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Thursday, October 19, 2017

“At The Crossroads Without A Name”

One of the best parts of writing in a library—the only place I seem able to do so—is that it's loaded with books. And, as Samuel Johnson once said, “[t]he greatest part of a writer's time is spent in reading, in order to write: a man [sic] will turn over half a library to make one book.”

So once in the library, and before I haul my Mac and backpack of writing files up the stairs—to the relatively quiet area—I browse the first floor stacks and pick out a book to take with me.

Now the book always has something to do with what I’m currently writing, usually an essay or three I hope to eventually publish. And so two days ago, I found and started reading Joan Chittister’s Following The Path: The Search for a Life of Passion, Purpose, and Joy. I’m not even sure why I chose it, except that I’ve read other of her books, and some of her articles, and find her both interesting and often provocative.

So on Tuesday, when it came time to stop writing and start reading, I opened the book to page 35 and read this: “What fills the heart with happiness, ironically enough, is not what we get out of the world; it’s what we put into it. Being about something worthwhile, spending our lives on something worth spending a life on is what, in the end, makes us happy.”

Now this is not news to me. After all, I’ve spent the last 30 years reading, writing, and teaching people how to write their personal stories. All of it has made me pretty damn happy, and has also felt worthwhile.

But for the last two years now—as I continue headlong into Act 3 of my long life—I’ve been in the midst of some kind of transition, one that could possibly take me back to graduate school, and with a different focus than either my BA in Psychology or MA in English Literature. What I’m considering—and I emphasize considering--is an MA in Social Justice.

Because once again it seems that everything old is new again. And so the fire in my old lady belly—a fire lit back in my twenties—is starting to flame again, tentatively, but also a bit urgently.

Because, as we know, there is no Act 4.


NOTE: The title of this blog is taken from Joan Chittister’s introduction to her book mentioned above.

This book is meant to give someone in the process of making a life decision at any age—in early adulthood, at the point of middle-age change and later, when we find ourselves at the crossroads without a name—some ideas against which to pit their own minds, their own circumstances. Its purpose, as they wrestle with the process of trying to find and follow their own special call at this new stage of life, is to both provoke thinking and to clarify it. —Joan Chittister

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Late to the Game

From almost all of the current aging “experts”—many of whom I’ve noticed are not particularly old—you learn the importance of staying mentally active and intellectually curious as you make your way through the stages of aging: from “young-old” (65-74) to “old” (75-84) to ”old-old” (85+). 

You may do this by continuing in the work that you love or finding a new vocation, even avocation, an enjoyable hobby that will get you off your comfy couch and into art, music, or dance classes. Not only are these activities designed to keep your brain busy, but also your social life, including the making of new friends.

Until recently, I believed that writing and teaching—both of which I love—did all of those things for me, including making new friends. And they do. But in addition, just this past summer, I’ve discovered a new and quite stimulating avocation: being a Cubs fan.

For starters, having to learn how baseball actually works has kept me both intellectually curious—where’d baseball even come from, who started it and why?—and mentally active, e.g., mastering certain crucial baseball terms like “wild card.”

As for making new friends as a Cubs fan, that’s really easy, especially when you regularly watch the games on big TVs at your favorite bar, a noisy, crowded bar with the volume on both the TVs and the crowd cranked up to "very loud."

Now, if over the months you’ve learned a thing or two about this sport and this bar, you know it’s important on game nights to arrive on time, then head straight for that section of the bar with the biggest TV screen, that special spot where you and your new friends always sit.

Just like in the TV sitcom “Cheers,” we all know each others’ names here, even each others’ drinks: I do mostly lite beers—and over ice—especially if I want to stay for the whole game. Charlie is a red wine fan; Bill, true to his Irish heritage, favors Guinness; and Paul slowly drinks his cocktails. Most important, we all watch the game, talking only during commercials, though grunts, growns, and shouts of “YES!” are permitted when needed.

To say I look forward to these evenings of shared excitement, laughs, joy, or anguish, depending on the score, is an understatement. Because, truth is, the shared bonhomie always sends me home smiling, no matter the score. And one more thing about me and my recently acquired friends: we are all in our 60’s and 70’s, and it’s clear that our shared avocation has kept us all vital, cognitively engaged, and well-preserved.

Just as the experts promised.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Date-Oh-Sphere: An Update

So while I’m a whole week into the launching part, so far no actual dating has occurred.  Which is not to say that I haven’t been busy thinking, writing, even doing stuff in the direction of dating.

