actually believes in the anti-minority, anti-women, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant horrific statements that he and his followers uttered during the course of the campaign.

I think instead that he developed as his campaign took off an uncannily awful instinct to appeal to the lowest common denominator that exists in all of us – some of us more than others – that makes us fearful of people who look differently, who act differently, who make more or who have more than we do.

And once he realized he had this appeal and that it could be used to swell the size of his “base”, it was like a vote-getting spigot he couldn’t – or wouldn’t – turn off. Which led to some very ugly actions and words.

How can this spigot be turned off? That will not be easy. But it is what we must do going forward.

Just this week we’ve seen signs that bigotry and hate speech are still rising up. In the middle school in the town next to mine, swastikas were drawn on the wall of the boys’ bathroom. In a middle school! And racist slogans were written on the wall of a nearby church.

This CANNOT become the “new normal”.

I believe that people of good faith will always be in the majority, whatever political party is in power, and that they will loudly condemn and take actions against these hate speech and incidents.

I may still be in election-shock but I’m looking towards the long-term. Living in/near DC since my long-ago law school days, I have seen many administrations come and go. None like this, of course.

But this too shall pass, as my wise husband likes to say. And while it is passing – as quickly as possible, please – I plan to speak out – maybe even more loudly (which is already pretty loud) – against evidence of anti-Semitism (because that hits me most personally) and against bigotry of all kinds.

Change has happened. We can deal with it. So long as we do not – EVER – let the spigot of hate that bubbled up during the campaign become the new normal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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