A few days ago I made a mistake. I went along on a fun family outing and it turned my day upside down.
We left home thinking we were heading to a Zipline course where we would zip from one tree to the next among a canopy of trees. It would be a thrill to fly fast through the forest, far above the ground. It would be cool in the green shade with the air rushing past. Two of our group were checking off an item on their bucket lists. Fun!
We arrived to find the “zipline” course was more of an athletic obstacle course, only one that was far off the ground. This “fun” activity would require strength, a lot of sweat, and result in shaking, wobbly muscles more than once or twice.
On the company’s website I learned: the highest platform is 48 feet, the longest zipline across the water is 700 feet, the longest crossing is 57 feet and the total course is 3,166 feet. It took us three hours to finish. The last ladder up was probably double the length of the first one.
I almost pooped out just before the last two rungs…
But it was FUN. It was worth all the effort to get to the end and zippppp so fast across the water. The view was spectacular and the thrill caused hysterical scream-laughing to fly out of me as soon as I left the platform, every single time!
I learned things about myself, too. Like when I almost pooped out right before the end of the last ladder? I had no other option but to gather whatever strength was hiding inside of me and use it. Sure, I could have climbed back down the ladder and decided I was done. In that moment the thought never occurred to me. I could have slipped off the ladder and taken a moment’s rest. I was harnessed in and would have been fine hanging there for a minute or two. Again, the thought never crossed my mind. I’m not sure if it’s because I am more stubborn that smart sometimes or because I never seem to allow myself the easy out, or that I would have been embarrassed to climb down and walk past the group of people waiting behind me. To be fair, it was probably a combination of all of that, but now I know that, by nature, I choose to keep moving forward. It’s something I’m sure I already knew about myself, but not to that extend. Any way I look at it, the reminder was a good one.
I also learned that I’m not afraid of heights. I always feel wobbly and nervous when I’m up high looking off the edge of a mountain or down into a canyon. I’ve assumed from that feeling it meant I was afraid of heights. But I didn’t have a bit of trouble looking down from way up there. I purposely did it. The forest floor and treetops, looking down from so high up, are beautiful. What I am, I discovered, is afraid of falling. Ahh! I was securely harnessed in and tethered onto a thick gauged safety wire with not one but two clips. I felt like there was no real danger of falling so it left me free to completely enjoy. It was so freeing! And what a cool way to clarify a tiny corner of my psyche.
Another thing I learned is that I don’t challenge myself nearly enough. Not physically I don’t, anyway. I challenge myself mentally and creatively on a daily basis. But I rarely put myself in positions where I need to work hard, strain and stretch my muscles. I assume I won’t like it much, but that’s the thing. I’m not terribly athletic by nature. I’m uncoordinated and I think it takes my muscles more time to develop that memory thing everyone always talks about with sports, so I usually opt out of feeling clumsy. But I definitely should not do that. I had a whole lot of fun on the zipline course and I would have missed it if I’d known what I was signing up for. I’m glad I was clueless!
The best thing I learned, hands down, is that even though I’ve packed on quite a bit of extra padding (FAT) over the past couple of years, underneath it all I’m still strong. I’ll be 51 next month. Aging is on my mind more than I like to admit, to be 100% honest. I don’t necessarily worry about it, I’m not a worrier, but I think about how I move now in comparison to how I moved a decade ago, two, three… I’m more cautious. I’m slower. I take care where and how I step on uneven surfaces. I feel weak and slouchy and round much of the time. But now I know under all that, I am still strong in my body. It’s a relief to me.
Why? Because I can still choose to up my physical game. My body will still allow it. My mind is all for it! Which is a little surprising to me, but I’m glad. I get bored in the gym. I’m not a fan of running (again with the boredom). I need variety, I want to be out in nature, I want to be able to run circles around my little grandbaby when he’s old enough to run and play. I guess, in the end, I’ve learned that I’m ready to get moving again. Thanks, Universe! The search is on…
The first gig Charlie Dennis ever played on stage was with a Texas Bluesman called Johnny Clyde Copeland. Charlie was 12 years-old at the time and from the way he tells the story, he stood at the back of the stage, playing his guitar as timid as could be. Sometime during the set, Johnny Clyde came back there and grabbed that guitar right out of his hands and says, “Boy, that is not how you play the gi’tar. This here! This is how you play it.” And he commenced to pounding on the strings like he meant every stroke of it. When I asked Charlie what that felt like, playing with somebody like that, so young. Charlie said it was great, but it was so embarrassing to have his guitar pulled out of his hands like that. It was a lesson he’d never forget.
