The 40s Identity Crisis

Every decade, every season comes with its own set of circumstances and struggles that are different from the one before.   So far, I don’t mind being in my 40s.  In fact, I think this is my favorite age yet, except for 17.  I really liked being 17 for reasons I don’t need to explain.  The thing about the age I am in right now is that in so many areas of my life, I feel like I’m starting over or just beginning.

When mapping the course of your life, there are certain markers we are told are important: getting an education, getting married, having children, establishing a career, buying a house, and getting your children out of your house and on their own path.  I am at an age where I’ve checked off all the tasks on the list and wondering what comes next. What is going to be important to me now?  Where should my focus be?

I’ve been demoted in my role as a mother.  I’ve gone from a manager to an advisor that isn’t particularly well respected.  I’m not in charge anymore. I don’t choose my kids activities or friends.  I have limited control over how they spend their time or money.  They do their own shopping and laundry.  I miss putting them in outfits I bought on clearance at Gymboree but they have managed to create their own sense of style so they don’t need me to dress them anymore. Fortunately, they still ask me what I think of the appropriateness of an outfit before they leave the house.  They know I like them to cover their butts if they choose leggings as pants.

For years, my focus has been on my home and family.  While have always had side hustles like selling stuff on ebay, cleaning houses, babysitting, and teaching classes, I primarily stayed home and kept my kids with me. When the kids were young, I made an effort to have adult friends over for dinner at least once a month.  Once they started going to school and our schedules became more hectic, the dinners stopped happening.

Many of my friends have disappeared.  We get so wrapped up in raising our families and juggling multiple schedules that it is hard to make plans with anyone who has teenage children.  Rather than having dinner with other adults on the weekends, I am usually playing board games with teenagers.  I’m not complaining.  It just makes it that much harder when my teenagers move out because they will take my social life with them.

Anyone else in the same boat?  Maybe we could start a support group or something if only I could get anyone to come over at a set time.  Grrr.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Civics Lesson

We live in an information age where you can get the answer to almost any question by asking Google.  There is no excuse for you as an adult and citizen of the United States not to vote.  Just because you have never heard of any of the names on the ballot doesn’t mean you can’t pick one.  Put the name in Google and see what you can find.  If you cannot find anything, they are not a viable candidate and you can move on to the next one.

Once you’ve researched the candidates, consider is their party affiliation. Political parties in Washington State are weak at best but they still play an important role in establishing policy positions that are favorable to the majority of the members of that party.  If you are an independent thinker and do not agree with either political party, good for you.  You are among the majority of Americans.  However, you still need to join one of the two major parties.  Here is why: you will never have an opportunity to influence policy or law if you are not represented by one of the two major parties.  MAJORITY RULES.  The object of the game of politics is to get a majority.  You do that by compromising with people who are different from you in order to get an outcome you can both agree with.  Both parties are full of factions that disagree about trade, abortion, social services, immigration, education, health care, etc but they have to come together and agree on the guiding principles used to make decisions.  If you believe both parties are corrupt and/or misguided, the answer isn’t to start your own party.  The answer is to get involved and change the party.

Be an advocate for your position within the framework of what already exists.  The only way we can make our country better is to fight with the bullies that are listening to Russian hackers and fake news reports.  We have to engage with facts and strong arguments, not walk away or start a new party.  NEW PARTIES DON’T WIN.  We have to win.  We have to take back both political parties from those who have turned them into private interest groups for the wealthy and well-connected.  Whether you support an expansive, active government or a restricted, limited government, make a choice and do more than fill in a dot on the ballot.  If you don’t want to live in a Ready Player One sci-fi dystopia, pull your head out and start paying attention….and vote (but not for a minor party because that’s a waste of a vote.)

Lilac Girls

Don’t judge a book by its cover!  Also, just because a book is a best seller’s doesn’t mean you are going to enjoy it.  Some people like to be disturbed, scared, or depressed. I’m not one of those people.  I don’t require that a book end with weddings and rainbows, but I want to know whatever narrative torture I went through was worth the journey.  In the case of Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly, I don’t know if it was.

9781101883082_p0_v2_s550x406When you see the cover of Lilac Girls, it is a picture of three women, walking together wearing long jackets of the style worn during World War II.  The book is about three women.  You might think this cover depicts these three women, giving insight to their relationship or role in the book.  You would be wrong.

