Monday, 27 October 2008



A flood of American liberals sneaking across the border into Canada has intensified in the past week, sparking calls for increased patrols to stop the illegal immigration. The possibility of a McCain/Palin election is prompting the exodus among left-leaning citizens who fear they'll soon be required to hunt, pray, and agree with Bill O'Reilly. Canadian border farmers say it's not uncommon to see dozens of sociology professors, art students, animal rights activists and Unitarians crossing their fields at night.I went out to milk the cows the other day, and there was a Hollywood producer huddled in the barn," said Manitoba farmer Red Greenfield, whose acreage borders Minnesota. The producer was cold, exhausted and hungry. "He asked me if I could spare a latte and some free-range chickens.” Officials are particularly concerned about smugglers who meet liberals near the Canadian border, pack them into Volvo station wagons, drive them across the border and leave them to fend for themselves. "A lot of these people are not prepared for rugged conditions," an Ontario border patrolman said. "I found one carload without a drop of drinking water. They did have a nice little Napa Valley cabernet, though."When liberals are caught, they're sent back across the border, often wailing loudly that they fear retribution from conservatives. Rumors have been circulating about the McCain administration establishing re-education camps in which liberals will be forced to shoot wolves from airplanes, deny evolution, and act out drills preparing them for the Rapture.In recent days, liberals have turned to sometimes ingenious ways of crossing the border. Some have taken to posing as senior citizens on bus trips to buy cheap Canadian prescription drugs. After catching a half-dozen young vegans disguised in powdered wigs, Canadian immigration authorities began stopping buses and quizzing the supposed senior citizen passengers. "If they can't identify the accordion player on The Lawrence Welk Show, we get suspicious about their age," an official said.Canadian citizens have complained that the illegal immigrants are creating an organic-broccoli shortage and renting all the good Susan Sarandon movies. "I feel sorry for American liberals, but the Canadian economy just can't support them," an Ottawa resident said. "How many Fine Art, Art History, and English majors does one country need?”

Sunday, 26 October 2008



by Veronica Shoffstall, 1971

After awhile you learn the subtle difference
Between holding a hand and chaining a soul.
And you learn that love doesn't mean leaning,
And company doesn't mean security.
And you begin to learn that kisses aren't contracts
And presents aren't promises.
And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes open,
With the grace of a woman,
Not the grief of a child.
And you learn to build all your roads on today,
Because tomorrow's ground is too uncertain for plans,
And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.
After awhile you learn that even sunshine
Burns if you get too much.
So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul,
Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.
And you learn that you really can endure,
That you really are strong,
And you really do have worth,and you learn and learn.
With every good bye you learn.


"Words alone are certain good." said my poet, Yeats. He might have noted that new words are even better. For instance, along comes, Moses (Znaimer, that is) with a whole new tablet of information for us about aging gracefully with panache. (If you have been following this blog you should realize that we have added a new member to our travelling band, Gusto, Elan, and now, Panache.)

Moses' newest addition to his brilliant repetoire of pop culture is Zoomer. I thank my friend, Mary Lou (with a capital "L") for drawing my attention to this magazine. I will be reading its online articles for further evidence of life after maturity...I especially loved the ad of Moses, himself, looking down from a boulder in front of waters that one expects to part at any moment...

Friday, 24 October 2008


A delightful new friend of mine, Claire, (ain't the internet great!) was curious and thoughtful enough to seek out the source of my blog title. Silly me; I never thought to quote the full source...but what a great idea...Anything by Yeats is worth quoting in full measure. When we are over sixty we can make these definitive statements without qualification or apology or diffidence...

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.
-- William Butler Yeats

I'm Not Old But I Can See It From Here...

My beautiful cousin, Carol, (barely recognizable as being qualified to join the "over 60" crowd") sent me this article on women and aging. I thought it was too good not to share.