Charlie laughs when he tells the story. Pretty much the same as he laughs when he tells any story about his life in music. Like even a bad day playing is better than a good day not. Besides, is there any better baptism to playing blues guitar than that? Johnny Clyde taught him to trust his guitar. Taught him how to trust himself playing it. What better lessons to learn when you’re only 12 years old? And Johnny did it all without words.
I’m learning to trust me and my guitar a little bit, too, now that I’ve been playing and learning for a few weeks. I’m finally at a point where I don’t have to stare at the strings while I’m playing to make sure they’re where I expect them to be. It’s a damn good feeling, to realize that my fingers know right where to meet them (at least some of the time). It gives me a kind of confidence I never had until now.
Isn’t that the thing with trust? Every single time we learn a lesson about it – whether it’s a new way we trust ourselves, or an old friend we learn to trust in a new way – that feeling can’t help but add to who we are. It adds to the confidence we have in ourselves but also our confidence about where we fit in the world.
There’s something else about Johnny Clyde Copeland; I didn’t think to ask what he meant when he told Charlie, “This is how you play.” Maybe it’s just me, but I wonder if he meant to teach little Charlie Dennis that if you’re gonna do a thing, then DO it. Don’t mess around, just go on. Then once it’s done, so what if it wasn’t quite right? It’s already over, and you always have next to time to do it better.
Maybe those are just my imaginings after watching Johnny play this song called, Flying High. But I wished I’d had a chance to ask him – If you’re gonna do a thing, just go on about it, right Johnny?
You might think that starting guitar lessons at age 50 is a little frivolous. Like, maybe I sound like someone who has way too much time on her hands. But you would be wrong.
I haven’t played a musical instrument since I was seven years-old. My instrument of choice was a violin back then. I wasn’t very good at it and I have no recollection as to why, at age seven, I chose to play the violin. It seems like an odd choice, but there it is. I suppose I’ve always been a little weird.
I can’t say that I missed playing an instrument all those years, but now that I have a new one in my hands every day? I’m loving the experience. And as I always do, I’m (re)learning a few life lessons that are good to remember.
Let me start out by saying, I met the man who’s teaching me to play guitar at a club here in Las Vegas called the E-String Bar and Grille. He plays there every Thursday night. The crowd is usually pretty thin, but any crowd would be after playing, like he did, to stadium crowds all over the world with B. B. King.
My teacher is Charlie (Tuna) Dennis, and he’s been playing guitar for almost 60 years. His pinkie finger knows more about playing blues guitar than some blues guitar players will learn in a lifetime. Let me tell you what, he’s got the callouses to prove it. Long story short, I’m pretty thrilled about learning from a master.
But back to those life lessons. It’s pretty interesting, how that part is happening, because it’s totally by accident. Whether Charlie spouts out an amazing one liner, or something occurs to me while I’m practicing every morning, the lessons come. I thought you might like to know them, too:
Lesson #1: The simple things in life are most difficult.
I started off my first lesson with thirty minutes of strumming the low E string. Just strumming it with my thumb. Trying to hit it consistently hard and in time with the tapping of Charlie’s shoe. It seems like a simple thing to do, but that’s the thing. Simple is usually the hardest way to do something; anything. That’s probably why we tend to complicate everything – to hide the flaws. And if you don’t believe that simple is hardest? Go get a piece of paper and a pencil out of the drawer, then try to draw a perfectly round circle. Go ahead, I’ll wait…….. (tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-). See? It’s really hard, right?
Lesson learned? Even though simple is hardest, it’s definitely worth the effort. There’s nothing more elegant and satisfying on a deep and soulful level.
Lesson #2: It’s all about the timing.
Timing in guitar playing isn’t just about striking the string with one hand. You also have to mash it down (Charlie’s term) with the other. If you mash the string down too early, you get this dull thud of a sound instead of the beautiful vibration you’re wanting out of the string. That sound feels embarrassing, or it does to me, anyway. Take your time, Charlie says, over and over. And I try hard not to rush, but that’s harder than it sounds, too. You got to get that timing right.
