The Composing Process and the Seagull

IMG_1846I open my fourth floor apartment door, and inches from my feet, a seagull is prancing around in the tiny space between the top of the stairs and me. I suddenly remember Alfred Hitchcock and The Birds, and I am paralyzed. The nearby window is shut. How did the seagull enter, and how did it manage to close the window? The seagull does not offer any clues. I can’t reach the window without IMG_1676stepping on the bird, and I need to go down the stairs so that I can meet a friend for lunch. The seagull suddenly decides to descend the stairs. It does a combined flying leap down to the first stair and pauses. I take the opportunity to open the window, but the seagull is not interested, nor is it too adept at stair descending. We are both stuck. That’s how I felt when I first started to work on transforming the blog into a book.

How do you organize a blog into a book? I teach and talk a lot about writing process in my MoonWriting workshops. ‘It starts with percolating,” I say. “Let the ideas bubble up to the surface. Don’t worry about giving them shape.”

That’s essentially what I did when I wrote those forty-three blog posts over a period of fifteen months. One day the stones of Lucca inspired a post. Another day a fire smoldered in the mountains near my Colorado home, and the pre-evacuation order forced me to make choices about what to pack. What I learned from those choices became another post. The subjects went on to include war, chasing dogs through olive groves, decisions to retire, and more. Read in the sequence in which they were written, they were an unruly mess.

ImageWhere was the coherence? Where were the unifying themes? It was time for the next phase of the process: clarity. For a while I was stuck, and that’s when some midwives arrived. Stay tuned. At some point, both the seagull and I learned to fly!

Posted in Italy, Lucca, Tuscan Apartment Dweller, Uncategorized, Women midlife and beyond, Writing | 6 Comments

A Birth Announcement!

I have just had a new baby! Not bad at my age, right? The baby’s name is Crossing Seventy: Moments of Outrageous Aging. Sound familiar? It’s an eBook version of a collection of these blog posts from the last eighteen months, but it is far from being an Imageidentical twin. You will see the differences for yourself in a few weeks when you will be able to view the little dear at Amazon, iBookstore, Barnes and Noble or Baker and Taylor for a mere $2.99!

Blog into book. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Just put those forty-three posts in a pile, staple them together, and voila’, you have a book!

Not so fast, my dear. One big difference between the two is that the blog is a solo effort, while the book has been a delightful collaboration, with a wonderful team of midwives assisting in the delivery. More about that in the next few posts on the blog, when I will share the entire experience, starting with the moment an eBook became a gleam in my eye.

You will not find these upcoming posts a “how to” guide. Those are easily available. Instead, you will find a personal story which may offer a bit of entertainment to all, and some inspiration and information to those who might secretly want to publish an eBook.

If you have any interest in writing and publishing, spiced with a few diversionary episodes like finding a seagull prancing around in the corridor outside my apartment door in Italy, then stay tuned as publication date nears. Do send the word out to any of your aging would-be writer friends, and together we can welcome the new kid into the world!











Posted in Aging, Italy, Tuscan Apartment Dweller, Uncategorized, Women midlife and beyond, Writing | Tagged | 21 Comments

The Alchemy of Compassion

Compassion sounds great, but what does it really mean? It’s a politically correct, emotionally popular notion, but like “diversity,” there is a world of difference between saying the word and actually applying the concept.

I say carefully measure the dose of compassion and watch where and how you apply it. In the past I have suffered from some compassion overdoses. Too much compassion for myself and I become a victim. Too much compassion for you,  and I become a rescuer.  That’s not great for either one of us.

I continue to learn how to blend compassion skillfully.  Compassion without humility becomes toxic, and it can become a drug of choice. Given straight it becomes patronizing control. Taken straight it becomes self-pity. It takes discernment and ruthless truth-telling to travel the razor’s edge between compassion, not caretaking; caring, not rescuing.

Especially as mother of adult children, I have had to start with finding compassion for me.


