Once Upon A Trail

Last night in my dreams I was at some type of event with lots of different opportunities and hundreds of interesting people. In the dream, I met Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. They’ve both been gone for many years, but in the dream I told them their movies lightened my childhood, made it better. And when the morning sun shook me out of bed, I wondered why in the world that couple showed up in my dreams.

I have not thought about them for … I can’t remember the last time I thought about them. Possibly years ago when I visited the Singing Cowboy exhibit at the Autry Museum of the American West.

As any good geek would do, I launched a little online research. They both had multiple marriages, faced some great losses, and stayed together for decades. Dale wrote the song “Happy Trails” as somewhat of a reality check because a cowboy’s days may lean toward simple, but aren’t always easy. Still, the good cowboy does the right thing and works hard. One line stood out to me: It’s the way you ride the trail that counts[i].

Issues like homelessness don’t make it to the nightly news, but perhaps they should. I was one of the majority of people (around 50%) who rode that trail very briefly. I rarely talk about it because to “normal folks” it makes no sense (they feel certain it could never happen to them) (and I feel equally certain it could). My motivation to attain a more mainstream living situation was fueled by a need to stay connected with my children. My angels (in human skin) were longer-term homeless women who pushed me to take advantage of the personal resources available to me to help me get back on my feet.

Since then – for the last 20 years and until a few weeks ago – I worked in the social service industry trying to eliminate homelessness. And 20+ years after that personal experience with homelessness, I still see so much room for change. Homelessness is not just an inconvenience; for many, it’s a death sentence.

But for all the folks working for a paycheck and idolizing bureaucracy, I also know there are people who really care, there are great service models (we have data and we know what works!), and many opportunities to learn (so much free info is available).

I also see it’s how you ride the trail that counts. For me, part of self-care includes making the journey fruitful/joyful/peaceful (or whatever “full” we each long for) and finding our tribe/peeps.

This week I finish unpacking/organizing and go to the local YMCA to apply for a discounted membership based on my current (pathetically low) income. The goal: exploring opportunities to improve my physical health and build a local support system. Other potential resources include churches, clubs, civic groups, part-time work, school, and volunteering.

So, about Roy and Dale, I remember them reminding children to be honest and work hard. They didn’t let their personal experience with hard times slow their momentum or change their message. They continued to wish others happy trails.

It’s going to be a busy week, but it’s time to cowgirl up.

[i] Visit http://royrogersworld.com/happy-trails/ for more info

Invisibility and Age

At some point in time, anyone who lives long enough will cross the line from Adult to Elder. The crossing, in this culture, generally won’t be marked with fireworks and whoops of joy. Many folks stop celebrating birth days by age 40. For many it’s seen as a first step into oblivion. For others it’s viewed as a challenge (to duck the appearance of aging). For me, it’s a little complicated. If I had super-powers, I’d make aging and the invisibility that accompanies it a different experience. Joyful. Compassionate. Integrated. Public.

Dealing with aging through cosmetic surgery or related treatments never made it to my priority list. It’s not that I don’t care; it’s that I think we should all be given leeway to age in whatever way we feel is best for us. For example, I admit I enjoyed hair color when it was for fun. It ceased being fun nearly 10 years ago when I realized the products are beyond unpleasant, the stylist mentioned them as “required” for a working woman of my age, and the rebel in me decided it’s just not my style to conform to the 1950s rules my aunties spouted or to ignore the 1970s 4-MMPD controversy (during which the cancer-connection was ignored in light of the Necessity of hair-color) or current studies noting increased sensitivity to coloring products.

What continues to shock me, though, is how many people totally ignore very young as well as older people, as if relevance accrues as we age and then evaporates as we age some more. Call me small town, but can’t we agree that we retain our core essence throughout our lives? The lessons we’ve learned, sometimes the Hard Way, may add value, as does innocence, but our person-hood continues.