The book is actually about a German doctor who tortured and killed women and children in a concentration camp, a Polish girl who survived cruel surgical experiments done by the doctor and others at the camp, and an American socialite who, after the war, helped Polish survivors of the German experiments.  The first half of the book give the back story of each character so the reader can fully understand what kind of person they were before the atrocities of war.  I could have lived without knowing.

The author is a talented writer.  Her descriptions are engaging and I kept reading because I wanted to know what would happen to the characters.  The book is based on true events and real people which also made it a compelling story.  However, I felt nothing but sad, especially sad for Poland.  That country cannot get a break. It makes me angry that kids used to tell “Polack” jokes.  I didn’t even know what that term meant as a kid but Polish people do not deserve to be the butt of anyone’s joke.  Between this book and The Zookeeper’s Wife, also set in Poland during World War II, I have a new appreciation for that country and its people.  They deserve our respect and support.

 

Anchors

I remember years ago, Oprah featured a homeless man on her show.  He wasn’t mentally ill and didn’t have any issues with drug or alcohol addiction.  He had lost his job, had trouble finding work, and eventually lost his housing.  He sold his car and ended up living on the streets, periodically staying in shelters when weather or circumstances necessitated.

The show gave the man a makeover, set him up with an apartment and a job, and gave him everything he needed to start over again.  Then months later the show did a follow-up segment to see how he was doing.  They found him homeless again.  Nothing terrible happened.  He just decided he didn’t want to be responsible to a job, an apartment, or paying bills.  He liked his freedom.  He didn’t want to be tied down or held responsible by anyone.  He wanted to be his own man.  He’s a minimalist.

When I finished reading Everything That Remains, I thought of this guy because he embodies the philosophy presented in the book perfectly.  He has no anchors holding him back from pursuing whatever it is that he wants to pursue.  He has no pesky career or mortgage, no possessions that need cleaning and maintenance, no wife or kids needing protection or support.  He is a free man.

I’m not saying that living like this is a bad thing.  Jesus was a minimalist.  He had no home, no worldly possessions.  He didn’t have a wife or kids to support, or a powerful position in business or politics. He lives a life free of encumbrances so he could travel, teaching and healing people.  That was his mission.

It’s just not for me.  I like my anchors.  It’s not that I am materialistic or need the latest and greatest stuff.  I really don’t care about brands or styles.  People who know me probably consider me a minimalist.  I don’t like clutter or excess.  I’m intentional about how I spend my money and my time but I don’t want to be free of all things material.  I like having a house I can make a home and refuge for friends and family.  I like having a job that ties me to my phone and computer.  I like buying new dresses or plants for my garden.  I don’t want my life to be minimized, I want it to be maximized.  It’s not excess if it gets used and enjoyed.  I’m not interested in reducing so much as appreciating and utilizing.  My philosophy shares some of the values and ideas of minimalism but without the minimal part.  I might need to come up with a name for it and start my own blog about it.

Everything That Remains

Everything That Remains by The Minimalists is a story about the transformation from the pursuit of achievement and material success to a life of intention and personal fulfillment.  I have enjoyed reading it and would recommend it, if you are interested in this sort of thing.  However, there was one principle of of minimalism presented in this book sit well with me: intentional relationships.

The author describes how in our age of technology we are no longer bound to make friends based on proximity and convenience.  While I agree that one can make incredibly meaningful relationships through the internet, I want to advocate for those relationships made close to home and here’s why: proximity matters.  If relationships were only about shared interests and values, it would make sense to focus only people with which you have a lot in common.  But what about your elderly neighborhood that needs help getting her trash cans out to the curb after her hip surgery?  What about the kid next door that is shooting hoops in his driveway alone and would appreciate your company?

ETR_3D_Retina-500x773I think it makes sense to be intentional about your time and energy.  It it also advisable to not hang on to relationships that are toxic or abusive.  However, not every relationship is going to be mutually fulfilling or based on commonality.  Relationships based on proximity and convenience are important too.  Here are some examples of reasons why I value people who are physically close to me even if we aren’t close in other ways:

  • I needed someone to watch my 2-year old during my prenatal doctor appointments and a neighbor helped me.
  • An older woman in my bible study needed a ride to church so I picked her up and she took me out to lunch.
  • I ran out of sugar and sent a kid over to the neighbor’s house to borrow some.
  • A young couple moved in across the street and the movers were delayed bringing their stuff.  I gave them a couch and they had my family over for a housewarming party.
  • Someone in our church had a surgery so we brought a meal to the family.
  • A family in the process of moving gave us all the movies their kids no longer watched.  We now have an extensive SpongeBob Squarepants collection that no one in this house will ever grow out of.