My fiance? I’ve known him since we were in junior high school together. We’re 50 now and finally our timing is right. It’s funny, though, when we talk about how things used to be, in the decades we spent apart. It’s downright jarring how different our lives were. And I always come back to the same thought – If we had been together years ago, we never would have made it as a couple. Our relationship would have ended in a big, dull thud. And just for the record, I’m incredibly glad that didn’t happen.
Lesson #3: Perfect comes later.
Or, at least, as perfect as you’re ever gonna get. Charlie sat listening to me strum out the notes to a very simple tune, meant to strengthen and coordinate my fingers properly, for a whole hour that first lesson. He never once got frustrated with me. Though, when he played alongside me, I heard just how clumsy I was. He kept saying Right or Perfect any time I would hit a single, nice-sounding note. Why is that? Because perfect never comes right away. Practicing over and over, that’s how you get to perfect.
This is a lesson I feel like we’re forgetting here in the 21st Century. We expect our politicians, our parents, our children, school students, doctors, engineers – we expect all of us to be perfect every single day, all the time. But we’ll never be that. We can only keep trying to reach closer and closer towards it. Baby steps, or giant leaps, or single guitar strokes at a time, one after the other, practiced every day.
Who wants to be perfect the first time anyway? I mean, sure, that would be much less frustrating, but eww. How boring! Imperfection is where innovation comes from. It’s where real meaning and beauty lies. Mistakes are the place where we can all come together and say, YES, I’ve been there. I feel your pain. And we could all do with a little compassion every now and again, now couldn’t we?
Lesson #4: There should always be more than one way to get where you’re going.
Charlie’s great for one-liners. During our first lesson, we were talking about how some musicians only know how to play by ear. You know the ones; they never learned how to read sheet music. Sure enough they’re talented – B.B. King played by ear, and so did Eddie Van Halen, right? But Charlie’s point was, if you can only play by ear, you only have one way to play. A song is like driving from Point A to Point B. If you can’t read a sheet of music, you only have one road to travel on. But if you can read music, well, you can go all different ways! Charlie says, Music is a roadmap. If you know how to read the map, then there are almost an infinite number of ways to get from one place to another, right?
The catch is, you gotta do your homework. You got to put in your time. You need to make a commitment. To learn. To do.
And to think! I learned all that in just my first week as a guitar player.
What’s coming next for me with these lessons? Who knows, except for sure some callouses on my fingertips, hours with Charlie Dennis and his patient encouragement, and hopefully one of these days I will strum that low E string and it’ll sound pretty good. To end this thing, though, this mini literary jaunt, I have just one more thing to add: Whatever it is that’s coming next, I’m ready for it!
We all get blue sometimes. Maybe it’s the weather, or a bad time of the year, or things just haven’t been going well lately and it’s got you down. That’s feeling blue. Yeah, that sucks, but it’s not depression. Depression is a change in your brain chemistry. It can be triggered by events, absolutely it can, but it’s different. Depression is: no matter what, you can’t shake off the feeling of low. Like, you could be in your very favorite place, with your most favorite people, eating or doing or drinking your favorite thing and feel completely numb to it all. At least, that’s what it’s like for me…
Buck up buttercup? No. That’s not fair, and it’s not that simple. I’m 50 now and for the past year or so I’ve struggled on and off with bouts of depression. Menopausal hormones suck. I’m fortunate though, that when I get depressed I don’t get so low as to feel totally hopeless or completely helpless or feel like it never will end. I am very lucky that’s not me.
But depression is a big struggle. It is for me, and I know it is for the people who love me. They don’t like to see me so low, any more than I like it. So today I’m offering a list to help them and you and anyone else who’s ever had to deal with depression:
Depression is hard. It’s not your job to make it easier, but it sure is a wonderful kindness to give it a try.
There’s a country singer dying in the national spotlight these days, and it has me shaking my head. I’d never heard of this woman before I learned she had cancer, before she and her husband started publicizing her death. To be quite honest, this kind of publicity feels very wrong to me.
It’s not that I have no compassion for their situation. Certainly a mother’s death will forever alter her children’s lives. Obviously her husband’s life will be forever changed. But why turn this private time into a spectator sport?
