Sunday, April 10, 2016

Yet

---Mark Twain 
Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
---Mark Twain

There is no sadder sight than a young pessimist except an old optimist
---Mark Twain

So, which is it?
---Susan Bonifant

Nobody likes a Pollyanna. But that "optimism" adage is a little too much like saying if you're happy you must be kind of dumb.  Plenty of young people use their cynicism to avoid disappointment.  Plenty of older people expand themselves because they're optimistic.

I am thinking about age because next month, like last May, I will again, turn older than 50. I'm neutral on this, I was more upset at 49 about being almost 50. I know now how stupid that was, but I know now how stupid it is to dread any age. It insults all those other years that served you well, whether you looked forward to them or not.

Still, you can't help but take stock, consider your opportunity costs  and compare what you're doing to what you are not, and most important, why you are not.

My personal thing now is to say yes to things that aren't always comfy, but are sure to enrich my life more than they will inconvenience me. I've started to travel more, I've started yoga and I'm trading diet soda for club soda with a splash of cranberry. Next, I'm going to start producing more fiction, even if it's hard and complicated, and even if life hasn't answered all of the questions I have for it, yet.

Yet.

Yet is a very powerful word.

Yet means a lot to a good friend of mine who is over fifty and has recruited friends to form a competitive ski team. They are coaches mostly, experts all, and thankfully at least one is both a patrol and a physician. They are all about the same age, but it is the appetite for play that they have in common. They call themselves "The Idiots," and wear shirts that feature intentionally misspelled words.

That's funny. That's even optmistic.

I have another over-fifty friend who recently received her certification to teach yoga. She looks like she did when I met her twenty years ago, but that wasn't her aim. She knows that age brings hardships, but that time brings healing, which brings gifts of peace for the soul. To accept the former, my friend teaches people to use their bodies to embrace the latter, and most of us can do it without falling over now. 

For everybody who doesn't reach a certain age and settle in to kill time, there is a place they have not yet gone. 

Yet.

People who aren't healthy about aging, well, we see them all the time. It's older men who can't tell the difference between the interest and sympathy of a young woman they've hit on. It's women who grow depressed and desperate with every new line that doesn't disappear with a good sleep. 

Viewing ourselves like we come with expiration dates is bad enough. But I think it's worse that if only spared the ageist-culture hand mirror, many of us would not believe we have a shelf life at all.

A person can hurt their own feelings believing that culture knows more about their fate than they do.

Or one can follow the example of two people I know who have shaped their opinions of self around two things: what they do to remain vital, and knowing how to stay in their place which is wherever they wish to be.    

One is a relative who was raised in Europe where, she says, the elderly are not merely tolerated but revered. She has described family members who, in their nineties remain vital and  engaged and ultimately, are cared for by other family members who honor their wisdom and experience. Past seventy, she has an energy level thirty-year-olds would envy and she will likely remain an active tennis player well into her eighties.

Another one is my own mother, who, at nearly eighty, reads two books or more a week, follows a clutch of morning news experts, and of late, has become  outspoken on the political goings on.  We're more than twenty years apart but there is no opinion of hers, concerning anything I'm going through, that I don't value for its roots in simpler, more sensible times.

As I think about being over fifty again, I know that healthy people update. They know when it's time to exit or at least pull over and look at the map again. They don't quit, but recalculate. They change their minds, they honor new or abandoned passions and redirect their energies, because they are optimistic.

Mark Twain was brilliant, of course. He is my choice when people ask those questions ten minutes before a dinner party ends: "Who would you eat dinner with if you could pick anyone, dead or alive?"

Because, that optimism crack aside, Mark and I would probably agree on the subject of beholding one's own beauty and place in life, and just who is in charge of that boat that brings one there.


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Not yet

Hi readers,

Remember when I said I'd post shorter pieces more frequently? So do I, but then March happened and I had to unpack that pledge.

Don't worry. It wasn't bad, everyone's fine, but it was too busy to keep my promise.

Thank you for continuing to check in, I'll be here on Sunday, for realsies, maybe sooner. 

No. Not sooner. 

Sunday. Not before Sunday. (See how this happens?)

In the meantime, here's a picture of Gus, who is more popular than I am, at play in his fort.



