After returning a week ago from the visiting the visual splendor of Japan in the Fall, I’m now immersing myself in autobiographies and books about memoir in preparation for presenting a new class called Write your Story: A Memoir Class.
Thinking about memory while sharing stories with long-time friends over the Thanksgiving holiday, I remembered Mary Karr’s observation in her book “The Art of Memory”:
Many a loved one has engaged in hyperbole or stretched the bounds of evidence or dug in her heels to prove a point that’s wrong.
Memory is Highly Subjective
It’s interesting that siblings and friends have such different memories of long-ago events. I often think my sister and I grew up in different families with very different parents. It makes me realize how subjective we are when thinking about the past. In my sister’s memory, our parents were very sweet and well meaning, but they unfairly gave a lot to me (the sister) and my brother and so little to her. In my world, our parents were preoccupied with their work and overly generous to my brother and less so to the daughters.
My sister and I each have our stories to tell. Her tale is of being “left out” by my parents, which made her feel needy and underappreciated, while my tale is of being “left out” by my siblings, which made me highly independent. If fully expanded, both stories could be compelling reading since I have no doubt that others would see themselves in our memoirs.
A Good Memoir
Speaking of independence, I just finished Demi Moore’s book, “Inside Out: A Memoir.” Here she is one of the top-earning actresses of our time, but her story had me in tears. Her themes are about becoming independent to escape her reckless alcoholic mother; how her self-reliance impacted her marriages: and what it took to overcome eating and other addictions to finally make peace with her body. She speaks with brutal honesty that connects her to the reader. Instead of feeling like a voyeur into her star-studded lush life, I felt I could identify with her. That’s a good memoir.
A New Memoir Class
Finally, I invite you and your friends to my memoir class at Sausalito Books by the Bay. We’ll meet on Tuesdays from 9 – 10:30 beginning January 28. To register call (415) 887-9967 or sign up at https://www.sausalitobooksbythebay.com/2020-events The cost is $180. You can give this class as a gift to a friend or loved one.
If you live in California, I recommend reading The Dreamt Land: Chasing Water and Dust Across California by Mark Arax.
But be ready to be disheartened as we are reminded that many people still think like the Gold Rush miners. Their focus was on profit, with no regard for the future, especially when it came to equitably managing the limited resource of water.
The Gold Rush
In Gold Rush times, the successful miners relied on industrial-scale hydraulics to tear away mountainsides; the result was some precious metal, along with vast destruction of downstream farms.
The Central Valley
Today, with uncertain rainfall, the farmers and ranchers in the Central Valley drill deeper and deeper for water resulting in subsidence that constitutes “the most dramatic alteration of the earth’s surface in human history,” according to Arax. The ground is sinking dramatically. Farmers in the Central Valley who lack the resources to compete for the underground water are living in “a dust bowl” where crops won’t grow; their homes are full of dust.
Obi Kaufmann has an Answer
With this in mind, I went to hear Obi Kaufmann, the author of the new book The State of Water: Understanding California’s Most Precious Resource.
I was ready to be depressed. Instead Obi Kaufman provided some next steps, including ways to change our thinking. He said that as we prepare for a post-carbon economy, we need to be grounded and connected. He told us, “Go outside. Take off your shoes. Feel the grass in your toes. Drink water. Breathe deep. Eat well. Do this every day.” He wants us to end our “existential alienation from nature.”
This was music to my ears. My passions are hiking and painting outside. I like taking children on nature walks arranged by Wildcare. I also teach children about gardening and natural habitats in programs developed by the Marin Master Gardeners. And I love to tell others about programs and resources that protect our environment.
All is Not Lost
I hope Obi Kaufmann https://coyoteandthunder.com/ is right – that getting grounded and connected will help us all. I know it will make me feel better. When I feel better, I do see that all is not lost.
Lately friends have been asking me about my philosophy. They want to know if I have a dogma, or if I’m guided by a self-help guru. The answer is I’m a pragmatist. Over the years, through trial and error, I’ve found a path that works for me. It includes having a balanced life, getting unstuck, pursuing fun leisure activities, keeping healthy, fulfilling my life purpose, sticking to my personal guiding principles, and achieving goals.
In my workshops and coaching, I share this “path” with others. And that feels great. So, as Thanksgiving approaches, I want to talk about how grateful I am to have this opportunity to teach and be a coach. It truly is fulfilling to help people who are feeling uncertain about what next steps to take, and then see them leave at peace, knowing how they want life to look and what they need to do to achieve it.