I envision a future in which adaptation will increasingly require broader, rather than narrower, roles. I see a future with more faces at the table, not fewer, more visibility for all, not just a few. With that, I hope to see people of all ages letting go of the belief that we somehow reach a wrinkle-quotient and are no longer interested in life, in music, in art, in love, in sex, in passion. Those things stay with us, along with love, hope, curiosity, humor, and compassion.

Without compassion, I think invisibility infiltrates lives, and self-compassion seems a grand way to begin standing out. The people I admire find ways to practice self-compassion and enjoy their days, every day, just as they are. So that’s a practice I plan to follow. Here are a few things that make me happy:

  • Healthy (usually simple) food.
  • Time in or around nature.
  • Learning new things.
  • Stories and movies that make me laugh!

Pondering happy-generators seems easy enough, but taking action speaks more clearly to intention. Moving beyond invisibility and turning pondering into action, I:

  • signed up for a local CSA delivering organic produce
  • went to a large park and invested several minutes in admiring beautiful trees
  • started reading a book about causes of common illnesses/conditions so I can improve my health. Learned about powerful veggies I think of as delicious but ordinary (like celery, cilantro, and asparagus).
  • watched a short Netflix comedy special and picked out a comedy to enjoy another day.

One step at a time, one foot in front of the other, moving forward and remembering my role in the invisibility game.

The Journey Begins

My job came to a rapid halt. Not because I failed to live up to expectations or because I planned to retire. A flock of compelling reasons swooped in out of a clear blue Hawaiian sky and left me with few choices. They boiled down to the following: stick with a job I loved (and a good income) or prioritize family needs (and live in poverty).

What’s a woman to do?

It wasn’t an easy decision and I reject the notion that women lean into sacrifice. I’ve bumped into more than a few people, both male and female, who made similarly difficult choices. Our specific circumstances differ, but I realized that sometimes we have to make the hard choices, take a leap of faith, and turn into a new journey… whether our choice is to dig in our heels or go for the big changes…

In my experience, the key consideration is this: does Fear or Love drive the choice? Secondarily, is the move Toward or Away From some person, place, or thing? (No judgments on #2; moving away from danger seems sane, but wherever we go, there we are.) Finally, for me, in the end, ignoring my instincts has created more problems for me than practicing sound logic.

Today I’m over 2,500 miles from my former life. It has only been 2 weeks and I’m completely exhausted from running around trying to fit into this new existence. Granted, some of the tasks suck a lot of energy: unpacking, sorting, squeezing my life into a smaller physical space, updating the new space so it feels like my own. Still, something huge occurred to me today, as I rushed from my grandson’s school to Target to pick up a few necessities and, conveniently, to Starbucks to await contact from my disabled son’s case manager (while enjoying a Skinny Cinnamon Dolce Latte, coconut milk, please), trusting the caffeine to propel me through at least until noon.

Seated at a table, in a quiet moment, I generated a list of things I should do. Buy backup fabric for the fabric for the costume I planned to sew for someone else; recalling what foods family members like so I could shop for a meal they might enjoy; comparing prices for airfare, train, and rental car for a trip to visit my son and meet with his care team.

Among the things I planned to do during semi-retirement: join the YMCA and visit the gym or pool a few times a week, edit the book I finished, research and include more anti-inflammatory foods in my diet, and, oh, yeah, develop a support system. What steps had I taken with any of those? Not a single one, unless it counts to recall the plan whenever I pass the YMCA.

The gigantic revelation: I’m not practicing good self-care.

It seems the challenge of a lifetime to move from one situation to another without bringing the same baggage of long hours, setting aside my own needs, wondering what else I can do for others. It doesn’t take a genius to acknowledge the importance of, in the words of attendants on every commercial flight I’ve ever taken, putting on my own oxygen mask first.

This self-care stuff is not as easy as it seems. I believe it takes courage, determination, and a willingness to fail – then try again. And that’s what this bloggy-slogging journey is about.

Thanks for joining me!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton