Eight Life Lessons I Learned from my Centenarian Friend: Part 2

5. Look at an older person when they talk to you, and really listen.

When someone has trouble hearing, it helps to look straight at them, so when you speak it’s easier to make out what you’re saying. It also shows interest and respect. Don’t look at your phone, your computer screen, your feet, or the other person in the room.

A note for health care professionals: it is especially important for you to look at your elderly patients or clients. If you take notes on your computer and constantly look away, it will be harder for them to hear and understand what you say, and they’ll feel ignored. Also, try not to talk to a younger companion, just because it’s quicker and easier.

Believe me, I speak from experience. On more than one occasion G.’s doctor and I both got in trouble for speaking to each other about G., instead of to her. The doctor was trying to get the information she needed as expediently as possible, and I was trying to make sure everything I’d observed, and what I felt was important, got communicated.  But it was G.’s appointment, not mine, and she let us know it. No competent adult who has taken care of herself for decades wants to be talked over as if she were a child.

Looking at the person, and listening, shows respect. It will help you both communicate more effectively. It also shows that the person still matters, and you care what they have to say. And you will likely learn something worthwhile.

6. Keep your mind and body as active as possible for as long as possible.

G. had been an athlete when she was young, and stayed active all her life. I think she went swimming often in her later years, but by the time I met her, at 91, she had to be happy with more modest pursuits. Still she had her own little exercise routine that she did nearly every day, and we often went for short walks.

Some of the things she could do — like lie down and lift her leg over her head, or bend over while standing and touch her feet – were beyond my reach, literally. I have never had much flexibility, but she maintained hers when she was decades older than me.

She also kept her mind active. She read a daily newspaper, kept up on current events, and read books. She did crossword puzzles from the paper and we played Scrabble or cards. She could carry on an interesting conversation, and as a retired bookkeeper kept her checkbook, her house, and her life in meticulous order.

G. also worked until she was at least 80, and then did volunteer work after that. She maintained an active interest in life, and still lived it – despite the increasing limitations of age — as fully as she could.

I have observed that if you choose not to use your mind or your body, they won’t come through for you when you need them. But if you keep them exercised, they’ll still serve you well, and your life will be more interesting too, because you are really living it, not just watching it go by.

7. Being a little stubborn can help you survive.

G. went through some difficult times in her life – she lost her mother at a young age; she lived through the depression and several wars; she moved from South Dakota to California as a young woman on her own and supported herself and built a new life; she raised a child on her own, starting in her forties. She worked until she was at least 80, and took care of herself all her life.

You don’t survive and thrive through all those challenges without some backbone, and maybe a bit of an “I can do it myself and my way” attitude. This does not always make it easy for family members or caregivers to help, and there were days when I wished there was just a little less “fight” in her, but that strong will helped her accomplish what she needed to.

8. Cherish your time together.

None of us knows how much time we’ll have. But when you have a friend or family member who has already outlived the average life span, that reality becomes more poignant. Enjoy each day, each moment, each story. Treasure them away, so that person will live on in your heart, and you might even be able to share some of their personal history, and some of the lessons you’ve learned, with others.

It’s often the small things you’ll remember later. Taking time to enjoy a cup of tea and a cookie together, or to look at old pictures; really listening to a story of what it was like to live in other times and places; sharing a good laugh over something small but meaningful to both of you.

And giving of yourself to help someone, even when it isn’t always easy, offering the gift of care, of living at home instead of in a ‘home’, of making a day less lonely — these are all things that make a difference, and become gifts to you as well, enriching your life immeasurably.

And remember, if someone is older and lives alone, sharing a meal together with them, whether it’s something you’ve prepared yourself or just a frozen dinner you warmed up, can really mean a lot. They will feel less alone, and they will eat more, so you have helped sustain someone in two ways, and with much more benefit than if you simply dropped off the food and then left. And this will allow you to enjoy their company as well.

So treasure the living historians in your life. Be as patient as you can. Don’t forget to see, and share, the joy and humor in the little things. You can help make the last years of someone’s life more connected and companionable and a little easier, and you will be storing up memories you can take out and savor for years to come.

Eight Life Lessons I Learned from my Centenarian Friend: Part 1

I have always enjoyed the company of people in their last decades of life, especially if they still actively engage in life, with joy and a positive attitude.

In our culture of youth, constant new technologies, and the latest model of everything, citizens in their eighties, nineties, and beyond can sometimes be dismissed as behind the times or even irrelevant. But I think each generation has something valuable to offer, and we can all enrich each others’ lives, if we just take the time to take a closer look, find common ground, and really listen.

It was my privilege to spend the last nine years of her life with a very special client who also became a good friend. She was almost 91 when I met her, and 100 years and 2 months when she died, in her own home. In those nine years, I gained many cherished memories and learned so much from her – about life, history, relationships, and how to support and honor someone in the last years of their life.

I’ll try to narrow it down to eight of the most memorable things I learned. Some of them I already believed and felt deeply but had confirmed by my friend, whom I’ll call “G.” Others she taught me along the way. All of them I think will help others, whether you’re caring for an aging loved one, provide professional services to the elderly, or just want to see the older generation in a new light. I think closing this “generation gap,” benefits everyone.

And one quick side note: The term “elderly” is a term to be used carefully. Don’t ever use it to identify people like my parents – active, vital people in their mid seventies who go to the gym, play golf, drive, and more.