Susan Schwartz, Canwest News Service
Published: Friday, October 24, 2008

I'm not old, but I can see it from here -- not that I think of old age as a monolithic state any more than I believe youth is. We all fight battles with fear or despair, whatever our stage of life. But I have been here for more time than lies ahead and, these days, I'm more mindful about time and how I use it.
Lately, books on growing older seem to be tumbling from the presses more quickly than ever. I spent the past week with The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully (Novalis, $22.95), a lovely new meditation on aging by a 72-year-old Benedictine nun from Erie, Pa.
There is purpose to every stage of life, Sister Joan Chittister believes -- old age no less than any other. She says one function of aging is to become comfortable with the self we are now rather than to mourn what we are not or to regret paths chosen.
For many years of our adult lives, jobs and other roles give us a measure of status and power. The challenge is to avoid what Chittister calls the hollowness that comes with the stripping away of that status that comes, inevitably, with age. We are more than what we do for a living -- or did. Meaning, she says, comes in being, not doing: being interested and being available, being honest and being helpful.
Most of us will live into old age; assuming we stay healthy, the choice of how we live is, for the most part, ours -- whether to experience life as a long list of continuing losses and endings, or as a new stage of development intended to challenge us.
"Aging well does not mean that we will not change physically. But it does mean that we will not define ourselves only by our continuing physical proficiencies," Chittister writes.
"Our moral obligation is not, as society might lead us to believe, to ski at 60 and jog at 70 and bike at 80. No, our moral obligation is to stay as well as we can, to avoid abusing our bodies, to do the things that interest us and to enrich the lives of those around us."
The greatest danger in one's 60s, as Carolyn Heilbrun, author of The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty observed, "is to be trapped in one's body and one's habits, not to recognize those supposedly sedate years as a time to discover new choices and to act upon them."
Chittister says there is nothing we can't do if we want to -- whether it's learn another language or start a book club. With age, she has begun to understand that "holiness is made of dailiness, of living life as it comes to me, not as I insist it be."
But an important part of growing older is simply growing accustomed to the state -- and this in a culture in which preparation for aging "seems to be concentrated almost entirely on buying anti-wrinkle creams and joining a health club," as Chittister puts it. What must change is our attitude. "We begin to look inside ourselves," she writes. "We begin to find more strength in the spirit than in the flesh."


Wallace Stevens was a multiple of inventions: husband, father, lawyer, business man, and Pulitzer Prize winning poet. During his adult years until his death in 1955 at the age of 75, he wrote some of the greatest poetry of the English Language. My initial fascination with him began in an American Literature course, where Stevens was headlined and described as the “direct inheritor of the Romantic tradition in poetry”, the likes of Blake, Keats, Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth and Coleridge….After the Victorian Period of Tennyson and the rest, Yeats reclaimed romanticism as the prevailing poetic genre…but then came T. S. Eliot with his copious footnotes, esoteric allusions, making poetry an intellectual game rather than a human experience. Fortunately, Stevens’ writing began to redress the balance for a time, speaking like Yeats, with clarity, vision, intelligence, and emotion.

One of the most compelling features, for me, of Stevens’ work is the way his biography and his poetry contradict many of the myths associated with being a successful writer.

Myth #1: We must begin early and write often.

Stevens did not publish his first small volume of poetry until 1923, at the age of 44, and nothing substantial again until 1936 at age 57. With a full time job and family responsibilities, he could only write sporadically.

Myth #2: We must lead or have lead a life of extreme angst or high adventure and be able to write out of what we have directly or indirectly experienced.

Stevens’ personal life, by his own account was boring and uneventful. One wife, one daughter, one job, all of his career, as lawyer for an insurance company…But through his poetry he created what he once called a “mythology of self” where he attempted to transcend his own biography and create fables of identity.
Myth #3: To be successful, we should travel widely, spending a lot of time networking and marketing our own work.

Stevens lived a quiet family life in Hartford, Connecticut; with an occasional holiday to Florida in his later years…He never traveled outside of the United States…

Myth #4: We must have many subjects, themes, ideas in order to be considered a significant writer.