I’m sure some people believe this is a great way to begin to remove the stigma of death and dying. Americans have an unhealthy fear of death. Absolutely we do. However, I don’t believe that a celebrity taking her death public will change this perception. Our fear of death is much deeper than what a reality show treatment of the subject will fix. But she looks so pretty cuddling her child on her death bed. Of course she does. Those pictures are intended to be splashed all over the internet. She has to worry about looking pretty if that’s going to happen. Sorry folks, but if I’m worried about how I look while I’m dying then I feel like I will have failed at living. And yes, I understand that’s only my personal perspective, and there are a whole rainbow of others. My point is that the frivolity of looking pretty for the cameras at that time in my life sounds sad and ridiculous to me.
Others seem to believe that going public about death is an incredibly brave thing to do. I have a BIG problem with that. I used to be a hospice nurse. One lesson I learned during that time is that there are as many ways of dying as there are fingerprints. They are are real and valid ways to die. Some are calm and quiet, others are loud and confused, still others are ugly, and hurtful words are thrown around. Some deaths are awful to watch and some seem like the most natural passage from one stage of life to another. It’s hard to know what death will be like until it comes.
Still, is it brave to die publicly? Bravery is facing your fear and doing it anyway. So how is death brave? We don’t have a choice about it. Death doesn’t care. So this singer has found peace. That’s a wonderful thing for her and her family. But why should that make her story news? Many people struggle to find that peace until the day they die. Some may never get there and I guess that’s my biggest issue with this whole thing.
To me, it feels mean and hurtful to raise up one person’s death, above all others, to call it brave. Because if I die gnashing my teeth and cursing, will you dare to call me coward?
Birth and death are flip sides of the same coin. The act of birthing is anything but easy or beautiful. It’s painful and messy. It’s physically difficult. Death is the same. It’s hard and it’s heart wrenching. It changes those who witness it. But, please. It’s not brave. It just is. And settling with that in your heart is so much more important than looking pretty.
I had all the rest of the lessons about myself written and ready to roll onto this page, but sadly my laptop crashed on me. So, I suppose, my last life lesson to learn, before I turn 50, is that I am flexible.
I can be ready for anything at any time. That’s not to say I’ll like whatever I have to face. I should have washed my mouth out with soap, the words that flew outta there when I realized my laptop was gone with all its files.
No, I didn’t back up my files. Yes, it’s all my fault. Yes, I’m incredibly angry with myself, but no there’s nothing I can do to bring them back. Will I spend my time dwelling on it? No. That’s not productive and it would certainly do nothing for my state of mind. So, flexible.
I am rewriting my script. I am skirting around the corner that wasn’t there yesterday. I can’t say if I was born this way or learned to be flexible because life gave it to me to learn. Either way, it doesn’t make sense to me to roll around in self-pity, ever. I’d much rather pick myself up, dust off the last remnants of sadness/anger/frustration and move the hell on.
I’ve spent the last 45 minutes procrastinating about writing this post about procrastination. No, really.
I don’t understand people who do things ahead of time. What’s your rush? There’s plenty of time to go take a walk, watch some Youtube, play with the dog, clean out the closet (of course I’ve been putting that off for too long, too). My point is, there are so many alternatives to doing the one thing I should be doing.
Is that the reason I chronically put things off? Well, it’s definitely one reason, but the issue is more complicated than that. I am a moody person, maybe I have different reasons to procrastinate depending on my mood. Or it could be that I’m just skilled at self-deception.
Five lies I tell myself when I’m procrastinating:
The truth is, I usually start procrastinating because if there is too much time between now and my deadline. I need to feel an urgency to get started. Reading back over that statement, I see that as a mark of my lack of self-motivation.
Here I am nearly 50 and I still have a hard time motivating myself. External locus of control? Yes, to a certain extent, I am better motivated from the outside in. I can’t tell you why that is, it just is. It’s another one of my personality traits that I’ve been made to feel “wrong” for. Here’s the thing, though, there’s not a single event I can look back to (or even a series of) that points to why I have a hard time motivating myself. If there’s nothing I can do about it, why should I feel bad? I don’t know. But I do know if I spend time worrying about it, I’m wasting even more time and I still haven’t gotten started on the thing I told myself I’d do yesterday. So there’s that…
The uglier truth is, my procrastination is downright destructive sometimes. I know this about myself and I’m still working on this one: I procrastinate because I’m afraid of the results when I get the thing done. I have this anxiety that no matter how I feel about my work, it’s really not good enough, or not right, or it’s an uninspired piece of crap. This is most troublesome when it comes to my writing.