I don’t often use the word for anyone younger than in their eighties, and then it conveys tender affection and respect for a very special segment of the population who can be wonderful teachers, companions, recipients of much-deserved care, and friends.

So here are a few things I learned.

  1. People are not disposable.

    They do not become obsolete, outdated, or beside the point. Unlike last decade’s cell phone, older people are not replaceable, unnecessary or useless. We have all visited nursing homes where, on our way to visit someone, we encounter others sitting in the hallways looking lost, starved for a smile, a kind word, a bit of attention, mostly forgotten and unappreciated.

    Thanks to her own efforts at maintaining friendships, and the devotion of her only son, this was not the kind of life led by G in her last decades. (More about this in item 4.)

    The elderly are living historians, usually much more interesting and accurate than history books. They have valuable experience, perspective, and life lessons to impart. The way we live changes. Technology changes. But being a human being, managing daily life, family, relationships, work, and all the rest of what it means to be human doesn’t change all that much. So listen. They deserve it, and you’ll learn something, maybe even be entertained. Don’t count out someone’s ability to make a contribution just because they move a little slower and are no longer in the work force. They’ve contributed a lot in the past, and they still have plenty to give.

We are not less human, or less worthy of dignity, just because of how many years we’ve lived. Often it’s quite the opposite.

2. Having a sense of humor is vital.

We all face frustrations and indignities in life, but the very elderly tend to suffer these many- fold. Their eyes, ears, and bodies betray them. Life and technology starts to move too fast to keep up with. People sometimes treat them like they don’t matter. You can rail against all the loss and injustice, or you can remember to laugh it off and still embrace life.

One time when G. overheard someone in the doctor’s office make a dismissive remark about her she told me about it and laughed heartily. I was incensed. So were the other people who cared for her. But we all got a good laugh with her too, and she chose not to take it too personally.

If you can still see the humor in life, even when things aren’t that fun or funny, it gives you a kind of power, and you enjoy life more, because you just rise above and get on with living.

  1. Airplanes and computers are great, but indoor plumbing is even more important.

    Once I asked G. what, in her century of living, was the best invention she’d experienced. She’d seen most of the 20th century, when so much had changed, and a bit of the 21st as well. So I was a little surprised when, of all the amazing things she’d witnessed, she picked indoor plumbing as the most life-changing.

    We’ve taken such a ‘luxury’ for granted for so long that it hardly seems like a technological advance. But she grew up on a farm in South Dakota, and I can imagine how life-changing a switch from outhouses and drawing water for a bath to indoor bathrooms and hot showers must have been. It shows that sometimes the simplest things are the ones that improve our lives the most. And most long-established things were once new and wonderful.

  2. Keep in touch.

G. maintained and nurtured relationships all her life. She stayed in touch with her siblings, nieces and nephews, neighbors past and current, and friends. And when she was the last one surviving of all her closest friends and family, she stayed in touch with their children.

She called. She wrote. She visited and welcomed visitors. And yes, she emailed. Because of her efforts, she didn’t end up like one of those forgotten, discarded people in nursing homes who rarely get a visitor.

She stayed to the last day in the house she’d resided alone in for decades, living as rich a life as possible, with a little daytime assistance but still largely self-sufficient until her final months.

She regularly received cards, flowers, food, emails, letters, phone calls and visits. She was never isolated or neglected. She still mattered to others, and they mattered to her, which made her life full and satisfying, even when she could no longer leave her house.

G. was a living example of ‘you reap what you sow.’ She sowed friendship and connection, and reaped bountifully when she needed it most.

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I’ll save the last four points for next time. I hope to see – and hear from – you then.

What Would You Like to Read About?: An Invitation to Help Me Test My Subjects

I’m going to try something new, again, for the rest of this year. Each publication date, (every other Tuesday), I’ll write a post on a different topic or angle, and ask for your feedback on which subject you are most interested in hearing more about.

I would appreciate claps, comments, suggestions, and hearing about your favorite posts.

My usual topic: “Read. Think. Walk. Write” is both literary and practical, providing insights from daily life – reading, walking, etc., adding the twist of a poet’s perspective, and helping you apply those insights to your life, your job, and your business.

My idea is that we don’t have to just assume there is only one way of seeing and doing things. Sometimes we need to question our assumptions, and “the way things have always been done,” to find a better fit for our needs.

This post will be a short version of the same approach, and a temporary farewell to this type of post. Then next time I’ll start the experiment with something new.

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Well Begun Is Half Done.”

For me, movie quotes aren’t that different from quotes and insights I gather from reading, because movies are often based on books, or real life. At the least, they are also based on words, and created by an artist, just like books.

I don’t remember if this phrase was in the movie “Mary Poppins,” but it was in the film “Saving Mr. Banks,” which was about, P.L. Travers, the writer of the “Mary Poppins” books the movie was based on.

This quote was attributed to the author’s brusque, business-like aunt. She tended to use it to get everyone in the household involved in tackling and completing chores, but I think the phrase applies well to any task, small or large, that we may be dreading or putting off.

I am someone who finds “transitions” of almost any kind a natural challenge and source of resistance. If I’m up I don’t want to go to bed. If I’m in bed I don’t want to get up. If I’m home, I don’t want to leave. If I’m away, I don’t want to go home. If I’m into one activity I don’t want to move onto the next. You get the idea.