This work, plus so much more, makes me feel that my life is balanced and full. I am thankful for good health which allows me to enjoy hiking, skiing, cycling, sailing, dance, and yoga. I’m thankful for the amazing friends I’ve made while pursuing these activities. I’m grateful that as a Marin Master Gardener, I can volunteer for the Dig It, Grow It, Eat It program that teaches children about gardening and nutritious foods. I’m thankful that I’m able to travel; this year I went to the East Coast and Canada, while next year I’ll visit New Zealand. And I’m grateful for my small family.
I want to wish you a fulfilling Thanksgiving Holiday. If you have time, write down some of the things you are grateful for. Did you know that a 2012 study found that grateful people have fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people? Spend 10 minutes jotting down a few grateful thoughts before bed, and you may sleep better.
A year after the devastation of the Sonoma County, California fires, friends who have lost their homes and most of their material possessions spoke to me about gratitude – gratitude for the outpouring of gifts and support from both friends and strangers.
It doesn’t erase the pain of the loss, but one friend shared that small events will long be remembered, such as gong to community garage “sales” where you are told to take anything that fits or is useful…maybe a new pair of earrings or a sweater or even a bicycle – for free.
I recently spoke with a Sonoma artist at a local art festival. He lost most of his paintings when his studio burned in the fire. I looked at photos of his lost paintings and then felt exhilarated by his fresh, new paintings. He has worked through the trauma and come out the other side with stunning, gorgeous images.
My friend Annie calls this “getting pruned.” She says it’s like cutting back a rose bush and being rewarded with even more stunning rose blossoms.
This metaphor reminded me that in the 1980’s I lost my home in a mudslide in Sausalito, California. I’m grateful I got out alive and was able to rescue some possessions. I realize now that the loss and trauma was a turning point for me. It forced me to re-evaluate my life and eventually led to a better romantic partnership, and work in coaching and training that was more aligned with my values.
In fact, one couple I know announced their engagement shortly after she lost her home in one of the fires. Maybe they would have announced it at that time anyway, but experience tells me that after facing the possibility of losing your life, some decisions become very clear.
Another friend told me that when the fire destroyed her home, she decided to move closer to San Francisco where most of the family works. The shorter commute has resulted in greater family togetherness, which she loves.
I certainly don’t want to minimize the pain and trauma of major loses; however, as we remember the fires, it’s good to recognize that sometimes life calls for us to reinvent ourselves…and that can be a good thing.
Recently a reporter from a new website for Boomers – www.considerable.com – interviewed me about coaching people over 50 and finding life balance. He wondered what’s different at this age. I told him that almost everything changes. This graphic covers much of it.
You may feel lonely if you are no longer working; you may be an empty-nester; loved ones may have passed on; you may be less healthy; you may have unstructured time; you may want to have a new sense of purpose and meaning… and so on. When this happens, it’s valuable to work with a coach to look at ways to re-balance your life.
My coaching clients look at which areas of life are most important now and consider how to allocate their time in the future to achieve the right balance. An easy way to do this is to draw a circle or pie and slice up the pie to show how your time is spent now. Then draw a second pie and slice it up to show the way you want to spend your time in the future. Look at these elements in your life and decide which you want to expand or change:
- work (paid or volunteer)
- family and relationships
- leisure and physical activities
- personal pursuits – creativity and education
- spiritual pursuits
- integrate healthy habits into all of this
Ask yourself: How satisfied am I with each of these elements? How can I increase my satisfaction?
I have tools that can help with this process. Just send an email (email@example.com) or give me a call (415-328-6514) to arrange a coaching session. Or attend a “Reinvent Yourself after 50” workshop – click the link for information on the next one.
These photos say it all. Hiking in the Canadian Rockies and Purcell Mountains in British Columbia is awe-inspiring. I came home feeling joyful and grateful, but tired. It’s hard to top spending a week with dear friends from my hiking club surrounded by spectacular scenery. We hiked, drove, cooked and stayed together in a big barn. The encouragement and support of the group made it possible to hike 10 to 12 miles a day on steep switchbacks climbing up over 2500 feet.
One of my friends fell and broke her arm. Undeterred – with her arm in a cast – she made it to the summit of every trail we took. Very inspiring. And by the way, our group has hikers in their 50s, 60s and mid-70s.
If you can, get outdoors into the beauty of nature. Your soul will respond to seeing wildflowers, waterfalls, meadows and forests. Take a walk under trees or near water. You’ll clear your mind and feel fabulous.
If you have a high school reunion coming up, GO. If it’s your 50th reunion, don’t hesitate. The 50th reunion is probably the last reunion. It’s sad to say, but some of your classmates won’t be alive…or won’t be able to travel in another 10 years.
