Musings and Amusings

Posts tagged ‘life’

Lattes, Lizards and Laxatives

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Oh c’mon. You didn’t really think I was done with the potty talk, did you? If you didn’t want to hear more you shouldn’t have shared so many light-hearted latrine stories!

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Good, Better, Best – Alice Munro

Although I was somewhat disappointed in the first two Annies I read for my Annie Project, the stars aligned with my final three selections. (Future posts for Annie Proulx and Edward Abbey.)

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Cherished Blogfest 2015

Thank you, Damyanti, Dan, Paul, Peter and Sharukh for co-hosting this Blogfest.

I apologize I can’t figure out how to link to the participants’ list, but you can find it by linking to one of the co-hosts above.

Did anyone else drive yourself crazy selecting a Cherished Object?

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It’s a Sign

Summertime might finally have arrived and be here for the next week or so (but I don’t want to say that too loudly in case the Weather Gods are listening).

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Buoyancy, Baggage and Beyond

I’m reminded this week how similar we are, even in our differences.

  •  Maggie worries about her godmother, Aunt Iris, and a blogger buddy named Iris who’s gone ‘radio silent’
  • Jen is determined to remain buoyant as anxiety monsters threaten to pull her under
  • Joey vexes over cold sores and cabbage while craving restful sleep
  • I’m reading a book about ‘happiness‘ while thinking the least we deserve is ‘resilience’, and we’d all be better off if experts touted ‘contentment’ rather than ‘happiness’

Happiness

 No matter what Maggie, Jen, Joey, the Mayo Clinic or I call it, we’re all talking about resiliency: the ability to cope with who you are and what life throws at you.

Taking the long view, if you fill your quiver with arrows of resilience, you are well on your way to a life of contentment.

Happiness, while not overrated, is certainly over-hyped as the optimal state of emotion. A math concept I remember is reversion to the mean – for every moment of happiness, there will be an equal, opposing force called sadness to pull you back to equilibrium.

I like my moments of happiness – the days my body doesn’t hurt and I’m not ruminating about the past or playing what if’s with the future. There are never enough of those days.

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Like some of you, I skew towards the anxiety of undesirable scenarios with an aversion to the many things I can’t control. Reversion to the mean hasn’t brought equilibrium in my innermost self where we suffer the most. If I dwelled on that, I’d be tempted to feel disappointed with some aspects of my life.

That’s where resilience and contentment come into play. In my worst years of mind/body ailments, I learned the cyclical nature of the day to day: on my worst days, I knew I’d eventually feel better; on my best days, I knew they wouldn’t last.

You learn to withstand the worst and cherish the best – for me that’s where resilience meets contentment, and life’s equilibrium is achieved.

It applies to everything, doesn’t it? From our mental and physical challenges to gardening  – where weeds grow prolifically and favored plants succumb – to friendships that seem like they’ll last forever and fall apart at surprising junctures. We don’t control any of it. We won’t ever achieve an uninterrupted life of happiness.

But we can acquire tools of resilience, hoping sooner rather than later to understand and rejoice that we live contented, but not trouble-free, lives.

I’m not discussing medications or extricating yourself from unhealthy relationships, although I highly recommend considering both when needed!

What I want to pass on are insights from the Handbook for Happiness (but I’d call it the Handbook for Contentment and I wouldn’t show a woman jumping for joy).

I re-learned that our brains were developed for one evolutionary purpose – keeping our species safe. Thus our brain’s default mode is to constantly search our environment for what’s not safe; what threatens us; what evils lurk to do us in.

Honestly, I was relieved to be reminded that my tendency toward preliminary pessimistic frames of reference is the norm for human brains!

The alternative to default mode is to consciously engage in learning, challenging, pleasurable activities and thoughts. The book has many chapters about cultivating the focused mind. While those tools are important, what I find more beneficial is the tools to turn off my default mode.

If you are like me, turning off the default is more complicated than solely turning on the focus. Perhaps our default modes are on the extreme end of the catastrophic spectrum, and we require more tools to quiet that mode.

One recommended tool is ‘Check Your Baggage’. Our minds carry three loads: the burdens of the past, the reality of now, and the anxieties over the future. Yesterday and tomorrow aren’t real; all that matters is now. Why not draw a mental image of a suitcase and pack past burdens and future anxieties for the rest of today? You can open the suitcase tomorrow, but there is no reason to do so today and you’ve lightened your load by 2/3.

I just used this concept successfully. Two weeks ago I received a letter from the IRS. One of those incomprehensible letters with four paragraphs of government-speak closing with ‘you will hear from us no later than 45 days from now’.

 In the past, I would have flipped out, calling the IRS immediately, waiting on hold for an hour or two, begging the know-nothing agent to explain, and raising my blood pressure over what could turn out to be nothing.

Instead, I decided ‘WTF, I can’t control this and worrying won’t help. I’ll hear something in 45 days. Or I won’t.’  I stashed the letter in my tax folder then – literally – washed my hands of worry.

You can decrease your baggage even more. Statistically nothing catastrophic happens in the next hour of your life. You will be fine for the next hour. When you consciously choose to carry only the next hour’s load, or simply remember that you will be fine for the next hour, those pounding drums of doom can be quieted, if just for a short while.

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Maps and A Sense of Place

What is a map if not ultimately a tool to help us in our discovery of ‘Place’?

Place can be as meaningless as a red X proclaiming, “You are Here” or as monumental as your internal compass at some point in your life’s journey whispering, “You belong Here.”

Occasionally Place can be conflicting heartstrings, as when you return to your childhood hometown, wanting to find what existed long ago exactly the way your memory locked it in.