This resistance is magnified when I perceive the task at hand as boring, tiring, overwhelming, or just don’t want to do it, or know where to begin.

One especially mundane example is washing my (long, heavy) hair. It’s a tiring chore to me, and really breaks up my day. But once my hair is thoroughly wet and I’m committed, it isn’t that hard to get the rest of the job done. I’ve often found myself saying this ‘Poppinsesque’ phrase once I have begun.

When it comes to a more daunting task, such as beginning a new writing project or assignment, the same holds true, and is even more helpful. Just getting something down on the page helps, because then you’ve already started. You have something to add to, gradually shape, and improve, instead of the dreaded blank page.

In this case, as with other larger projects, you don’t have to do it all at once. In fact, if you’re at all dreading it or uncertain how to proceed, just making a start, however small, takes you that much closer to accomplishing the task, with as little pain as possible.

Many of you will be familiar with the “Pomodoro Method,” where you set a timer for 25 minutes (or in practice any time you want), work on the project at hand until the timer goes off, and then quit until next time. You can get a surprising amount done in short, concentrated spurts, which will make it easier to build on your progress in the next session.

This idea of just beginning, just taking a step forward, however small, can be applied to many aspects of life. Sometimes once you start you can finish a small job all at once and have it off your list. Other times just doing something helps make a large job you do over time much less daunting.

Either way, I encourage you to take that first step today. Sign up for that course you’ve been meaning to take, buy paint for the room you’ve been wanting to redecorate, learn two new words in a language you’ve been contemplating learning, clean out one drawer (or if your desk is like mine part of one drawer) in your desk or dresser.

Once you’ve begun, you’re on your way to being done with something you may never have started otherwise.


I hope you’ll join me next time to take part in my experiment. I‘ll call the first post: “What I Learned From My Centenarian Friend.” 

Diary of an Article – Part 2

I hope you enjoyed part 1 of my behind-the-scenes story of the not so glamorous process of article writing.

I will continue my account of the process in this post, though I have to admit I lost track of some of the details of what exactly I did on what day, so I’ll just have to give you an overview and highlights.

Day 10 – Wednesday: Started a new document, pasted in my introduction and the early parts of the article that were working, and started re-writing the rest, which wasn’t really organized yet. This seemed to be a turning point, the start of my actual article.

Day 11 – Thursday: Did more research. Started mining the book I’m referring to for specific points for the article.

Day 12 – Friday: Forced myself to write a little, on the new, cleaner draft. My resistance was especially high today, probably because I’m starting to feel the pressure to get this actually written, but once I finally dragged myself to the keyboard, I had plenty of things to write about. In fact in going to have to do some cutting later. Ended up with over 900 words, and I need to cut to between 700 and 750. Realistically, it will be just about 750.

The good thing about having extra words is then you have plenty to work with. Cutting and editing are easier than facing a blank page, and when you have to get rid of words you get to choose just the best ones.

Sat. to Wed., days 13 to 17, were a bit of a blur, so let’s just say I took a couple of days off, and the rest of the time did more of the same.

Spent several work sessions cutting and polishing. Inevitably added some words as I edited, but eventually managed to cut from around 900 to just over 750, my limit.

Thursday – Day 18: Needed to get serious about finishing the article. I was just about finished, but then I decided to change the order of some list items. After a bit of cutting, pasting, and the occasional technical panic, it all came together, and I think it really was better. Got out a thesaurus and found an alternate word or two, where I had some repetition.

By the end of the day I was mainly finished. Just needed another edit. I emailed my editor, letting her know I was ahead of schedule, and that I’d probably deliver the article (or my draft of it) the following evening, or Monday at the latest.

Friday – Day 19 Finished the article, proofread several times, made a few changes, and checked my references to make sure I had the right page numbers. Found a quote to add. Had to cut a few words, but came in just at 749.

I made a discovery about the kinds of perfectionism that do and don’t work for me. I tend to think of all the possibilities until the scope is too large. So I’m learning that I need to choose my angle, get just enough research, get a draft done, and then let go of further expanding the possibilities.

Then I am free to really polish what I have, working in a limited sphere. I can spend some time finding just the right word, cutting what I don’t need, getting the flow to sound right, proofreading several times, etc., without making it all too big. I’ll call it perfectionism in a small pond.

Saturday Day 20: Did another read through or two, checked the word count, which was back at 749, and in the evening attached the document to an email, held my breath, and pushed send!

I could have taken another day to polish and obsess and still have the article in my editor’s in-box before Monday morning, but I felt it was time to let it go and stop worrying.

Now the waiting begins again.

Monday – Day 22: I can’t keep myself from checking my email often today, but I know editors are busy, so I may not hear back for awhile. I am pleased and relieved though to have turned in the article 3 weeks from the day I received the assignment, a whole week before my outside deadline.

Today I began the research needed before I can send another article pitch. So it begins again.

Tuesday – Day 23: Received an email saying they got the article. Now my editor will send it to her editor for review, and they’ll let me know what they think.

Thanks for joining me behind the scenes.

Diary of an Article – a Day-by-Day Look Inside the Process: Part 1

Hi Everyone,

I thought I’d do something a little different with this post. I usually focus on how my reading, daily walks, and subsequent thoughts inspire what I write. But this time I thought I’d offer an insider view on the writing part. More on that below, but first an explanation and apology are required.