Stevens basically had a single theme (with several sub themes) .His text, The Necessary Angel, is a series of essays on the interconnection between reality and the imagination. The corollary to this connection is the idea of poet as myth maker that, in the process of writing, we recreate, refine, revitalize, renew ourselves. As Yeats said,”It is myself that I remake”…
Which leads to:

Myth #5: We write because we have a story to tell, we have an urge to express ourselves, or we love to play with language.

Yes, all of those reasons are valid…but at root, our writing is a rewriting of ourselves. Who am I? Why am I? Where am I going with my life… and with all the selves I aspire to be? Who of us would not consider living multiple lives? Who of us has not thought about how we might rearrange events if we could relive this or that time in our lives? Stevens would suggest that, consciously or unconsciously, we seek out writing as a way to rearrange, reorder, relive, and recreate the various parts of our worlds, and, in the process, to create the most important supreme fiction, ourselves.

Here are some poetry and prose segments of Stevens which I particularly like and which may illustrate some of his theories of poetry and of life:

The joy of meaning in design
Wrenched out of chaos…
(The Sail of Ulysses)

If it should be that reality exists
In the mind…
…it follows that
Real and unreal are two in one.

…the theory
Of poetry is the theory of life.
As it is, in the intricate evasions of as,
In things seen and unseen, created from nothingness,
The heavens, the hells, the worlds, the long-for lands.
(An Ordinary Evening in New Haven)

The greatest poverty is not to live
In a physical world, to feel that one’s desire
Is too difficult to tell from despair…

And out of what one sees and hears and out
Of what one feels, who could have thought to make
So many selves, so many sensuous worlds,
As if the air, the mid-day air, was swarming
With the metaphysical changes that occur,
Merely in living as and where we live.
(Esthetique du Mal)

The mind has added nothing to human nature. It is a violence from within that protects us from a violence without. It is the imagination pressing back against the pressure of reality. It seems to have something to do with our self-preservation; and that, no doubt, is why the expression of it, the sound of its words, helps us to live our lives.
(The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination)

Thursday, 23 October 2008


Just in case we missed any details regarding the candidates in the most exciting American election since the Kennedy era, a new site, Electopedia, is there to keep us informed and updated. Why is it that 60ish women like me are excited by Obama and bored with McCain? Quite simple really; one is vital and evolving; the other is not.

Just to be clear with my own reasoning and to avoid the appearance of hypocrisy, ageism is not an influence. Why is Biden more riveting than Palin? Hmm. Could it be that one is also "vital and invigorating, while the other is merely smiling barbs and strutting Barbie outfits.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Carolyn Heilbrun

For my sixtieth birthday, my sister, Dorothy, gave me a copy of Carolyn Heilbrun’s book, The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty (1997). I loved it, reading it several times during my own first year beyond sixty. True to form, Dorothy then gifted me with Writing a Woman's Life (1988) and one of the Amanda Cross mysteries, “just for grins.” The latter was a bit of a disappointment. But this September when I briefly relocated to my cottage for a personal retreat, I took the two collections of Heilbrun’s essays. Sitting in the sun, luxuriating in my own gift of time, I was inspired by Heilbrun’s feminist audacity, and decided to assemble a collection of my own introspective essays exploring my accumulated feelings, attitudes, perspectives as I straddle the years between past selves and my future evolving selves. (The plurals are intentional!)
I have long felt a refusal to settle only for now...and continue to delight in "becoming". That is not to say that I do not value living "in the moment"...aka Oprah and Eckert Tole's admonition...It just means that, at this stage in life, we can draw energy from the past, present and unfolding future. (presumptuous as that may seem).
In advance of writing a nodding acknowledgement to Heilbrun for my newly created Tread Softly Blog, I googled her name and discovered the following news item:

A Death of One's Own
Founding feminist, Virginia Woolf scholar, and strong-willed enemy of the patriarchy (as well as mother, grandmother, and wife), Carolyn Heilbrun lived her ideals. The right to choose death—she committed suicide in October—was one of them.