Sunday, March 6, 2016

Sunday's Worth Mentioning: Clock Thoughts



Remember when I said it might be nicer for us if I post shorter things about whimsical things? You don't? I said it two weeks ago. Go down there and look. 
Here is a fun thing for you to try if you are reaching your personal "fill line" as I call it, and wish to dabble in superstitious, quirky behavior that will make your kids wonder if you're eccentric already.
For reasons not worth mentioning, February was a trying month for me and come to think of it, most people I know except for my mother. (My mother's biggest complaint last month was the sound of Ted Cruz's voice. And appearance. And philosophy. And everything else. Off television, however, things were good for her). Gus also did well in February.
"I always do well."
---Gus Bonifant, writer cat
But for the rest of us, there were unhappy surprises, there was not enough good news, and because I care about my loved ones, ups and downs in their lives inevitably became my own. 
February started off as a three hour tour, and, well, you know that rest of that story. 
But it's March now, it's off to a good start, and we appear to be off the island.  
I'd like to thank my clock.
I practice a superstitious behavior which is this: when the hours and minutes of the time match, I wish a thing for someone who's having trouble, courage, strength, patience, a sense of humor, like that.  I don't plan it of course, or watch the clock because that would be odd.

I haven't studied my results, but in my wishful opinion, if someone seems at risk, and  I wish them a good thing, and things get better, or don't get worse, I credit my clock thought.

It also keeps my mind off my own personal fill line, to think about someone else's. 

Some days when I'm paying more attention than others, I catch it frequently:  1:11, 2:22, etc. Everyone gets a good, healing thought from me and I feel like Spirit Santa
At lunch with my son recently, I held out my phone when the numbers matched and said, like a pre-eccentric person, "Quick, make a wish!"
  
He looked at me.

"No," he said. "That doesn't work."

Says you, I thought.

"It only works when it's 11:11," he said. 

If you are a loved one, or even a liked one, or, okay, if you're just a nice person I read about in the paper today, and the weather's started getting rough, and your tiny ship was tossed, you'll be on my list for clock thoughts.




Sunday, February 21, 2016

Sunday's Worth Mentioning: Short Stuff


Sunday Gus
Every Sunday before the sun comes up, I listen to playlists with names like "Dissolving Clouds," drink coffee and watch Gus sleep while I think about stuff. 

I think through the past week's unresolved questions or problems, people I love who are enduring a rough ordeal, others who may just be coming out of one. 


I think about the twenty-something man who took a very elderly woman to see Maggie Smith's movie last night, and the guy I saw later on in a restaurant who all but stood on his head to cheer his sulky girlfriend.  


I think about what I'll make for dinner, and if I can maybe put the top down on the car if I also turn the heat up, and why Donald Trump can't do something about the white space his tanning goggles leave around his tiny eyes.


Stuff like that.


More than anything, I think about our kids and what I'm going to write about in the coming week. Today, I decided that I miss posting, but enjoy posting shortstuff and think that's what you'd rather read anyway. Right? I thought so.


Today, since I have both raising children and writing in common with some, but have either of the two in common with many, I thought I would offer you a chicken or beef post of things worth mentioning in either category. 
Raising children
My four different people.
Raising four children who are as similar to each other as trees and fish and motorcycles and books, has taught me that I am better at foreign languages than I thought.
Every once in a while, I lapse into the wrong one when I'm communicating with them, and I get the same look you'd give someone who tried to tell you a joke or give you advice using words you've never heard before. 
I realize, this work in progress - to learn the unique language that came with each of them - joyously, has no end.
It is the easiest and the hardest thing I know about being a parent:  to explore the depth of our ability to know and love another person, whether or not they are like us, one fathom at a time. 
Writing 
Maybe I would focus
better if I moved the cat.
It takes me about twenty minutes to come around to what kind of writing I'll do for the day. And yet, if I interrupt that process to open a work in progress, I'll fall in until dinner time. If I could just learn that for keeps, I could spend that twenty minutes each day planning a dinner to reward my efforts. 

Ever since I read the Anne Lamott quote below, I am more mindful of what I want to accomplish in my writing life, and aware of when - and why - I'm avoiding the work of it. You just have to walk so far into that forest of thought and imagination. But I've also realized that the things I do while I'm putting it off, are things I'm bringing back to the page. So only some of the time does writing take place on the actual page, babies. When you don't want to be a writer, but need to be, that's what you do. All the time. 
Strange how mindful living works, but it does. 






Sunday, February 14, 2016

Living life for realsies


I am a recovering perfectionist. It's okay, don't worry. 

Are you worried? 

I'm sorry. I didn't mean to worry you.

I feel terrible.

I'm sorry.

Are you one of those? Do you know one of those?  

A while back, when I was a wee perfectionist, I saw a therapist to figure out why every day seemed "just out," as they say in tennis.

We only had a few sessions before he compared my way of living to the way rodents behave on a wheel. "The perfectionism thing has to go," he said.