I have left this blog dormant for far too many weeks, because of some circumstances beyond my control at first, and then because I got involved in projects related to those circumstances and let myself stay out of the habit of keeping this blog active.

In fact, I was going to make this post about that very subject. One of the major good and bad parts of being self-employed is that you get to decide, more-or-less, how you spend your time. The good part of that is you have the flexibility to take time off when life requires it, or when something else too good to pass up, like extra time with friends and family, comes along.

The bad part is of course the same. Not having anyone tell you what to do with your time can mean that you let everything become an excuse for not doing the work.

In fact, the subject of this post changed because of one of those opportunities that came along unexpectedly. But I’ve decided that instead of making it another reason to delay updating this blog, I’d make it the subject of my post instead.

So here’s how I went about developing a new article assignment, starting with the usual steps of brainstorming, doubt, research, drafting and polishing.

Day 1 – Monday: Received an unexpected email, just before dinnertime, from a magazine offering me an article assignment I’d proposed months ago, and had just about given up on.

Great news and a nice surprise! But they wanted something a little different from what I’d proposed, and I wasn’t sure exactly what they wanted. Also, though they said they’d extend the deadline if my schedule required it, if possible they’d like the completed article in two weeks. Panic time?

I e-mailed the editor back, telling her I was glad to accept the assignment, and would try to work with her timing, but would prefer 3-4 weeks if possible. I also asked for clarification on what the article should include.

Other than that, I left it alone and went on with dinner and my evening, but in the background started brainstorming how I could approach the subject of the article, and who I could approach for a second interview, since the editor didn’t want it to be all about the one person I’d already interviewed.

Day 2 – Tuesday: Received a reply, saying that up to 4 weeks (September 24) would be fine (though a little sooner would be even better), and providing a little more clarity on what I would be writing about, and the audience it should be tailored to.

I answered, thanking her for the extra time and the information, said I’d try for sooner than 4 weeks, and shared some of my ideas from last night’s and this morning’s brainstorming, asking what she thought.

Re-read the magazine’s writer’s guidelines. Read several articles from the magazine’s current issue, and printed one from the department I’ll be writing for.

Day 3 – Wednesday: I had other obligations that kept me busy most of the day, but I’d promised myself I’d try to do something almost every day, no matter how small, until the article is finished. So in the evening I read some more back issues of the magazine and printed out a few articles that seemed most relevant.

Day 4 – Thursday: Did some brainstorming on my walk, and formed a rudimentary title and idea for a possible ‘angle’ for my article.

Later, I read the articles I’d printed out, analyzing the only two I’d found from the section I’ll be writing for, which seems to be new.

Finally, I started a document to record my working title and a few really rough notes. Not really a draft or even an outline yet, just a starting point. Still feeling lost, but I have more direction and clarity than I did four days ago, and a better idea of the magazine’s style and format.

I have no idea if my article will even remotely resemble my current beginning, but I always feel a little happier when there is something on the page. A start, however small.

Day 5 – Friday: Took the day off from the article. My brain didn’t get the memo though. Kept thinking (worrying?) about how to approach this. No brilliant insights, but I’m hoping that ideas are simmering beneath the surface and will be accessible when I need them.

Day 6 — Saturday: Re-read my notes from the interview I’d already done. I read and underlined and hoped great ideas would jump out at me.

I’m afraid that soon I’ll run out of things to read, and have to actually figure out what to write.

Day 7 – Sunday: Briefly faced the skeleton of a first draft I’d started, and fleshed it out a little. It will take a lot of re-working to turn it into an actual article, but it feels good to have more words on the page, and I tend to develop ideas as I write.

Day 8 — Monday: Finally received a response to an email I’d sent the editor a few days ago, making some suggestions for how to proceed with the article. She reminded me of the word limit, and so reined in the scope of what I was trying to do a little. That’s great, because now I don’t have to do another interview, and I have a still better idea of what she expects.

In a sense, she kept me from making too much work for myself, and eventually for her, if she had to make cuts later. Smart editor.

I added a few more rough lines to my very rough draft and printed it out. Maybe tomorrow I will work on it away from the computer. Reading a print copy, and writing a little by hand, can be a good way to get a fresh perspective and slow down a little.

What I have is still very rough, but I’m starting to see the possibility of an actual article eventually taking shape. Sometimes limits – in words, in time, in scope – can be helpful, narrowing too many possibilities into something more tangible.

Day 9 — Tuesday: Read a few pages from the book written by the person I interviewed, took notes, and started planning some tips I can use for the article.

Since today is Tuesday, and I didn’t want to let another Tuesday go by without posting on this blog, this saga will have to be continued.

Please let me know if you liked this and would like to see the rest of the story next time.

Thinking Outside the Box, Walking Inside It: Carrying on with Life While Temporarily Displaced

Recently I left home for a week, to attend a convention and visit my parents, and now, more than two weeks later, I am still away from home and plan to be for a month or two more. I was heading home, then found out my apartment needed extensive repair work, and I can’t live there while it is being done.

So I’m out of my element, but with family, my own space, and some time to get some things done that are important to me.

It’s amazing how much is involved in being away from home unexpectedly and for an extended period of time: a leave of absence from my part-time job, utilities and so on to shut off, a daytrip home for some of my things…

I’m also displaced in the sense that I’m in a climate much different, read HOTTER, than my own beach town. It’s an adjustment, but life needs to carry on. For me that means work, friends, worship, and daily exercise.

