Eddies and Currents

Eddies

A quiet bay on the Ottawa River

A quiet bay on the Ottawa River

I’ve been in one of life’s ‘strange places’ for some time now. You know. One of life’s backwaters, the place where you’re sort of off to the side, out of the main stream, where there’s enough flow to give the illusion of movement …and yet …and yet mostly you just seem to float in wide, languid circles; slow eddies carrying you along with no real direction, no arrival time or location apparent. Moving yet not going anywhere.

Who knows when these strange place experiences start. Mine seems to have been precipitated by the news, just about a year ago, that my ex was dying of a very grim form of cancer. Seems odd, doesn’t it, that the imminent death of a long divorced spouse could start such a process? We’d been separated for years. He’d found another life partner. I’d begun dating again after many years of contented solo living. But it seems that when you’ve spent 30 years together, many of them in a relationship that was fulfilling and characterized by excitement and joy, there are all sorts of ties and tendrils that remain in place while ‘the other’ is still alive, even if you’ve chosen separate paths.

Concurrent with Greg’s illness and subsequent death was a growing awareness that how I’d been handling my professional life was no longer working for me. So the slow dislocation began, deepening after he died. I was surprised at how hard his death impacted me. I was somewhat shocked to discover that in my heart and head I was still having all sorts of on-going conversations with him though we lived a thousand miles apart and talked in ‘real time’ only intermittently. It’s also been destabilizing to realize that the person who knew me better than anyone else on this earth is no longer out there. Some essential, primal connection with a meaningful other has been severed and I am still emotionally flapping about feeling somewhat out of sorts with this new reality of my life.

Backwaters

Out of the flow, Canning, NS

Out of the flow, Canning, NS

In the grand scheme of things this time spent paddling in life’s backwaters hasn’t lasted all that long. It’s only been 4 months since he died. My first husband died in an accident so I know what grief is about and how long it can last. Or I thought I did. This is a very different type of grieving, it seems than that experienced by sudden catastrophic loss.

But I’m an experienced human growth professional. I know how these things go and how pointless it is to fight against them, to try to brighten the pixels of this thing I call my life, to force myself to simply get on with it. So I spent my summer paddling along. Getting a few things accomplished but not all the many important priorities that I’d planned to move forward. I’ve also been pretty much absent from my friend’s lives; it just hasn’t felt like I’ve had anything very much to contribute.

About a week ago I started to feel myself edging back towards the main current of the river of my life. The malaise I’ve experienced for weeks began to dissipate; I began to feel more motivated; I started making tentative plans again.

And then a very dear friend called to tell me that she’d been diagnosed with cancer. The resolve that I’d begun to re-experience dissipated like fog as we talked. My heart ached for her. My heart began to ache for me as I thought about facing the loss of someone else dear to me. I quickly slipped into that quiet backwater once more, partly stunned, partly dismayed, partly questioning whether it was worth all the effort required to live an active, productive, conscious life.

This morning my friend and I talked again. Her surgeon tells her that he’s not convinced she has cancer. They need to do a biopsy and only when he sees the actual tissue will he make the call. Seems like her symptoms aren’t typical and there are several key markers that are missing. Whew. Great news for her. Excellent news for me. We hope. We can only hope.

Currents

Searching for the Invisible

Searching for the Invisible

And yet, at some level, aging’s cat is now out of the bag.  I’m faced with the harsh reality that there’ll be lots of this kind of news coming my way in the future. I’m at an age where more people will leave my life than are likely to enter it, despite my practice of proactively creating friendships with people significantly younger than myself.

Upon reflection, I’ve noticed there’s something about the death or immanent departure of age contemporaries that is profoundly unsettling. Not only is there the awareness of the ‘there but for the grace of god go I’ dynamic of life, but the shared experiences and shared understanding of the broader world that is common to an age cohort begins to disappear. The world my friends who are 20, 30, 40 years younger than me inhabit and grew up in is not the same world as the one I grew up with. Only my age contemporaries know and share that world with unquestioning intimacy. I find it destabilizing to have that common ground begin to disappear, as if the river of life is undercutting the banks of my existence.