For instance, after seeing the disappointing results from the first match service—seven men had viewed my profile, though none has yet “messaged" me—I started to join another, even getting to the last page of the profile process—the payment page. This second service, in an attempt to woo me into showing them the money, has already sent me scores of potential matches, based, I guess, on the small number of their endless questions I’d so far managed to complete.

Which was not many. In fact, I have 18 remaining “unviewed questions” to answer—all part of the profile thingee—including my political views, favorite hot spots, and astrological sign.

You see the problem here?

And as for the first service, I did answer all of their stoopid questions, which may account for why those seven fellows slunk away after reading them. Truth is, no matter how much personal data these match services collect, the huge pool of matchees is, for me, way too broad and too deep. What I need is a service that focuses less on my age or education or “favorite hot spots,” and more on my life’s chief pre/occupation: being a writer.

Because for better or for worse, that more than anything defines me. Which is what I finally realized after my brief yet illuminating experience with those two services. In fact, when it did finally dawn on me, I googled “match services for writers and artists,” but, alas, nothing came up.

And so while not bailing entirely on the online approach, I’m now going to do what any decent writer does if s/he wants to get the story: leave the house, the laptop, the endless clicking, and go to those places, events, and gatherings where the story’s characters are most likely to be hanging out.

Doesn't that sound like way more fun?

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Becoming Brave. Again.

Over 20 years ago, I was in a workshop where we were asked to list three adjectives that described who we wanted to be or become. This was an aspirational exercise, one that through the process of naming would help us achieve these particular personal qualities. Or at least amplify them.

We probably did more writing about the list, but all I can remember now are the three words on it: Brave, Focused, Forgiving. For whatever reasons, I felt the need to become a person who was more brave, more focused, and more forgiving.

The brave part had to do with my decision to leave academic teaching and become self-employed, always a risky business. And “focused” would help me figure out what that freelance life would actually look like: what kind of writing and journal writing would I teach? For whom and where?  What kind of writing would I do? And how would I get published?

As for the forgiving part, that should be obvious to anyone who’s tried it.

So now two decades on, it seems I pretty much made the freelance life happen—my 15-page combined resume of workshops taught and essays (and book) published attests to that. And though the 2007 recession continues to disrupt it financially, I’m still teaching and writing.

As for the forgiving part, I’m using the Prayer to St. Francis to nudge me on down my list of potential forgivees: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace/where there is hatred, let me sow love, where this is injury, pardon” etc. etc. That whole damn prayer is an invitation to become a more humble and less self-absorbed person.

And so the teaching and the writing and the forgiving continue on into my old-ish age, but now “Brave” has taken on a much different challenge for me: falling in love. Again. Time to seriously move on from the hurt of those two lost loves in my twenties and the slew of romantic missteps through my sixties.

To that end, I joined a match service last week, uploading my “profile,” which included a photo from 12 years ago (though I did give my correct age). Will upload more photos, including from my Facebook page. Those are way more recent, though not close enough to show my array of facial wrinkles. That very special view I’ll save for when I meet up with a potential suitor over a beer at my local.

Speaking of which, since launching myself into the dateosphere, Lou, Marty, David, and Tom have viewed my profile. I’ll be viewing theirs tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

My Opposable Thumb Is On The Bum

The thing about falling—especially from a short distance—is that you don’t know you’re falling. One second you’re standing, and the next you’re flat-faced on concrete, an extremely unforgiving surface.

It wasn’t a dark and stormy night when I tripped while walking up the front porch stairs. No, it was last Saturday, a beautiful, clear evening. And I was especially happy (and perhaps more than usually distracted), having just returned from the wedding of my friend, Mary.

Mary is my role model for what I’ve taken to calling “late-life love.” We are the same age, as is her new husband, and like me she was married before, but then widowed. OK, so I wasn’t exactly widowed, though Philip LaChapelle did die, even if decades after I divorced him.

Anyway, back to the fall. 

Because I’d landed on concrete—and on my left side—the swelling and the bruising happened instantaneously, starting right above my eye, then skipping over my eye and landing on my cheekbone, which seemed to have taken the brunt of it. So in addition to the swelling and the bruising, there was also the scratching and the bleeding.

It wasn’t until at least an hour later, after getting up from the concrete, rushing into the house, into the kitchen, and into the freezer for ice, that I saw that my lip, left-hand thumb, and left knee were also swelling and bruising—a light blue-ish color that kept spreading.

Now according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as reported last year, “[f]alls are [the] leading cause of injury and death in older Americans.”  This shouldn’t be news to anyone who’s either old or who know people who are.