All of those were, thankfully, easy to cover, and I’m fortunate to be partly self-employed, and to be able to work away from home with the help of technology. That is one of the advantages that we solo professionals and creatives have. We can hook up to a computer, warm up our brain, and work anywhere.

This is a reminder we need sometimes. Technology can get out of control, but it can also enable us to do amazing things anywhere. Being self-employed can come with uncertainties and pressures, but it can also free us to do what we need and want to do, on our own schedule, and from wherever we happen to be.

I miss some of my routines and usual environment, but I’ve been able to find reasonable substitutes. For instance, an essential part of daily life for me is exercise, especially walking. If that means a walk on the beach all the better, but as long as I have a reasonable alternative I can adapt, at least temporarily.

In my current circumstances, the heat and air quality prohibit exercising outside. So I had to find ways to take my movement routine inside. Fortunately, an alternative was already in place. I can still walk and jog nearly every day, as usual. I just have to do it inside. Fortunately I have sole use of a treadmill where I’m staying, so I have moved my walk inside the box, or house.

Instead of fresh air, I have air conditioning and a ceiling fan. I miss being outside, the usual scenery, and the human and canine friends I see on the way. Instead, I look out the window, or at the pictures on the wall, and listen to audio recordings. I play with the treadmill controls, watching my mileage and calorie burning progress.  And of course my mind is free to think, wander, and create, which are some of the benefits of my walking habit, whatever the form it takes.

The way I do it now is not what I’m used to, not what I prefer, but it’s close enough to my familiar and beloved routines to be stabilizing and give me the joy of getting on with my life and work.

I’ve found ways to carry on with the other important parts of my life too, including getting back to writing this blog, after a few weeks’ gap between posts.  I’ve had to adjust, adapt, and get creative, but I’ve found things that work, and I’ve enjoyed the challenge, and seeing what is possible to do and enjoy away from home but somewhat back to my daily life.

As with most situations, I could focus on the negative:

·       I’m away from home and my friends and my job

·       I’ve had to do some work just to rearrange my life from a distance

·       I can’t walk on the beach for a while

·       I no longer have an excuse not to spend the time to sort through the piles of papers and other debris that have been collecting for years

·       and did I mention it’s really hot here?

But I choose to focus on the positive instead:

·       I can keep in touch with my friends by text and phone calls

·       I’ve already begun making some great new friends here

·       I’m able to keep in practice with some of my work skills, and to have even more time to write and work on my business

·       I get to have extra time to enjoy my parents’ company, and my Mom’s incomparable cooking

·        I still get to walk, and work, and play, and live my life

·       I finally have time to organize those piles of papers so I’ll feel less overwhelmed and more efficient when I get home

·        and I get to experiment with doing all these things in different ways, while still keeping enough of the familiar that means so much to me.

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The lessons?

 ·       It is possible to deal with a change, and inconvenience, even a bit of a shock requiring readjustment, and still enjoy life and be productive.

·       It is good to have reassuring routines in place, like walking and writing, and ways of making them work even when they look a little different than usual.

·       When compared to what many people, including some of my own friends, have to deal with, our own inconveniences can seem pretty trivial.

·       A change in routine, balanced with some constants, can strengthen us, expand our skills, and even be fun.

What about you? What curve balls has life thrown you, and how have you adapted, managed, and even found joy in the experience?

What routines, priorities, and other constants in your life help keep you feeling stable and oriented despite whatever else changes in your life?

Please share in the comments.

 

 

Want to Improve Your Quality of Life Ten Years from Now? Take a Walk Today.

Some weeks when I write this post I have my theme in mind, or there was something that happened in my life, or something that I’ve heard or read, that stands out as worth sharing with others.

Other times, I don’t start with that kind of clarity, and I have to dig a little to find something I find worth writing and I think my readers (actual, theoretical, and potential) will find worth reading. This was one of those weeks.

So I went back to basics. The first three theme words of this blog – read, think, walk – usually provide the content for what I write. So I did a quick inventory of these areas of my life, and found what I needed mentally filed under “walk.”

It started with, not a concept, but a person. “D.” is a dapper looking elderly gentleman I often pass on the opposite side of my favorite walking street. Usually we smile and wave. Sometimes we cross over and chat a little. Only recently did I learn his name, and some of his story.

To me, one of the most interesting parts of that story was actually a number. He is 97 years old! I would have guessed at least a decade less.

Here are some things about D. that I find notable in addition to his age, and that in my mind contribute to his achievement of that age, and his looking and moving so well.

  • He walks. Every day. He goes at a moderate, steady pace, but for some distance, and every day.

  • He always has a smile on his face.

  • He talks with the people he meets along the way and not only proves to be an interesting conversationalist, but finds them interesting as well.

I’ve worked with and observed quite a few people in their 80’s, 90’s, and beyond, and in my opinion, in addition to whatever genetic and environmental components are involved, most people who hang around longer, and in relatively good physical and mental health, share these traits: they move their bodies regularly to the best of their ability, even if they have to overcome some pain or fatigue to do it; they keep a positive attitude, and sense of humor; and they maintain an interest in life and in other people.

I’ll focus here on the walking part, but they all tend to go together. I’m sure there’s plenty of scientific research to back up this idea, but for the purpose of this post I’m content with personal experience and ‘anecdotal’ evidence.