Posted in Aging, Grandparenting, Health, Parenting, Uncategorized, Women midlife and beyond | 16 Comments

Pisa, the Postina, and My Pulse

DSCN0504I love arriving in Pisa. No one seems to worry about customs. You find your luggage at the carousel, and you’re done. “Basta cosi’,” as they say in Italy. “Enough already,” as we say in New York. My friend Kathleen is waiting for me, and after we squeeze my suitcase into in her KA, a tiny black powerhouse which resembles a fat VW bug, we speed off on a road high above the sea and head toward her home on a hillside near Lucca. White-knuckled and pulse pounding, I squint cautiously out the  window as we careen around switchbacks and brush inches past trucks and teams of bicyclists, all trying to share the one narrow lane of asphalt that is our lot.

Suddenly, Kathleen pulls off the main road and parks in front of a storefront post office in the tiny town of Valpermara. “I need to mail a package to the States,” she announces.  “It shouldn’t take long.” After pausing for a private moment to thank the mosaic saint perched on the church across the street for getting me safely this far, I say, “Great. Guess I’ll buy some stamps while I’m here.”

But jetting across the Atlantic and surviving Kathleen’s highly skilled and highIMG_0019 speed ride haven’t prepared me for the change of pace in the Valpermara post office. When I ask the postina for ten post card stamps for the United States, she smiles wordlessly from the other side of the grate, turns away, does a wedding march to a large black file cabinet in the far corner of her office, and returns carrying two large three ring binders. She reverently places the binders between us on the counter, and I can see only the top of her head as she leafs through several pages with intense concentration. Having mailed her package a long time ago, Kathleen is a blur pacing outside the post office window, the mosaic saint continues to smile happily in the colorful perch, and six new local customers are now sitting stoically on the “waiting benches”near the door.

After carefully picking out ten stamps from one page in the first notebook, the postina turns to the second notebook and selects ten other stamps. She then explains to me that I will have to use one of each of these very large stamps on each post card. Clearly, my written message will have to be concise. I reach for my euros, smile at the bench-sitters, and wait while she marches once again to the file cabinet, replaces the notebooks, and returns to tally my bill. The transaction finally completed, we “Buongiorno” each other; I wave to the saint, and get back into the car.

My knuckles have regained their color, my pulse has slowed, and now that my eyes are open, I look closely at the stamps and recognize Garibaldi on one, and Dante on another. In shades of sage green and magenta, these stamps are indeed miniature works of art. No wonder the postina reveres them. I’m still thanking the saint, but I’m also thanking the postina for helping me shift to a lower gear.

Posted in Health, Italy, Lucca, Travel, Tuscany, Uncategorized, Women midlife and beyond | 6 Comments

Adolescence Recurring

Well, obviously, before I crossed seventy, I had to cross fifty and sixty. And what a ride it has been!

In spite of what the glossy magazines told me, fifty was not the new thirty. Instead, it was the new thirteen.  Divorced at fifty after twenty-eight years of marriage, my initial focus was staying busy and finding a man. I was a champion at the first; a loser at the second.

After six years of frantic activity, I took early retirement from my job in education and moved from New York, where I had lived since birth, to Colorado, where I knew no one and had no job. The culture shock was nothing compared to the shock of realizing that like a college freshman thrown into a new environment, I had no idea of who I was. Leaving the known will do that to you.

To find the answers, I became a late blooming flower child, experimenting with everything from primal scream therapy to tarot readings, to djembe drumming. Then, after a couple of years of retrieving my inner hippie, I crashed. Hours spent with my journal, alone on hiking trails, and at a nearby abbey helped me empty my thoughts and express my confusion. Reflection, solitude, some wonderful books, and some therapy finally got me through what has been popularly called a “dark night of the soul,” and I emerged with the astounding conclusion that every moment of my life offers me choices. I even posted the word “CHOICE” on my refrigerator. At that point I finally began to reclaim the soul and spirit I came in with. I started to listen to my own voice and stopped being reactive to others. It was a process, and it’s still going on. I don’t think it’s ever finished, and I don’t want it to be. I don’t want to stop growing and learning.