I was stunned upon reading this news (from as long ago as 2003). I was also angry. While I do believe in one’s right to life and to death on one’s own terms, it just seemed somehow that she had let me down. How dare she go gentle into that good night.
I now feel a greater urge than ever to chronicle the feelings and energies of a woman who believes in raging for as long as one is able. This “second coming”, in mid-life, is a gift to be unfolded, fondled, and treasured. I don’t mean that we set our lives on a shelf and sit back to admire periodically. No, no. We use the good china, the expensive body creams, the best wines. And we surge forward, barbells in hand, building muscle fibres of resistant to any ideas that would impede the success of a future we are still creating.
Heilbrun once said,
Odd, the years it took to learn one simple fact: that the prize just ahead, the next job, publication, love affair, marriage always seemed to hold the key to satisfaction but never, in the longer run, sufficed.
Absolutely right. As soon as my cup (or wine glass) runneth over, it needs refilling. I intend to live a life of insufficiency for as long as I properly understand the motivating power of that word.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Nora Ephron Quotes

As far as the men who are running for president are concerned, they aren't even people I would date.

Beware of men who cry. It's true that men who cry are sensitive to and in touch with feelings, but the only feelings they tend to be sensitive to and in touch with are their own.

I am continually fascinated at the difficulty intelligent people have in distinguishing what is controversial from what is merely offensive.

I don't care who you are. When you sit down to write the first page of your screenplay, in your head, you're also writing your Oscar acceptance speech.

I try to write parts for women that are as complicated and interesting as women actually are.

If pregnancy were a book they would cut the last two chapters.

In my sex fantasy, nobody ever loves me for my mind.

Insane people are always sure that they are fine. It is only the sane people who are willing to admit that they are crazy.

My mother wanted us to understand that the tragedies of your life one day have the potential to be comic stories the next.

My mother was a good recreational cook, but what she basically believed about cooking was that if you worked hard and prospered, someone else would do it for you.

Summer bachelors, like summer breezes, are never as cool as they pretend to be.

The desire to get married, which - I regret to say, I believe is basic and primal in women - is followed almost immediately by an equally basic and primal urge - which is to be single again.

With any child entering adolescence, one hunts for signs of health, is desperate for the smallest indication that the child's problems will never be important enough for a television movie.

Sunday, 19 October 2008


“It is never too late – in fiction or in life - to revise.”
--Nancy Thayer

“It all boils down to who you love and why…And how you do it”…I once heard Billy Bob Thornton say that on a documentary profile of his life. This story is mine, however; who I loved, why and how.

In the beginning, before I had learned that we are, to some extent at least, authors of our own lives, I lived on a floating island of expectations. It wasn’t until I had bumped up against the first shoreline, that I began to realize, that this wasn’t at all how I had expected my life would be. I am not sure what I expected, but not this. I have often wondered about when my life took on its own direction without my permission?

I think it happened when I was 15 and fell in love for the first time. He was tall, muscular, sexually primed by his own prepubescent tauntings and adolescent urges. Me, full of “good girl” restraint, but longing for the experience of being in lust. I was a being, in lust, blindly unaware that demiurges were divining my destiny of the next 30 years. How is it we end up in a certain part of the world, take on a particular role, and live out our lives in that place and time? I felt out of place and time for most of my waking hours. Lives of quiet desperation; yes indeed. Many parts, many players…that too!

Yeats spoke about remaking himself, again and again. I longed to be able to remake myself, but didn’t know how, wasn’t even sure why. At 15, I certainly had no idea about the concept of self determinacy, self creation, the possibilities of a self directed, evolving life. Instead, I received each moment, each event as given, as part of my predetermined life.

It was Prom Day in 1958. Boys rented dark suits, if they didn’t already own one; and girls wore crinolines to add flare and daring to their hemlines, giving a wider berth for the imagination of a boy to soar upwards.

When I walked down the back stairs by the Shop Classes, I could sense the gaggle of boys assembled at the door, probably just waiting to trip me, hoping my skirt would fly up and show the cheerleader legs right up to the panties and beyond. I am sure they sat around, telling bragging stories of how girls had been ogling just him, or him. What was her breast size? Did she wear falsies like the sister of their buddy, John? No, her nipples showed through every tight sweater. Hard, large nipples. Of course, she was "horny", of course, she would “do it”, with the right guy. And they were all the “right guys”.