Most of the people I’ve known who lived long lives and were healthy and happy in their later years stayed active as long as they possibly could. Those who declined sooner and more dramatically did not. An oversimplification, but it makes enough sense to justify doing something that is enjoyable and beneficial now anyway.

We know walking can have physical, social, and emotional benefits now, and it’s enjoyable to do. If it happens to help us do better years, even decades, down the road as well, that’s a worthwhile bonus.

One of my favorite quotes, which can be applied to nearly every aspect of life, is : “A year from now you may wish you had started today,” attributed to author Karen Lamb.

That could apply to the book or song you’ve been meaning to write; the business you dream of starting, or expanding; a health or fitness goal you want to work towards; improving your relationships; or just about anything else.

Most large goals and worthy endeavors take time. They require gradual, progressive steps (sorry about the pun) to see improvement. You need to start somewhere, then just keep going.

So whatever it is, start today, and you’ll see a little improvement next week, next month, and especially next year. And in the case of staying active by taking a brisk walk every day, you’ll enjoy each “step” along the way.

Just a few of my bonuses from walking every day: My pants are looser now. I’ve made new friends, human and canine. And I always have something to write about.

“Many Hands Make Light Work”: But the Hearts Help Too

Two recent experiences have reminded me of the truth of this saying, though I’ve often heard it expressed slightly differently, such as ‘many hands make the load light.’

So besides wanting to get the words right, I thought I should also find out who said them. It seems to be loosely associated with various sources, including an African proverb, but is generally attributed to John Heywood, a 16th century playwright, musician, and collector of proverbs and epigrams.

The surface meaning is simple – the more people who help, the more quickly and easily even a large job can get done. Of course this is usually true, as long as those hands work together effectively.

But in many cases there’s more to it than simply dividing the labor. It’s a matter of morale. If you know you aren’t left alone to tackle a daunting task, if you have both help and company, you feel like some of the weight has been taken off of you. It’s often easier and more enjoyable to work together, both dividing the amount of work, and sharing in carrying it out.

And if the company is good, and there’s goodwill between all, it can seem more like play than work. Also, we feel less alone, whatever the task at hand.

I had two recent experiences that played out this expanded interpretation of these words.

First, my parents came to town both to visit me and to help me with a particularly daunting task that I wouldn’t have had a clue how to manage on my own.

I needed a new blackout shade installed in my bedroom – a task far beyond the scope of this very non-handy person. And since I live in a beach town that seems to encourage moisture and mold, and the previous window covering didn’t really allow me to air out the room, I had another problem. A black covering of mold had started creeping across the windows and especially the plaster wall around them.

Cleaning isn’t my specialty either, and the mold was a bit frightening. So we had to kill the mold, clean the black off the walls, wash the windows, and install the roll-down shade. My Dad knew how to install the blind, and all three of us worked together, along with a little advice from the local Miner’s Hardware, to tackle the rest of the problem.

Well, it got done, in one afternoon, and though it wasn’t the most pleasant vacation activity we’d ever enjoyed, we still managed to have a fun visit, and to have the satisfaction of getting the job done.

It was a relief just knowing that help was coming, and that they cared enough to do this for me. I felt even more weight lifted off my shoulders as the job was done, and I then had the tools and confidence I needed to tackle some smaller jobs on my own.

So, many hands, a variety of skills, feeling less alone, and love, all made this a better experience. It was the many hands, but it was more, too, that made the work lighter.

It was the same a short time after when I gathered with several of my friends at our place of worship to do some weeding and light yard work. It was a nice day to be outside, and I don’t mind gardening, even kind of enjoy it, if I don’t have to do it all the time. And everyone there was a friend whose company I enjoyed.

In addition to our hands, and pleasant attitudes, we each brought something to share that made the work easier. Some brought trash bags or buckets for the weeds, some brought tools, and someone brought cool water.

It turned out that our job was finished in about 45 minutes, and we had enjoyed the work — and the company — so much that we didn’t want to leave, and lingered for a few minutes longer than necessary, just to visit. We had come there to accomplish a task, we had done what needed to be done, and we were almost sorry it was done so quickly.

Yet it would have seemed a very large and lonely task if any one of us had tried to do it alone.

Again, the job was lighter, because we all helped. But it also felt lighter, because no one had to tackle it alone. And our hearts felt lighter because we had all been there with the spirit of giving, of helping, and felt we gained something instead.

So it’s the hands, the variety of skills and strengths, the numbers, but also the willing spirit, the hearts, the feeling of belonging, of being cared for, of being part of something positive.

What similar experiences have you had, and how can we make more of what we need to do feel like that? Please post in the comments.

Oh yes, and the business application? If we work alone, we can still benefit from “many hands” in the following ways: We can outsource certain tasks that aren’t our specialty; we can draw on the advice and support of a network of peers and mentors in our field; and we can even partner on a project occasionally, to experience the different perspective of working together instead of going it alone.

Sweet Peas, Sour-Sweet Tea, and a Search for Metaphors.

 

I had brewed the perfect cup of afternoon herbal tea (tisane, not true tea) until it reached a rich, golden brown. I sometimes like to mix two kinds, for more flavor and body. This time it was plain rooibos, a full-bodied but smooth, neutral tasting south African tea, blended with crisp, refreshing peppermint.

I picked up the cup for my first sip, ready to savor it, and instead made a face. What was this? It turned out I hadn’t checked the wrapper carefully, and the second teabag was not crisp, cool peppermint, but sour-sweet honey-lemon. I like honey-lemon. It also mixes well with rooibos. But it was startlingly different from what I was expecting.