Stranger or Friend

Book Cover for Stranger or Friend

Silvia Villalobos, an author and Romanian transplant to Los Angeles, recently published her first novel, Stranger or Friend in which Los Angeles lawyer, Zoe Sinclair, returns to her hometown only to find her best friend murdered and her mother succumbing to age-related illnesses and refusing medical care.

As Zoe investigates her friend’s murder, she finds once-friendly townspeople reluctant to share what they know. Zoe is forced to confront more challenging circumstances than she anticipated as she realizes how much the town she once knew has changed.

Silvia creates believable characters and relationships, and brings her story to a satisfactory conclusion (something I find missing in many novels). I recommend her novel for the storyline as well as the many themes Silvia incorporated. If anything, I hope she delves deeper into a few of her themes in her planned Zoe sequel, especially the conflicts that come as towns become more demographically diverse, forcing changing workforces and cultural adjustments.

What I enjoyed as much as the novel itself was the amount of thematic background Silvia provided during April’s A to Z Challenge. One theme that resonated with me is our human need to find our sense of place.

 In Silvia’s words, “People suffer through bad times – hurricanes, fires – and return to rebuild, as they feel they belong to the place as much as the place belongs to them.”

 Silvia’s novel takes place in Wyoming, and she specifically references the northwest corner of the state where Yellowstone National Park and the majestic Teton Mountain Range are the state’s crowning beauties.

from Google Images

Yellowstone’s Beehive Geyser from Google Images

from Google Images

Wyoming’s Teton Range from Google Images

While I have traveled to those tourist-heavy natural wonders, I know a different Wyoming – that of the central and eastern plains where families have passed down homestead ranches and where mineral excavation and oil/gas drilling are the lifeblood of the economy.

from Google Images

Wyoming Plains from Google Images

A Wyoming where the wind blows so steadily no matter the season; the snow blusters so forcefully; and the sun blisters so intensely, you’ve got to develop a thick crust and a ‘git ‘er done’ attitude to survive, let alone thrive. Silva rightfully uses weather as a driving theme in her novel, and highlights the effect it has on the sociability and personality of Wyoming’s residents.

Stegner photo

Collected Stories of Wallace Stegner Back Cover

While I was reading Silvia’s novel, I was finishing up Collected Stories of Wallace Stegner. Much to my surprise and delight, two of the final four stories, “The Wolfer” and “Carrion Spring” take place in Wyoming. Stegner wrote about the spring of 1907 after four months of brutal forty degree below zero cold snaps with intermittent wild, warming Chinook winds and continuous blizzard whiteouts and fog. Most of the cattle did not survive; the wolves were running rampant to feast on the carnage; and the wolfer and his vicious hound dog eventually succumbed in gruesome scenes when their trapping plan went awry.

Coincidentally, when I reread Silvia’s A to Z posts, I realized she quoted Wallace Stegner in her ‘Place’ post, “The knowledge of place that comes from working in it, making a living from it, suffering from its catastrophes, loving its mornings and evenings…”

Much as I like to think of myself as a Pioneer Woman, I haven’t worked the land in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico or Arizona nor suffered most of their catastrophes, but I love the Great Plains, Rocky Mountains and Southwest Desert. Every fiber in me knows this is where I belong … my sense of place.  Much of my heart resides with my Michigan family but Colorado is my rightful home.

Thanks to Silvia Villalobos and Wallace Stegner for celebrating ‘Place’.

I’m curious about my readers.

  •  Are you transplants who have found your ‘place’?
  • Lifelong residents of your birthplace?
  • Feel like a foreigner when revisiting your birthplace?
  • Multi-placers who split you time living in more than one place? If so, is one ‘home’?
  • Still seeking? How? Where?

I am also interested to hear about authors you like who write about ‘YOUR place’ in a way that holds meaning for you. (Prompt?)

Occasionally I scroll through Andrea Reads America where Andrea provides author quotes linking the author to their state . She reads and reviews several books taking place in a state then she ‘moves on’ to another state. Fascinating!

 

 

Friday Cuppa Joe

April Tangle 2015

If we were meeting for coffee, I’d tell you how  tangled tickled I’ve been to read the daily posts from each of you A to Z Challenge participants. From veterans to newbies, you all have such humorous, thoughtful, educational – and varied – topics, and you write with such exuberance and confidence.

A tip of my mug, and Hearty Congratulations to all of you!

Hang in there; you’re nearly at the finish line.

I’m looking forward to your Reflections post at the end of the Challenge because that’s when I find out what this year’s Challenge meant to you. You all seem to be sailing through with nary an unsettling wave, but sometimes it’s totally chaotic behind your sails and we don’t find out until you ‘Reflect.’

spring 2015

Has this happened to you? You’re reading a news event about an ‘elderly’ person and, when the age is mentioned you think, “WTF?!? Elderly??  That’s MY age!”

I’ve been trying for ten years to decide what to call myself. I’m not middle-aged (not planning to live to130), yet I’m certainly NOT elderly. Dad and Mom are just shy of 90 and still relatively healthy and active. They might be elderly.

I am not.

So how do we label those of us past our mid’s but not yet arrived at our eld’s?

Good news!

Researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna, Austria have decided old age “should be measured not by age, but by how long people have left to live.”

And we are living a lot longer.

Statisticians say today’s average 65-year-old should live another 24 years. That’s 50% longer than the average for our parents’ generation. (I must congratulate my parents for being WAY above average!)

Those Viennese researchers suggest that Old Age should be defined as having less than 15 years to live.

Good news, indeed. I have a decade until I reach statistical Old Age. In the meantime, what do I call myself since I’m way past middle age?

Since Living Longer is the variable that turned researchers from ‘age-focused’ to ‘years-to-live’ focused, I think that’s what we should call ourselves … The Living Longers.

And I’ve heard that a second cup of coffee goes a long way to ensuring that outcome.

Loving Living Longer

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