I’m not sure what to do about this. I suppose I could end right here with a silly but fitting, “I’ll worry about that tomorrow.” But I want to face these fears and face them down because, what the hell? Instead I think I’ll end with different, if just as trite sentiment:
Just Do It.
I am stubborn. Some prefer tenacious or persistent, but I’m personally okay with being a stubborn woman. It means I’m not easily pushed around. It means I won’t budge. It means that I’ll try again and again and again, because it is against my nature to give up.
Then again, sometimes the smart course is to change the one you’re on. This is where my stubbornness needs to be tempered.
I often see my best qualities as also my worst. Yes, I am stubborn, but if I let it go too far, if I do something my way only because it’s my way and I want it, then I’m going to get myself into deep sh*t. And I have gotten myself in trouble because I wanted what I wanted and couldn’t see any other option than the one I set my heart on.
Stubborn: mule-headed, tenacious, rigid, persistent, hardheaded, determined.
I am older and, sometimes, wiser now. I want to say I can only hope that my wisdom will overtake my stubborn nature when necessary. But that’s not a fair assessment of what I want the remainder of my years to look like. I expect my wisdom will best my stubborn nature. It is my job to make that happen. That’s a part of aging and the wisdom that (we always hope) comes with advanced years.
Who I am and what I do with my life is only up to me. As it’s always been, but age gives that intent a different texture, I think.
So I’ll keep being my old stubborn self, but I’ll keep my heart and mind open and willing to see all my options and all the alternatives, so that I can make my choice be the wise one.
It feels like a big deal, turning 50. I’m about to be older than the entire life expectancy of women a hundred years ago. That fits my definition of a momentous occasion and I definitely want to make this time in my life count.
Yesterday, to help prepare myself, I wrote a list of 30 “I am” statements. That’s one for each day between now and my 50th birthday. My plan is to choose one statement each day and write about it; a sort of countdown to what I know about me. Hopefully, at the end of these 30 days, I will be able to make a simple statement, I’ll call it my mission statement, for my Wise Woman years.
That’s my real motivation, I suppose. I’ve spent a lot of my life wanting to be a wise woman, but never feeling like I’d put in enough years to actually be one. 50 feels just about right.
Motivation interests me more than any other force on the human condition. What makes people do what they do?
Here’s one last thought before I go on about my self-doubt: I recently decided I spend far too much time fighting against things. This is about changing my perspective, put simply. When I’m fighting something, by necessity, I face toward it. Because of that, I’m spending a lot of time facing all the ugly things that I believe are short-sighted, unkind or ugly. What I should do, instead, is point myself toward their opposites. Everything has a flip side, right? Dark and light, soft and hard, simple and complex. So instead of fighting so hard against what I don’t like, don’t want, find abhorrent, instead I will face it’s opposite and move myself in that direction.
Okay, now I’m ready to start:
Today, Day 1 of 30, I decided to explore the statement “I am a self-doubter.” Of course I would choose a statement that has a negative connotation, but simply believing it’s negative doesn’t make it true. Self-doubt isn’t all bad; it’s all in how you look at it.
So, self-doubt. Its opposite is self-efficacy, or the belief that I can do what I intend, and that I control my motivations and behavior. Just because I want to face toward self-efficacy, though, doesn’t mean that my self-doubt disappears. It’s still back there; I can’t simply dis-acknowledge it. No, instead I need to integrate self-doubt. That way I can welcome it. To do this, my next step was to figure out how to use self-doubt for my own good.
What I learned is there’s actually a lot of good that can come out of self-doubt. Take this example: people who doubt themselves are likely to be quite conscientious and the hardest workers. Because I doubt myself, I work diligently to find the precise word and exact punctuation in my writing, so that it feels right and provides the picture I intend. Do I work harder than most? I can’t say because I’m just me, but I do fret over any work I do because I always want it to be the very best representation of me.