My point is this: Minimalism is great for stuff, not people.  While my emotionally closest, bestest friends may be miles away from me, I still need the people who live in my town, whether we have things in common or not.  The people who are physically close to you are important. It might be worth the effort to FIND some commonality rather than focusing all your attention on people miles away from you that can’t bring you soup when you have a flu.

Hillbilly Elegy

I grew up thinking that hillbilly is a synonym for redneck or hick.  I thought it was just another derogatory name for poor (white) people in rural areas that don’t have much class or education.  Turns out, Hillbilly refers specifically to people of the Appalachia mountain region that spans 18 states from North to South.  It is an area that is economically depressed and isolated due to the rugged geography and lack of infrastructure.  It has also been robbed of his natural resources by corporations that leave after they destroy the environment and quit getting federal tax breaks to do it.  Though the title of this book would lead you to believe that it is about a family in this region, it isn’t.

51HFceJnaCL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_This book is J.D. Vance’s story of growing up in rust belt Ohio to a mentally ill mother who abused drugs and alcohol.  She married and divorced several times, creating chaos and insecurity for Vance and his sister.  Their maternal grandparents became a refuge from the storm and Vance spent a good portion of his childhood living with them. THEY grew up in Eastern Kentucky in the Appalachia Mountains so they could be considered Hillbillies, but the book isn’t about them.  It’s about the pathology of a poverty mindset.

A person with a poverty mindset says my situation is hopeless and there is nothing I can do to make things better.  When money comes their way,  they spend it.  They numb themselves with drugs and alcohol, avoiding discipline and accountability.  They depend upon family to provide basic needs well into adulthood and take for granted their aid.  When bad things happen, they blame external forces out of their control and do not accept responsibility for their actions like showing up late, taking long breaks, or not coming in at all.  These are the behaviors Vance saw growing up and wanted to highlight.

The problem is that this isn’t a hillbilly problem or even a white working poor problem.  This is a human problem and it is more complicated than economics or geography.  In my life, I have lived in a variety of situations. I’ve always told myself, I can handle anything if I know it’s only temporary, but what if it isn’t temporary?  What if it seems like nothing will ever change?  What if the misery you are in is all you can hope for? There is a proverb that says, “Without vision, the people perish.”  That is the problem Vance is identifying in his book.  It’s a universal condition, not a hillbilly one.

Turtles All the Way Down

35504431._UY630_SR1200,630_Turtles All the Way Down?  What does that mean?  What a weird title for a book.  I’m am going to spoil it for you because 1)it has nothing to do with the story and 2)it actually explains a lot about the story.  You see, it refers to the location of the earth in the universe.  It is a plain on the back of a turtle that sits on the back of a turtle.  When one tries to find where the foundation of the world lies, where everything begins, there are just turtles all the way down.  There is no beginning.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green has a plot that’s mildly engaging but it is mostly about being inside the mind of a teenager afflicted with obsessive thoughts and anxiety.   She lives in a constantly thought spiral about catching a bacterial infection and dying.  The rational part of her mind tries to fight the irrational part but it seems like the crazy is winning.  She keeps cutting her thumb to reminder herself what is real and then sanitizing it to keep it from getting infected.  She goes so far as to drink hand sanitizer to keep germs from invading her body.  All the while, she tries to talk herself down but the crazy inside is a powerful bully.

There is a story here about a friend, a missing person, a romantic interest, but it is mostly about fighting demons and what that looks like from the inside and the outside.  While I have not been diagnosed with a mental disorder or condition, I can relate to the battle of competing thoughts.  Even as a grown-ass person, I fight the negative thought train, “You aren’t good enough,” “You aren’t doing enough”, “People don’t really like you”, or “Nothing you do really matters.”  I rationally know those are lies, but it doesn’t stop them from coming in and trying to take over.  It’s only by jumping off that train and running in the other direction, the one focused on someone or something besides myself, that I can keep from wallowing in despair.

Since I am only inside my own head and no one else’s, I not sure how common this affliction is. I would venture to say it is pretty common but most novelists don’t create protagonists with mental illness.  I’ll be honest, I haven’t related to a person’s struggle with their thought life since I read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath in high school.  I can’t say this is the best book I’ve ever read but I appreciate the validation that even when someone is fighting a battle inside her own head, she is loved and valued.  Now go out and tell your nearest crazy person that you love them.