The second sip was a much better experience, because I had changed my expectations. I was then prepared to enjoy something equally good, but different than what I’d planned, and I enjoyed each sip more than the last, because I’d happily adjusted to the change. A trade of one good thing for a different good thing.

The point here is that the tea was the same as it was my first sip, but now I knew what to expect. What changed was my perspective.

As a poet, I’m always trying to turn even mundane experiences into metaphors and life lessons.

This one isn’t too complex or deep, but its also not too difficult too make the connection. Sometimes we perceive something as positive or negative, pleasant or unpleasant, not by its real properties, but by our expectations. But as long as the unexpected thing is harmless and good in itself, or can be turned into a positive, we can improve our experience by changing our expectations and perceptions.

In short, we can often adjust to the change and enjoy what is, even if it wasn’t what we’d planned on.

I thoroughly enjoyed that cup of honey-lemon tea, once I knew what I was drinking, just as I thoroughly enjoyed the cup of peppermint tea I sipped on while writing this.

I also enjoyed three unexpected, extended conversations on my walk today, which threw my schedule at least an hour behind, but which I still found worthwhile. Since my goals and time-frame for today were flexible enough to accommodate the adjustment, I allowed myself to enjoy and benefit from — and perhaps benefit others — from the encouragement exchanged.

While I had only planned a quick, solitary walk before starting the rest of my day, I found myself changing my plans and expectations when something equally beneficial, though unexpected, presented itself.

——————————————————————————————————————–

Now this second story seemed interesting enough to write about, but it was significantly harder to extract a metaphor, or any kind of meaning from it. Still I felt like I had to try.

The other day, when at my favorite local produce stand, I decided to splurge on a bouquet of sweet-smelling sweet-pea flowers. They were a mix of dark and light purple, my favorite colors, with a compatible blend of cream colored blooms, and a small splash of pale pink. Though the purples were my favorite, the whole mix was harmonious and attractive.

But later I noticed one sprig of red that stood out like the proverbial sore thumb. The red flower was perfectly appealing on its own but just didn’t seem to go with the other more mellow colors. I tried to adjust my eye – o.k., my expectations again – but I still found that bit of incongruous red slightly jarring.

My solution? I took out the red sprig and put it in its own container. This resulted in two flower arrangements to enjoy, and a calmer, more appealing mix of flowers in the larger bouquet. It was simply a matter of taste. Mine apparently didn’t match that of the person who arranged the bouquet, or possibly not much thought was put into the choices.

But I put the one sprig of red blooms in a white cup off by itself and enjoyed both it, and the purple and white blend, separately.

So what does this mean? Maybe there is truly no deeper meaning here, but I felt the need to look for one. In my poet’s mind, if it’s worth mentioning, it’s probably worth making into a metaphor. Maybe all it means is I love flowers and wanted to talk about them.

Let me just be clear here. This has nothing to do with segregation, or ugly, hidden agenda like that. It was really just a matter of aesthetics, and customizing something to my taste.

I think that’s the main idea. If the way something comes ready-made doesn’t work for me, then I try to customize it to my personality and strengths. That’s my approach to a lot of areas of life. I just wish more of them were as easy as this one.

It’s also about how if something, or someone, doesn’t shine in a particular group, they may be placed to better advantage somewhere else, where they fit. I could go on with endless examples of this in the human sphere, but that really isn’t the focus of this post. So I’ll just give one idea.

I don’t like crowds, or large parties, or sports events, or anything large and loud. So rather than try to force myself to fit in to something like that, I’ll be much happier, more in my element, like the red flower in its own white cup, if I stay home to read and listen to soft music, or visit with one or two close friends. Why would I even try to fit where I’m not happy or at my best advantage?

Now the one flower idea led me of course to a particular Van Gogh painting I’ve thought a lot about. There’s a field of purple irises (both my favorite color and one of my favorite flowers). But in this field there’s one white iris.

It doesn’t detract from the beauty of the others, nor is it any less beautiful. In fact I’ve often identified with that one white iris, as I imagine Van Gogh did himself. There is a combination of distinction – different talents and traits that have their own, even special merit – and the pain of being different. A genius like Van Gogh, or anyone creative, doesn’t usually blend in with the group, but stands out.

So it’s a distinction that has nothing wrong in it, and certainly some positives. But there’s also an element of loneliness in it. It can be both wonderful and difficult to stand out as one-of-a-kind in a group that is otherwise all the same.

So how does this fit with my one red flower? I have no clue. The distinctions are not the same, but just reminded me of each other anyway. But I found that in this case the red flower did better in its own element, standing out without the clash it caused among the mellower colors.

In most cases, of course, variety is wonderful. But sometimes, finding a better fit makes sense.

I don’t think I’m much closer to a meaningful metaphor here, so I’ll just say this: in some situations, changing our expectations — like with the tea – helps us enjoy something different or unexpected. In other cases, changing something so it works better for us is the way to go. But just because I took the red flower out of the bouquet doesn’t mean I enjoyed, or valued it, any less.

And flowers of any color, and hot tea of nearly any flavor, are almost always a good thing. But sometimes you’re in the mood for sour, sometimes sweet, sometimes refreshing. Sometimes bright colors, sometimes muted ones, and in my case always, always, purple.

