Category Archives: Inspiration

Re-inventing Aging: A Jane-lite Third Act

Remember when you were in your twenties? Who could forget those old geezers who groaned every time they rose from a chair? Observing them through the illusion of eternal youth, those oldsters seemed like a different species. I’ll bet you never thought you’d be one.

Neither did I.

But these days, creaking bones and aching muscles have become a routine part of my morning. I begin each day by tentatively evaluating my discomfort, and often it’s a matter of degree. Perchance my low back is tweaked, but at least my knee feels okay. My right pinky toe hurts, but my hips and ankles are holding. Now and then I still spring out of bed, pain free, but these days are becoming rare. Ten years ago, I may have been tight from working out, or a little sore from overdoing it, but ricketiness had not become a chronic condition. Recalling the passage of time, I go to a dark place — if this is what sixty feels like, what will seventy or God-willing, eighty bring?

I turned to Jane Fonda, who may have coined the expression Third Act in her 2011 book, Prime Time, an instruction manual of sorts for the over-sixty demographic. In a nutshell, Act One (age 0–29), “a time for gathering” includes the formative experiences of childhood, adolescence, self-image and gender identity. Act Two (age 30–59), “a time of building and in-between-ness” is characterized work and family relationships as they shift and evolve over time. Although Fonda explores the first two acts, The Third Act (age 60 and beyond) is the heart of her book.

Prime Time opens with Jane’s personal reflection at a turning point in her life. On the cusp of her sixtieth birthday, she begins to grapple with “the issue of time — the inexorability of it — pressing in on me.” I identify with Jane’s inertia, her sense of foreboding, and I am struck by her humility and courage.

She begins a soul-searching life review, examining family memorabilia, taking a humble look at the little girl or teenager smiling (or not) in family photos. Her process continues as she pieces together pivotal experiences, poring over her fifty-nine years. As if traveling back in time, she relives the joys and heartbreaks that have shaped her. Letting go and “becoming whole,” she is free to move forward into her Third Act.

Emerging from her life review, Jane hits the ground running. With her trademark vivacity, she steps up as spokesperson and champion for the chronologically challenged. Urging boomers to get off our lazy backsides, she crushes late-life stereotypes, coaching us to live “full tilt to the end.” The exposition is well-researched and prescriptive, providing concrete directives, a recipe for success if you will, with “eleven ingredients for successful aging.”

Here are Jane’s big eleven: Don’t abuse alcohol, don’t smoke, get enough sleep, be physically active, eat healthfully, keep learning, be positive, review and reflect, love and stay connected, give of yourself, care about the bigger picture. These sensible suggestions resonate with me. I cannot disagree with logic. Still, Jane’s recipe leaves me vaguely disquieted, as if I’m failing.

Those if us in our third act (60 or better) have learned a few things. For instance, when we thumb through magazines, ogling glossy airbrushed photos of flawless folks, we no longer compare ourselves to these images. We know better. We understand this kind of perfection is both simulated and humanly unattainable.

Jane’s “full tilt” life is like an airbrushed pic. Compared to her, I will always come up short. My inner cynic quips, who wouldn’t look fantastic with a team of surgeons, trainers and nutritionists? I remind myself of her celebrity status, wealth and entitlement and it’s easy to dismiss her, writing her off as another self-appointed “expert” wielding her fame. Alas, I am not superhuman. I will never be Jane. Who cares? Who needs soul-crushing perfectionism? Pass the pizza.

Yet, as I close Jane’s book and reach for a cheesy slice, I’m hit with an unexpected twinge of guilt, or perhaps shame. Maybe it’s all the wasted hours I’ve spent binge-watching re-runs on Hulu, that third glass of wine. Could it be the dark chocolate that keeps mysteriously disappearing from my cupboard? I glance down at the book jacket, Jane’s all-knowing eyes looking back at me. At that moment, I contemplate her legacy. Whether you love or despise her, Jane is a force. She’s inspired many, including me, as she continues to evolve and reinvent herself. An accomplished actor, controversial political activist and legendary guru of fitness for more than six decades, at 79, her vitality is undiminished. These days, Jane is busy lighting up the screen with Lily Tomlin, eviscerating so-called older women’s traditional roles, in the groundbreaking, irreverent, smart and wickedly funny hit show Grace and Frankie. Unlike the endless parade of vapid, pretty people in the media mainstream, I cannot dismiss her.