I just returned from my 50th reunion at Abington High School in a suburb of Philadelphia. When the reunion was announced, I was the first to RSVP. I live 3000 miles from many of my high school friends, and this was a chance to see everyone at once. With Facebook, it’s been great to catch up with so many of my classmates, but it’s not the same as face-to-face. When seeing friends in person, the good memories come flooding back. And, at this stage of life, the bad memories of feeling excluded (by people in some cliques) have long faded away.
The reunion was an opportunity to remember my childhood on the East Coast. I decided to make the event into an adventure by plane, train and subway. I wanted to see the 911 museum in New York and take an in-depth look at Washington D.C. I’m glad I did. Even two weeks was not enough time to see the many monuments, gardens, museums and cultural events on my bucket list.
After the “high” I felt in New York city with it’s great energy, I was not let down in Philadelphia. My high school pals have matured into relaxed, interesting, fun-loving older adults. We picked up where we left off so many years ago. Everyone was welcoming.
We’re at a great age. Yes, it’s true that there was a wide variation in how well we aged. I recognized almost everyone I used to “hang with.” They looked energetic and fabulous. The surprise was that some classmates are using canes and walkers.
It’s truly eye-opening to see that even as early as the sixties, if you don’t have good genes and don’t live a healthy lifestyle, your decline will already be apparent. It’s another reminder to stay active and engage with life. And to reinvent yourself.
Some years ago, shortly after my father and brother passed away, I hit a low point and saw a therapist at Kaiser Permanente. He recommended a YouTube video of Albert Ellis, an influential American Psychologist who died in 2007. Ellis is best known for developing Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). When I applied REBT to my situation, I felt much better. Now, when I have negative thoughts, I use REBT – because it works.
I’ve found Ellis’ approach to be highly effective for coaching clients. Men and women quickly see how their thoughts have blocked them from success. For example, one client had a problem with his foot. He blamed himself and said that perhaps he deserved to suffer. When he examined his belief, he saw that it was irrational. He “de-catastrophized” the situation, found the energy to look for new options by talking to people who could help, and tried a therapy that eventually healed his foot.
Here’s the approach:
Albert Ellis’ ABCDEs of Adversity
A – Adversity happens
B – What is your belief or thought about it? Is the belief logical? Rational? What would be a more helpful belief?
C – Consequences – What did you feel or do?
D – Dispute the feeling. De-catastrophize it: What is the evidence? It’s not a big deal in the scheme of things Look at alternatives Look for greater meaning – nation, God, family, a cause, volunteering, charity
E – Energy – feel energized. Take action
How can you apply this is in your life? If you are working on an issue, let’s meet for a private coaching session. It’s time to move forward.
I recently read the book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink. If you want to know the best time of day to get results and the benefits of napping, this is a must read. He has a chapter on endings, including what he calls “Act Three” of life – where we “sharpen our red pencils and scratch out anyone or anything non-essential.” Research shows that as we age, we edit out people who are less emotionally meaningful.
Here’s something to try when you’re in a slump. Mr. Pink shares a technique he learned from four social psychologists. This process is inspired by the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
- Think about something positive in your life – your relationship, your child, a career achievement, your home
- List all the circumstances that made it possible – a friend’s suggestion, a class you took, a party you attended
- Write down all the events and decisions that might never have happened – you didn’t go to the party or take the class
- Now remind yourself that life did go your way. Think about the happy random events that did happen. Be grateful for your good fortune. Life is pretty wonderful.
Try this technique and post a comment on how it worked for you. I did feel wonderful when I tried it.
My friend Harry was laid off from his job at the age of 64. He took some time to think about his future….and then took some more time. His savings were slim, so he said he would look for another job. I’m not sure if he looked. I do know that he spent a lot of time on his computer, going to movies by himself, and watching TV. Mostly he was alone. Then he got sick. Then his cognitive thinking declined. He was depressed and isolated. He is one of the reasons I created the “Reinvent Yourself after 50” workshop. I want to help people feel fulfilled, joyful, and passionate, whether they are working or not.
For many people the most difficult aspect of leaving the workforce is losing daily interaction with work colleagues and the people you meet when you’re at work – the coffee barista, the bus driver, the cashier at the deli. In the workshop we discuss the many benefits of social integration and how to ensure we don’t lose it. This video demonstrates why our relationships are paramount to our longevity and to having fulfilling lives.
What does it take to live for 100 years? These are the surprising predictors of a long, healthy life.
Susan Pinker at TED2017 – The secret to living longer may be your social life