When it happened to me, the trip trick I mean, I ended up in the Health office, semi-conscious. And here it was, the day of the prom. All a flutter, I had come dancing down the back hallway stairs, streamers in hand, to decorate the gym. Crude, vulgar, ignorant, and ugly they all were, waiting to catch those glimpses, that whiff of any girl. And there I was. On a dare, the geek in the middle of the pack stuck out his leg and thus began a journey to a 30-year world that I had never intended for myself.

My prom date, Paul, heard about the accident, and solicitously volunteered to take me home. He graciously acknowledged that I might not be able to go, after all. Had it been just any dance, on any regular Friday night, this accident would have been the perfect way to back out of the date. But this was THE PROM and he was Paul Evans. Yes, Pink Cadillac Paul Evans, Senior Hunk of the Year. My girl friend, Nancy, fairly squealed when she heard that he had called to ask me to the biggest event of the school year. Little nymphets in Grade Ten don’t get invited to the Senior Prom. But I did. And boy did I enjoy that distinction.

When Paul had called, his voice, on the phone, was not the voice I expected. I wanted power, authority, deep guttural sounds that promised deep masculine energies, although not fully knowing why. Instead I heard the voice of a hesitant boy, who would become a timid man. But the Pink Cadillac was revving in my brain. “
“Oh golly, yes, I would love to go to the prom with you”, I gushed.

And then silence at the end of the line. That should have been my first clue. I guess it was.
The next week leading up to this major victory of my young life, was as we used to say, such a lunch bag letdown. Paul would sit with me in the Cafeteria, and simply eat and smile. Not a smug look, just a benign, adoring, “You are beautiful, but I would never take advantage look”. Oh God, what a jerk.

And now he was at my side, like a solicitous puppy, asking if I was okay; did I think I would be well enough to dance; because, gosh, it was okay if I didn’t; he would surely understand.
The temptation to cancel the date, even exceeded the thrill of the most important social of a girl’s life. Yes, I am fine, but I will wait and see how I feel after I get home. No, I don’t need a ride. (God, no, just get out of here). But getting home proved to be a problem. No one home to fetch me. The Physical Education Coach came in to see me and suggested that he would find me a ride. As it happened, another senior boy who lived on my street had a car.

And that is when I began my next thirty year journey. Not only did he (not senior boy but senior man) drive me home that day, but he became the driving force of my life for the next thirty years. Fate, it seems, is the chauffeur to many of our unforeseen destinations in life.


The summer I became a woman,
No ceremony of innocence, no shattering of glass.
I tossed off the cocoon shell, the wrapping paper.
Choose any metaphor you like.
The mother-cloak was gone.
More than that; the sweet release from being
Who I was not, nor ever could be.
I followed my breasts into adolescence,
Only to be enwrapped by a rapture
More confining than any mother's womb.
Rebirth is a difficult task at any time,
But especially at night.


In my prepubescent years, my favourite after school treat was a rich, dark, moist Chocolate Brownie. At about the age of eleven, I happened upon the stained pages of my mother’s special recipe. It was like opening a secret door to pleasures of the flesh yet to be realized. Many afternoons, I would surreptitiously make these forbidden sweets for myself and my younger sisters to consume in advance of my parents’ arrival home from work. Little did I know that we were reenacting the modern equivalent of a ritual of indulgence inherited from the ancient world?

As I have subsequently learned, of all the foods available to the modern world, the Chocolate Brownie is surely the most potent combination of healthy and hedonistic. Like other temptations of the flesh, brownies have their divine origins. In the beginning, and there is always this apocryphal beginning to anything forbidden, was man’s innate curiosity to explore all things exotic and empowering.