He gave me a wrist clicker and told me to use it when I had that "perfectionist thing." He explained that seeing the number drop would be reinforcing and suggested I prepare a reward for myself. I said, "How about not having to see someone about my perfectionist thing anymore?"

We worked on it, things got better, we said goodbye and I walked to my car with his parting words in my head:

"You'll have this again. Remember, when you do, that perfectionism is about the way you make life look, not the way life really is."

In a conversation recently with someone who would also like to become a recovering perfectionist, I was reminded of another important thing I've learned since driving away from that parking lot years ago and it is this:

The more you do, when less is required, the less you're living for realsies.
The less you do, when less is required, the more you're living for realsies.

Godspeed, recovering perfectionists, and everyone else. 
Life is good, when it's realsie.





  




Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The biggest fan

Just look at the face on that adorable book.
Once, I went to Boston, an hour away, to attend a writer's conference. For the first time, I would meet an agent, and pitch a novel. 
I was nervous.  
I accessorized this future memory with the most luxurious detail available. I booked a limo and a room at the Boston Harbor Hotel, which is a place one doesn't visit, but experiences, between the Molton Brown skincare products and view of the harbor alone. 
I ordered lobster and stared at the water. In twenty-four hours, I thought, I would be mulling over new information about my career, because back then, I didn't know I already had that information.  
I carried a book by Elizabeth Berg, an uber-relatable writer who seemed a little like me, but who actually seems a lot like everyone. I wondered if people would ever think that about my writing.
I brought a collection of Enrico Morricone songs played by YoYo Ma. This, I planned, would be the soundtrack for my experience if down the road, I forgot the way this felt, to chase a dream that probably wouldn't come true, but, oh my God, might. 

And there we sat, me and next-me, eating lobster and looking at the harbor. Not the me helping kids into college, or encouraging a husband through a rough patch in his business, or running a household, or being a good sister or friend or daughter or community volunteer. 

The afternoon darkened over the water and I began to think about giving up. Next-me would be too hard. But how hard? I was afraid. But I was euphoric. I was going to lose something in the morning. But I was going to gain something in the morning, too. The something was hope.

Today, I'm a few years and two books and many articles away from that weekend at the Boston Harbor when I was introduced to the two people who encouraged me to stay in the game: the agent who requested a full manuscript, and next-me, my often fickle, but honest and lifelong fan who has been at my side every day of my writing career, saying if you quit, you won't know how it turned out.   
In May, I am planning to go back to that conference with another book to pitch. I'll meet an agent who might request a full manuscript. I'll send it and maybe I won't get a response. Maybe I will. I don't know. What matters is that I will not be figuring it out, hoping for the best, preparing for the worst, on my own. 
I'll be in the company of my biggest fan.  We're looking forward to it. 
Be that. Be your own fan. Be next-you. 
Never give up.


Thursday, January 7, 2016

First baby, first a lot of things

Courtney Elizabeth Bonifant Watson Dollface,
Birthday girl of my heart
When Courtney Elizabeth Bonifant Watson Dollface was born thirty years ago, after a labor that was several years longer than I'd expected, I had two thoughts other than, "Wow, they weren't kidding about how much THAT hurts."

The first was that life as I'd known it now seemed behind me, a large room I'd exited in which the shades had been mostly, but not completely raised. Life had been a place I'd learned to navigate with my own welfare at the center of my travels.

But this – this new life was wide, brilliant and brighter. Anything was possible in this travel and my own welfare stepped right up and said, "I'm all set, give her my place." 

The other came later on when I realized I believed in God after all. I had no formal take on God, I wasn't feeling the robe and beard and walking stick kind of God, I had to make God up in my head. But I propped my tiny baby against my knees, stared into her drifty, navy blue eyes, and promised her everything in my power to protect her. From my heart, slipped a word aimed at something bigger than both of us, which was, "Please." 

There was no scary roar, the walls didn't shake, it wasn't like when Endora was mad at Darrin. Nor was it like the time I put my hands together as a child, closed my eyes and asked God to turn me into a cat for a day. God didn't respond with "Please what?" My God just went straight to the business of quid pro quo: 

Every minute of my life, I would love this being with my own, and in turn, I would find answers to questions in my head of how and what and what-if inside that big, brand new love in my heart.

Today, my tiny Dollface is thirty. I have asked my God more times than I can count to help me trust that she is safe when she's far away, that she's happy when I can't consult her eyes for proof, that she'll be strong in times of conflict, and that she'll know each minute of every day that she is loved for the brilliant, bright being that she is.

"Noted," says my God when I ask, because my God remembers that day like I do, when we all met.

Happy Birthday, my girl.

You are loved like you read about.