I pick up the book, studying her face. What do you want from me, Jane? Must I eat more kale? Must I lift weights? Learn Italian? Perhaps I am losing my grip on reality, because I hear Jane’s response. She reminds me that my choices are my own, but whatever I choose, to live with intention.

I exhale noisily. I admit it — Jane is right.

Very well, Jane. You win.

Did she just wink at me?

The Reckoning

Taking an honest inventory of my life, I recognize room for improvement. Disclosure: I’m afraid to start something I cannot finish. I don’t want to fail. Sorry, Jane. I’m not quite ready to revisit my past unflinchingly. I’ll save the life review for later. So, how do I begin my Third Act, intentionally and with clarity?

I’ve never been good at diets. The moment a food is deemed off-limits or “forbidden,” it’s literally all I think about. Going cold turkey on vices such as wine, chocolate or overconsumption of the Internet, I am destined to fail. Adding a positive goal, not subtracting, has always been more successful for me.

As fall approaches, I’m reminded of new beginnings. With that mind, I embark on a more conscious Third Act, taking baby steps toward meaningful change. The first thing that comes to mind is diet. I’m a decent cook, but night after night, it often feels like drudgery, so most of the time, I rely on prepacked salad greens to fulfill the vegie requirement. I love vegetables and I know they’re good for my body, but don’t eat enough of them. I tell myself it’s too time-consuming and I’m just too damn busy for all that shopping and cooking. Hell, I’m not Jane Fonda. I have no personal chef, tempting me daily with an abundant variety of luscious, exotically prepared vegies.

This is the point where I smugly justify my laziness. But not this time, because the veil has been lifted. I can choose to make this manageable, yet significant change. There may be only one Jane, but the rest of us can strive for Jane-lite.

JC’s August-September Baby-Steps Challenge

I task myself, and anyone who’d like to join me, to consume a greater variety and quantity of vegetables. Your ideas and suggestions are very welcome.

Baby steps, people.

Stay tuned for updates!

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Not Quite Jane, but Jane-lite

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Filed under Essay, Humor, Inspiration

Another Half-Year Older (And what do you have to show for it?)

 

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Yesterday was  the longest day of the year. I didn’t get my writing done. I didn’t get my revision done. I didn’t get  my blog posted. What did I do all day? What do I do any day?

How can I stop churning and start winning?

Let’s consider this for a moment:

I began at 7:30 with coffee and laundry. Next I paid my mother’s bills and prepared the checks for the mail. I reordered a prescription on-line, brought our checkbook up to date and made my list of errands before showering, dressing and inhaling the breakfast my darling short-order cook made (bless his  heart).

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“ Looking up, I noticed I was late. . . “

I jumped into the car and made it into my seat at the lecture on medieval tapestries (I’m researching a poem) as the lecturer took the podium. Unknown-1Back home, I inventoried the refrigerator and pantry while I ate crackers and apricots for lunch, planned the next week’s menus and made a grocery list for my Wednesday run to Oliver’s  (senior discount day). I started  salad greens soaking in filtered water for our dinner (served with sliced tomato, radish, egg, potato, chicken and tuna—refreshing on another hot evening) and went to my office to complete the waiting list of tasks: new bio for the new website, update my credits’ list, grab covers and web addresses for the anthologies I’ve published in.

“ Looking up, I noticed I was late. . . “ The Post Office was going to close in ten minutes.  I gathered the letters and parcels needing postage and flew. . . .

Back in the office I finished a volunteer proofreading assignment for the next Redwood Writers anthology and and returned to the kitchen (after a pass through my garden to smell the roses) and made dinner, ate and washed up.

IMG_6414Suddenly it was  after nine and I hadn’t written, let alone posted, a blog entry, worked on the book review now due, or worked on the revision of my second novel—a lot of zeros on my checklist.

Time is ticking by and I’m exhausted. I feel like a total loser because another day, another  half year has gone by and I haven’t done my work.