So I wish for my dear friend that whatever is happening isn’t cancer or any other condition that might hasten her journey towards inevitable death. And I wish for me that my age-mates last as long as is possible, selfish gal that I am. As much as I love and appreciate my younger friends, I don’t want any more of the ground upon which I walk to disappear from under my feet.

And yet, I know it must. That’s the nature of life.

Futures

Who knows where life will take me in the upcoming weeks and months. For certain decision points await, actions must be taken and I must create, yet again, a new future for myself. I’m glad that I’ve had this time paddling around in the backwater channel of the river of my life. Out of it will surface the clarity and intention I need to move into a vital and vibrant new future. I am honoured that my ex and my friend have gifted me with invitations to think about my life, my future and my choices in new and innovative ways.

 

I look forward to my currently unknown future.

St. Lawrence River Sunset

St. Lawrence River Sunset

Aging Disgracefully

Laughing way too hard to be acceptable with my friend Randy

Laughing way too hard to be acceptable with my friend Randy

My friend Evelyn Hannon (of www.Journeywoman.com fame) and I have both pledged that we will grow old as we have lived life: on our own terms, in our own way, and with great joie de vivre. No growing old gracefully for us.

In my case, that has involved a return to the world of dating and an active, if somewhat sporadic, sex life just as I began to collect my Old Age Pension. And as so often happens to me, my life’s experiences end up becoming the next unfolding of my work.

My sexual reawakening and the many, many conversations I’ve had with men in all corners of the world as I’ve explored the post-modern freak show that is on-line dating have drawn me to explore the topic of sexuality and aging. I am now well into the process of writing a book on that topic.  I’ve been involved in exploring conscious aging for some time now, and through developing a TV series with a colleague, became aware that the topic of sexuality and aging was one that many shied away from.

Seeing yourself as a sexy woman again can be a great challenge!

Seeing yourself as a sexy woman again can be a great challenge!

I’ve always been attracted to topics that skirt the edges of acceptability in society: whether that be about being fat, off-the-beaten-track travel, alternatives to ‘retirement’, social business, death and dying, late life divorce or other topics that make many people squirm, I quickly realized that few were discussing sexuality. Sure there is some discussion about sex and the elderly, but most of it is medically based. For me, sexuality is such a broader, more compelling topic. Sexuality is about how one feels about being a sexual entity in an aging body, whether actively having sex or not.

It has been such a delight to read books and articles on the topic, to talk with all types of people of varying ages, to see the look of delight, shock (and occasionally horror) that passes across peoples’ faces when I announce that my book will not only talk about sexuality and aging but will show photos of ordinary people nude or semi-nude in sexualized poses. I’ve discovered that it is one thing to talk about sexuality and aging, it is quite another matter to show pictures of the beauty of wrinkled, naked flesh in a sexual context. I can’t wait.

I’m still looking for stories, by the way, of people between 55 and 75 about their experiences of sexuality. I’ve got a standard questionnaire that I administer by phone or Skype, offer people complete anonymity and will provide a free copy of the e-book version of my book once it is published. Let me know if you’d like to participate. Also, if you are interested in posing for photos, let me know. We continue to search for willing life models.

My own experiences have been very heartening and life affirming. I’ve met some utterly delightful men. I’ve had some fantastic lovers and have learned so very much about myself as a woman, a sexual being, and a person continuing to deal with the fall-out of some early life traumas. I’ve also discovered that as difficult as I always thought it was for us women to deal with our sagging bodies and flagging libidos, most men are in much, much worse shape emotionally and spiritually. The big factor for most men, I’ve discovered, is that as their bodies start to fail them, they don’t have the sisterhood of friends that most of us women have. They are alone in their self-doubt and misery. Guys just don’t talk in the kind of supportive way that women do. Their sexual challenges tend to get highlighted rather than normalized through the social isolation they experience around this topic.

Being playful on a Portuguese beach . . .

Being playful on a Portuguese beach . . .

So while I hold my sex life as in no way disgraceful, I do know that the fact that I talk pretty openly about on-line dating, about sexuality and about the emotional and physical issues many experience as they age is considered disgraceful to many. All the more so because I am not a licensed psychologist or medical practitioner. I am just a fat old woman who loves life and is committed to living it as vibrantly as I possibly can for as long as I possibly can.  Disgraceful, isn’t it?