Looking back, I believe that in my fifties I experienced the stages of a second adolescence: Leaving the Known, Experimenting, Emptying, Truth-Telling and Reclaiming. What’s astounding to me now is that in my seventies, I am in that cycle once again. Just before I crossed seventy I left the known to travel to Italy. That has led to a dual life there, filled with the experimenting of living in a different country. And the other stages?  I have had to let go of my need to excel in language, tell the truth about my limitations, and reclaim the joy in living in my senses, much as I did as a child. And so here I am in at least my third adolescence. Who knows? I probably missed counting a few others along the way.

I believe that these stages form a cycle that continues throughout our lives if we choose to continue to learn and to grow. If we accept that cycle, we can welcome the unknown instead of fearing it.

Let’s hear it for recurring adolescence!

Posted in Aging, Health, Italy, Retirement, Uncategorized, Women midlife and beyond | 14 Comments

The Disappeared

images-2It began with fourteen women wearing white scarves embroidered with their children’s names, standing in the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina in 1977. They were the mothers and grandmothers of “The Disappeared,” young people who were mysteriously abducted and then never seen again, the result of government sanctioned secret abductions and murders in something known as the “Dirty War.” By the following year, hundreds more women joined them.  The government called them “las locas,” or madwomen, but for decades the numbers of women in the plaza grew. It didn’t bring their children back, but it did eventually bring about social change.  Their work images-1continues today.

Is it time for American mothers and grandmothers to bear silent witness to our own young people who have disappeared? Mass shootings in shopping malls, theaters, and schools have “disappeared” our children. Thousands of our young men and women have disappeared in endless wars. And those who come home in body often find that their very souls have disappeared.  The rates of suicide for returning military have skyrocketed, and yet, what has changed?

We need sensible gun laws, and we need to stop the war sooner rather than later. I have written many letters and made many phone calls to the decision makers in Washington, but now I look at our Congress and I wonder whether those traditional methods make a difference.  Maybe the time has come for us “locas” to gather in the plaza every Thursday, wearing head scarves embroidered with the names of the young people we no longer see among us.

Posted in Aging, Grandparenting, Health, Uncategorized, Women midlife and beyond | 19 Comments

My Second Adolescence: Part One

“Imagine a woman who authors her own life, A woman who exerts, initiates, and moves on her own behalf, who refuses to surrender except to her truest self and to her wisest voice.” Patricia Lynn Reilly, A God Who Looks Like Me, quoted in Return of the Goddess

 2008 family house dana 064At fifty-five or sixty aren’t we supposed to be financially secure, planning for the next visit of the grandchildren, or packing for a trip to Europe with our spouse? Instead, many of us are leaving the “known” in our lives and embarking on new and uncharted paths. At a time when we thought we had it all figured out, we may be challenged by retirement, divorce, parenting adult children, grandmothering, or moving to a new place. The old labels are gone, and we find ourselves shifting from the giddiness of a new- found freedom to the despair of an unfamiliar disconnectedness.

Even and in spite of feminism, women still tend to identify themselves through others and through their work in the world. It isn’t until mid-life that we may find ourselves on an uncharted path, asking the classic question: “Who am I?”

In the past  empty-nesters have asked that question in one form or another, but now, beginning with my generation, legions of women who have had significant careers are looking at a gaping hole in their lives once they stop working.  In addition to that, large numbers of divorced or widowed women strike out at fifty plus on a new path with little or no chance, and perhaps no desire, to re-marry.  Where do they fit in?  What is it like to be the single mother of adult children?  What is it like to be a single grandmother?  What do we do with our sexuality after 50, 55, and 60?

As we leap into the unknown at mid-life and beyond, we have an opportunity to ask, “What was I born to learn?” instead of “What was I born to do?” Only by choosing to place value on solitude, reflection, and inner knowing, we can begin to hear our “wisest voice.” For some, meditation and journal writing can sharpen our hearing.

After a divorce at fifty, I stumbled through five stages of what I call my “second adolescence”:  Leaving the Known, Experimenting, Emptying, Truth-Telling, and Reclaiming.  I believe this is a universal journey, not unlike the stages of the first adolescence. However, there is one notable exception. At the end of our second adolescence, we have an opportunity to reclaim the soul and spirit we came in with: something we may have lost the first time around.

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