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I read an article in the Huffpost recently by Abigail Williams called “5 Secrets of People Who are Always Organized.” Here’s what she says:

  • They live by lists. The key is to keep lists manageable by breaking down long-term tasks into small steps. Maybe revising the entire book today was too ambitious?
  • They have a place for everything and put everything in its place. I’m late every day because, well, where did I leave my keys?
  • They make clear, quick decisions and stick to them. I agonize over all the options, killing efficiency. Mary Oliver opens her poem, Wild Geese, with “You do not have to be good/ You do not have to walk on your knees. . .” Just get on with it!
  • They cut the clutter. What? Clean up and keep clean my wildly creative workspace (euphemism for “totally messy”)? Now, where did I put those new file folders decorated with scenes of London, Rome and Paris?
  • They value their time. Don’t you just hate those organized people? They’re able to do it all! Uh-uh. They work smarter and delegate. And herein lies the conundrum—I’m the delegee.

UnknownSo what am I going to delegate? Certainly not the shopping, dinner preparation or laundry. I’d be thrilled to stop housework, but if not me, who? My husband is earning a living (and anyway, he takes out the garbage and mows). He’d gladly hire a housekeeper—when I earn enough to pay for her. Drop my fiduciary responsibilities to my aged Mother and our family business? But as a retired accountant I’m so well qualified. Stop volunteering? Let my garden turn into a brambly weed patch? Quit my job? No, no, and no! I love my work, and my garden is my sanity keeper.

What’s the solution? Less TV? Less sleep? Less socializing?

I’m going to add a sixth secret to Abigail’s list:

  • People who are organized pay attention.  The experts say the more time you devote to your spiritual practice, the more efficiently you’ll run your life., so meditate more often. A study done at the University of Wisconsin—Madison found “people who meditate regularly have different patterns of brain waves, potentially leading to more efficient attention-paying and learning.” Meditation then is a means to organizing your mind, exactly what I need. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to sit.

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Filed under Columns, Inspiration, Productivity

Take Your Inspiration Where You Find It

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Yesterday, one of our resident wild turkeys got stuck on the other side of the fence and and beat down the new grass with his pacing and clucking when he was left behind by the others who flew to roost. I tried to “inspire” (read that as “scare”) him to fly over and join his mom and sister, but he kept catching his beak in the fence wire. Finally he ran into the brush and hid from me.

My writing has been like the stupid turkey lately: stuck and hiding. I have too much going on, not to mention jetlag and falling back to daylight standard time. The words just aren’t coming. I want to make a pot of tea and settle in front of the fire to clip and paste my Paris photos and mementos into that handmade album I bought on Rue de Pont Saint Louis—collage my memories into a current of images that flows through the Paris I came to love in my too few days there. They say a picture is worth 1,000 words, but I’m a writer, and how does any of this solve my problems with chapter 17?

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To inspire myself, I’ve pulled-out my tricks from the cupboards and closets: my “What if…” flipchart, a copy of 642 Things to Write About by the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto, a copy of the just launched Sisters Born, Sisters Found anthology edited by Laura McHale Holland (I’ve got two pieces in it), my ideas journal— and toted them to class. I yammered on about where writers find inspiration; I encouraged the group to take notes—constantly and everywhere. I read from the ideas journal.

My lecture may not have gotten my own beak out of the fence, but my class was inspired. Here is what one participant had to say:

About Inspiration:  Since early childhood I’ve been a noticer of what’s going on, a ponderer of things, realizing how small things can be big things.  Did not try to write stuff down though, until my later years when, after early retirement at age fifty-five, I started to keep a journal.  Thoughts that were interesting needed to be written down,  whenever I felt like it. . . usually in the mornings.  I read them often, and sometimes I felt a story could be developed from one here and there.

Ideas can come anywhere, even in line at the grocery store, but I need a peaceful place to expand on them.  It helps that my home is isolated and surrounded by nature.  I can THINK here. 

I like “What ifs?”  What if a tree could talk? What if that man looking through the garbage bin has a story to tell?  What if the sun knows what I am thinking?

 I hope we [writers] can get together to just talk about what makes us write, and how we  write.

I tossed with worry all night that the fox would find the turkey and eat it. Now, I’ve just watched all three fly to roost in my eucalyptus trees and had that flash of  idea in my mind: a new story  about Jesse who has done very, very bad things, and that the dog trainer will kidnap JadeAnne and Pepper in chapter 17.

I can’t say what the inspiration was, but I’m happy to receive it. If you have any ideas on inspiration, tell us in the comments below. Keep the conversation going!

 

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