Another good quality of self-doubters is that we are naturally empathetic and compassionate toward others. I know what it’s like to feel doubtful and doubted, so I go the extra distance to let others know I’ve been in their shoes and know how it feels. Even when I haven’t worn those exact shoes, I try to imagine what it’s like because we all struggle to be our best selves, don’t we? We deserve kindness and respect for that if nothing else. Or at least in my book we do.
Finally, and this one I might like the best: self-doubt can lead to greater self-knowledge. If I’m constantly questioning myself (can I? should I? why?) then I am in a constant state of self-learning. Personally, and maybe it’s precisely because I am a self-doubter, I believe I was put here to learn. Something. I’m not sure what exactly that something is, yet, but in the mean-time if I’m busy learning about myself, then I feel like it’s a good place to start.
If you’re like me and you have a sometimes too healthy dose of self-doubt, here is a short list of resources . All it took was a quick search for “positive self-doubt” 🙂
I had a dream, once, that I was a spontaneous woman. Sadly, in my waking moments I’m a consummate ruminator. I tend to think over my next move, my next word, my next thought even, for a long time. Spontaneity is not my strong suit. That fact usually doesn’t bother me, but every once in a while it feels like a character flaw.
Steve, on the other hand, is my polar opposite when it comes to spontaneity. Rarely does he think about words before they come out of his mouth. It’s gotten him in trouble more than once, but I still see it as a great boon, personality-wise. Even if he does inadvertently hurt my feelings on occasion, or sometimes say things that are incredibly offensive, he’s just as quick and ready with an apology.
The thing is, he is also the most spontaneously generous person I know. So spontaneous, as a matter of fact, that it could be completely accidental.
I’m okay with that.
Here’s an example: Steve and I were sitting together in our spa (which we call the bubbly tub) on a recent afternoon and he suddenly popped out with “Hey! You have some gray hairs growing there,” as he pointed to my forehead. Before you go thinking something like well that’s not exactly a sweet compliment let me add a couple of important details. First, I’ve had gray hairs growing here and there for about 6 years. Also, his hair is at the 70:30 gray vs. brown point, so it’s not as though he were jeering at my oldness. Also, also, as soon as the words came out of his mouth, he said “I like them! They look nice!”
Is the generosity part evident yet? Maybe not, so let me elaborate. It literally took him years to notice in me the one physical characteristic we most immediately associate with old age. Years! He sees me every day, in all kinds of weather, too. Sunshine has surely glinted off my scattered gray hairs more than once in his presence. But it took him that long to notice.
(here’s me stepping onto my soapbox)
I like to feel pretty. Americans don’t consider any sign of aging attractive and I am, sometimes unfortunately, a product of my society. In spite of that, I’ll sport my gray hairs proudly and reframe my definition of “pretty” to include them. Not because Steve likes them, though. No. I proudly wear my aging because it is important to recognize and celebrate me at every age.
(this is me stepping off that soapbox)
Even more recently, Steve surprised me with another spontaneously generous blurt. He and I are currently cutting calories to lose weight (I am purposely avoiding the term dieting. Dieting is BAD). I am, to reiterate the point, a product of my upbringing though, and in the 70’s and 80’s we dieted. I struggle to move away from that mindset, but it still pokes me in the ribs on occasion.
Also in the 80’s, process and progress were unimportant. We were only happy when the scales displayed our goal weight and not before. Anyway, two days ago, I weighed myself just out of the shower and told Steve, with what was certainly a disheartened look on my face, “I only lost four pounds.” And before I could breathe my next breath, he said, “That’s a lot. Think of how big a four pound roast is!”
How sweet and generous is that?? He immediately, spontaneously, accidentally displaced my disappointment with a happy sense of relief. I imagined strapping a four pound roast to my belly and YES it is a lot of weight! As a matter of fact, it’s 1/10th of my overall goal and that’s not nothing.
I’m lucky to have someone in my life who accidentally makes me feel loved and good about myself, yes? I sure wish there were times that I could spontaneously make Steve feel good about himself in much the same way. Everything in life is a trade-off, though. I’m not spontaneous, so that will probably never happen. Instead, I should keep this in mind: it’s likely that I give Steve other kinds of unintended boosts when he needs them. I sure hope so, anyway, because the chances that I’ll become a spontaneous person are about as likely as the chances that I’ll choose to basejump off El Capitan.
There’s about a 0.00000000001% chance of that happening, in case you were wondering.