Make of it all what you will.

Goodbye to Poetry Month, Hello to a More Poetic Life From Now On

Now that April and National Poetry Month are over, I wanted to use this post to finish my mini “poetry series,” then I’ll move forward again with my usual content.

I hope anyone who has read these posts, and poems, has enjoyed this brief introduction to poetry, and will continue to remember to seek out and enjoy a poem now and then as part of your life.

I’m going to share two of my poems in this post, then briefly explain both how the poem came about, and how a wider application might be made, even in the business world.

But first, a bit of unfinished business. In my last post I shared poems by one of the poets quoted in the article I included. So today I’m showcasing the other poet, Leona Guidace. She published a book-length poem, drawing heavily (pun intended) on her background in visual arts to make the work visually and emotionally rich and complement her words.

Since the poem is a bit hard to excerpt, and the images are so important, I’m just putting in a link to a sample here. It’s written under another name, so don’t worry, you’re in the right place. And just keep clicking on the page to get to the next one.

I found this exciting and creative. I love it when different disciplines are brought together to complement each other, just like when certain opposite words are juxtaposed, as this sample aptly demonstrates. Enjoy.

http://www.blurb.com/books/7712841-words-to-code-words-to-keep

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Now, whether you find this treat or torture, here are two poems I have written.

Part of having the mind of a poet means observing, noticing, and reflecting on things more deeply, and applying them in our lives and work, artistic or otherwise. I try to make these connections in this blog, hoping to help my readers see how they can develop their poet’s eye and use the insights and new perspective they gain to enrich their life, their work, and even their approach to the business world.

This first poem takes a humorous look at an everyday kind of encounter, and also tries to see things from the perspective of the other “person.”

Ode to The Spider

I have the advantage

in size,

in right of occupancy,

in ability to wield a broom.

———————————–

Still, on your side,

you have speed

and the element of surprise,

not to mention being ugly

enough to haunt my dreams.

————————————-

I think the terror we inspire

in each other is equal

though I, unless your bite

is poisonous, am less likely

to die from our encounter.

Yet I usually view

each of your kind

with the same level of dread.

————————————–

You startle me, suddenly

rushing across the wall

above my kitchen sink.

I scream – (how maddeningly

female of me) – and run

into the other room

to gather my wits

and find a weapon.

—————————————-

This gives you warning

and sufficient time

to run into some room

of your own, some crack

or corner I can’t see.

————————————

Perhaps you also scream,

inaudibly to me

but loud enough in your world

to make you wonder

if the neighbors heard.

——————————-

I wonder if your nerves

are as raw as mine

for the rest of the night,

if you tell your friends

about me later when you talk

on your tiny telephone,

or if you can’t bear

to even think about me,

you still shiver so

at the mere idea

of seeing me again.

———————————

You hope I’ll stay

away, in another room

the way I hope you’ll escape

out the same opening

you entered through,

go back to your cozy web,

watch a movie to soothe

your mind, carefully avoiding

all horror shows – especially

“Anthrophobia.”

———————————-

You’d rather not bite me,

smiting me with your

theoretical venom,

the way I’d prefer

to avoid squishing you

into oblivion.

——————————-

So really we’re the same,

not meaning any harm,

not out for malice,

content to live

and let each other live

but please, oh so separately,

unfelt, unseen.


I won’t say that after writing this poem I’m much less afraid of spiders, or that I don’t occasionally feel the need to “wield a broom.” But the poem did provide a bit of perspective, as well as comic relief.

And I think such perspective can be applied in other aspects of life, when seeing the other person’s point of view might help to moderate our feelings about the situation.

For example, if you are nervous about interviewing for a job, maybe the interviewer is also nervous, afraid of how his or her choice may affect their prospects of a promotion. Or if you are interviewing an expert for an article, they may be nervous about being interviewed. In both cases, seeking to put the other person at ease can help you as well.

Now this next poem shows how tangible, literal objects, such as fingernails can be meaningful in themselves, but also serve as metaphors for something more.

I wrote this poem after a long time working two part-time jobs — as a geriatric caregiver and a massage therapist. Both jobs were a good fit for me, doing work I loved. But it can also be tiring to spend a lot of time caring for the needs of others, especially as you begin to feel your own age and other health issues.

I had just retired from caregiving, but was still feeling burned out and depleted, and decided to take a short leave of absence from my job as a massage therapist.

One of the requirements of doing that job is to keep my nails very short and well-trimmed, so that I can maximize my effectiveness and minimize the chance of causing the client any discomfort. A small sacrifice, but the luxury of growing them long for a change symbolized the freedom I felt when I was able to focus more on self-care for awhile.

Letting My Nails Grow

It’s my small act of rebellion,

a temporary declaration

of independence, a small

needed freedom.

————————————

They say you must put on

the oxygen mask, take care

of yourself before you can

take care of others well.

————————————–

I’ve grown tired, over the years,

it seems, from taking care of others’

needs, though it’s work I love, or

used to, or want to say I do.

———————————————-

But for these short weeks

of long-needed rest, I let

my nails grow long and lustrous,

making them impractical

for “working with my hands,”

my permission to do,

for this too-brief respite,

closer to only what I want to do.

—————————————–

I tell myself I’ll be ready soon,

I’ll clip and smooth my nails,

ready these hands, steady them,

gain renewed strength, willingly

present them for service once again,

groomed and ready to resume duties.