Fortunately, for me, though, I’ve been falling for a good portion of my 70+ years, so I’m kind of practiced at it. Even as a kid, I was clumsy, prone to walking into tables, half-opened doors, and other stable objects around the house. The falling thing happened with some frequency starting in my early twenties, usually on sidewalks, and often resulting in injuries, including a fractured wrist and broken toes.

Then things got really interesting when I took up biking in my early forties: a number of falls off my bike, and once over the handlebars, resulted in a concussion and fractured ribs.

So, yes, I’ve sustained my share of injuries from years of falling, but you know what they say: that which doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger. Not sure how that applies exactly to all my bloody scratches and spreading bruises, but I’ll give it some deep thought.

Just not while out walking or biking.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Writing on the L

(NOTE: I've been going through my writing files and discovered this essay from several years ago. Though it was never published, I quite enjoyed writing it. I've edited it for length, but left the obvious anachronisms.)

Friday around noon, I board the Brown line for a downtown visit with friends. The train car I enter is half full, with plenty of seats and no obviously disturbed riders.  Then moments after sitting down, I hear the grating sound of some handheld device set at stun.  There, half way down the aisle, a 40-ish fellow dressed in jeans and a blue cap sits enveloped in the noise, his legs bouncing up and down, arms flying as he plays imaginary drums, eyes tightly shut. 
Moments later, another sound, a loud rhythmic tapping.  Sitting at the other end of the car is a young, dark-haired woman playing the castanets.  Her eyes are also tightly shut. 
Now I’ve ridden public transportation in Chicago for over 30 years now. Even when I owned a car, I’d regularly take buses and trains to downtown restaurants, nearby bookstores, friends’ houses, and work. In the mid-80’s, I completed an entire masters degree on public transportation, reading Chaucer and Milton and writing ponderous academic papers on the long ride between my far north side apartment and the University of Illinois at Chicago. 
So I’m a certified fan of pub trans, and cannot imagine why anyone would daily submit themselves to rush hour traffic, pay a king’s ransom to park, and foul the air for generations to come.
Still, I confess to a certain crankiness when riding Chicago’s trains and buses.  Excuse me, I find myself saying to my fellow riders, but would you please pick up that garbage you just tossed on the floor.  Or lower your voice while on your cell phone, describing in some detail your naked girlfriend in the shower.  Or maybe wait to clip your nails when you get home.     

But I fear I am at the losing end of a cultural tsunami: the blurring of the lines between private and public behavior.  More and more people act on public transportation as if they were sitting alone in their darkened living rooms, in their pajamas, scratching, belching and farting, screaming at some screen, often with only the bewildered family dog as witness. 
And so this latest incident with the drummer and the castanet player has inspired me.  Personally I think it’s brilliant. Though some commuter trains now have a Quiet Car, I’d go several steps further, designating six specific cars, each reflecting the diverse needs of Chicago’s riding public: 

The Music Car would accommodate all riders with headsets, CD players, real instruments, and anyone moved to spontaneously tap their feet or sing out loud. This car can also be used for overflow from The Loud Talkers Car and the Car for Teenagers.

The Restaurant Car would accommodate all riders who eat and drink while in transit—carryout Chinese, Wendy’s burgers, KFC, six-packs of Bud.  These riders will be free to guzzle drinks, lick their fingers, belch loudly, and toss bones, wrappers and cans on the floor or just leave them on the seats. This car can also be used for overflow from the Car for Teenagers.

The Toilette Car would be reserved for those riders who haven’t finished their personal grooming before leaving home.  People in this car will be free to brush their hair and floss their teeth, apply or remove make-up and nail polish, pick their pimples and noses, and tweeze things. 

The Loud Talkers Car would accommodate people who sit across and down the aisle from their family, friends, and co-workers and carry on long conversations in loud voices sprinkled with obscenities and punctuated with high-pitched laughter. Also in this car, cell phone users, especially those who still don’t believe that the person on the other end can actually hear them. This car can accommodate the overflow from the Car for Teenagers.

The Car for Teenagers

The Heavenly People Car will be reserved exclusively for those riders who sit quietly in their seats and read, write in their journals, stare out the window, say the rosary, nap in place, and speak in normal voices to their seat mates. No overflow from any other car would be permitted. 

Not a perfect system, of course. For starters, there’s the enforcement issue. What if a strolling troubadour winds up in the Toilette Car?  Or one of the finger-lickin’ crowd wanders in with the musicians?  Well, come to think of it, who’d notice?

So maybe in the end, all we really need is one designated car—the Heavenly People Car. It’ll come equipped with special sensors to instantly eject loud talkers; amateur bongo players; and, of course, teenagers.