The future is ALWAYS in today . . .

AmyGigiAlexanderwwwI follow this amazing woman on Facebook. Amy Gigi Alexander is an extraordinary writer and human being. So often her posts stop me in my tracks, inviting me to notice things about myself and my life that have been, to date, transparent to me. I say that as a woman who holds herself to be living a very conscious, aware and attuned life. I find these days that it takes someone with a very special perspective on life to get into the unexplored nooks and crannies of my psyche. I’ve come to welcome Amy’s posts for their ability to infiltrate unexplored corners of me and invite more Self exploration.

Today, Amy had a post about Glen Canyon, a place on the Colorado River that was dammed way back in the ’50’s. Bells immediately started ringing within me because Glen Canyon is a place of deep emotional significance to me. Not that I’ve ever been there, but I’ve had a small but lovely photo book on my shelf since the early 70’s that captured the beauty and mystery of this place that was flooded in order to assure ‘progress’ for industry. “The Place No One Knew” by Eliot Porter is filled with hauntingly beautiful photos of this magical corner of the world, allowing us access to beauty and mystery that no longer exists.

LoranBut beyond the stunning images and powerful quotations by many noted authors and poets, for me, the real power of “The Place No One Knew” is that it was one of the most beloved books of my late, first husband Loran Goulden. I remember us poring over its lush images and talking about Glen Canyon as an avatar for the destruction of nature’s beauty that was rampant in the late 60’s and early 70’s (as if it isn’t still happening today). We were young; we were idealistic; we were passionate that people like us could make a difference in saving our planet. Glen Canyon was one of the books that spurred Loran to change his path from photography to environmental science. He was living his passion and vision, working for one of the early environmental consulting companies, out counting Mountain Caribou in southern BC for input to a proposed oil pipeline impact assessment when he died in a plane crash on August 1, 1974.

ImageI read a passage from Glen Canyon at his memorial service a few weeks later. Amy Gigi Alexander’s post stimulated me to pull that small book from the shelf and then go on a up-lifting yet tear-filled trip down memory lane. As I searched out the passage I had dedicated to Loran nearly 41 years ago, I reveled again in the images and the array of powerful writings that accompanied them. Then I recognized the piece that I was looking for. And I was shocked. Shocked and amazed about the degree to which it still spoke to me after all these years. Amazed and inspired at the insight I had had all those decades ago . . .insight I didn’t know at the time that I possessed. More and more these days I am accepting and acknowledging that I was a much more intuitive and insightful young woman than I was willing to allow myself to claim back then.

Here’s that passage:

“I know that the word ‘miraculous’ is regarded dubiously in scientific circles because of past quarrels with theologians. The world has been defined, however, as an event transcending the known laws of nature. Since, as we have seen, the laws of nature have a way of being altered from one generation of scientists to the next, a little taste for the miraculous in this broad sense will do us no harm.  We forget that nature itself is one vast miracle transcending the reality of night and nothingness. We forget that each of us in his personal life repeats that miracle.” Loren Eiseley

I remember how powerfully these words spoke to me at the time. I didn’t realize, however, how they represented the essence of my worldview then and still all these years later. I didn’t notice that even at that tender age I believed that each of us is a miracle and that our very presence matters in this world. I didn’t recognize the power in understanding that the ‘laws of nature’ do, indeed, change from one generation to another. Not so much the laws themselves, but our understanding of them. I know that I did and always have been aware of how important it is for us to sustain ‘a little taste for the miraculous’. What’s different these days is that I claim its importance overtly. Back then I just sort of ‘knew’ it. I am extremely proud of the degree to which I have grown into that belief and how it has sustained me during the difficult times of my life.

IMG_0949That ‘little taste for the miraculous’ is the seed that has been Me always and that will take me into whatever future I want for myself. That seed has caused me challenges in the past because it has made me somehow quirkily different than most people. And yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I now revel in my taste for the miraculous and know that it is what sets me apart in the most positive ways and allows me to live this gloriously special life I continue to create for myself. It keeps me wondering what tomorrow’s miraculous discoveries will be . . .

What about you? What’s your ‘seed’ that makes you different and will carry you into your future if you claim it and allow it? Have you owned the way in which you are a miracle? Can you even stand to know that you are a miracle?