Apparently as early as 600AD, Mayans and Aztecs made a drink called xocoatl from the seeds of the cacao tree. These cacahuati seeds or gift from the gods were transported by the God, Quetzalcoat, traveling to Earth on a beam of light from Paradise. Roasting and grinding the cacao seeds produced a nutritive paste which could dissolve in water. Adding a few spices, the Aztecs drank their beverage, chocolatl, anticipating its promised aphrodisiac powers and universal wisdom. Hence the cocoa bean became the new apple of the civilized world.

Columbus, in his explorations of Mexico, had tasted the fruit, but it fell to Hernando Cortez in1519 to capture Emperor Montezuma’s recipe for xocoatl and bring it to Spain. Once the potency of this elixir was realized, the Spaniards hoarded and sweetened the peppery chocolate pot by adding cream, sugar, and vanilla.

Unlike Eve, who generously shared her discoveries and beguiled her Paradise, Spanish monks kept the drink a national secret for almost a hundred years. Coincidentally, on the wedding night of King Louis XIV to a Spanish royal, Marie Therese, the groom sipped the forbidden fluids exported with the trousseau of his bride, and a new age began. Chocolate Houses sprang up all over France and later England.

Initially, this expensive, delectable, libidinous substance was available only to the elite, male gender. Such goodness could not be contained, however, and soon chocolate was being served, not only as a beverage, but also, in the form of rolls and cakes. Many luscious variations on the original Mexican combination of choco (foam) and atl (water) have been created through the centuries. But none can quite surpass the Chocolate Brownie. Even before attaining dictionary status, the first known recipe for this dark delight appeared in the Sears Roebuck catalogue in 1897. Genesis stories abound, one of which suggested that the confection really began, like so many great discoveries, as a grand accident, when one addled cook forgot to add baking powder to a chocolate cake recipe.

In recent history the healthy benefits of chocolate have been scientifically acknowledged. But generations of women, on any continent, have known of chocolate’s antidepressant powers. While we are now learning of serotonin and the other hundreds of chemicals that also make us feel good, the fact of how it works still remains a mystery. But so does love.

As I think of it now, my youthful, covert operation of conjuring and conjoining butter, sugar, flour, eggs, and chocolate really spoke to the innate Eve who resides in us all, confirming our insatiable seeking after knowledge in its dense richness and truth. Temptations have no subtlety. Rich, dark, succulent, addictive: all are adjectives of our essential nether realms. Denial is impossible in the face of chocolate beguilement.

Saturday, 18 October 2008


Last night my son called to chat. I have two daughters with whom I communicate on a regular basis about life, disease, and diets, not necessarily in that order. Mothers and daughters can share their hearts, souls, and recipes with equal abandon. Mothers and sons not so easily. While growing up, the admonition was usually, “Go talk to you father.” I wanted him to be a man, after all, not some wimpy mother’s boy.

Now that he is grown and married, he has buddies and another woman to share his angst and energies with. So when the phone rings, with his name on the ID, I pause, hoping that it is not some emergency, or a request to babysit, but rather, just to chat with his mother. And last night was such an occasion.

That is not to say that my son and I have never communicated in any meaningful way. We have. But his shtick, ever since adolescence, has been to bate me into a mock debate whereby we each attempt to outwit, outsmart, out-think the other. All in good fun of course. “And I always win.” Which, by the way, is what he always says as well.

So at one point we were talking about my writing and I mentioned that I had been reviewing some of my collected quotable quotes for inspiration.
“For instance,” I said, "Heraclites’ famous line that you cannot step into the same river twice.” I immediately continued with my own clever retort, (aha) “But who would want to, when there are so many rivers to venture into.”
His response was, “Mom, you are such a hypocrite. You have lived in a box all your life.”
Whew. That brought my ever ready debating skills to a direct halt.
“What do you mean?” I said really thinking (“How dare you.”)
“Well, for instance, if I bought you a ticket to Thailand, and a backpack, would you go with the proviso that the most upscale accommodations you could have would be in a hostel.”
“How about Paris?” I said eagerly.
“Yeh, and you would end up sitting in a café all day, sipping coffee and reading a book.” (How did he know?)
“ Okay.” I offered bravely, “If you are serious, you double-dare me?” You get the ticket and I’ll go.”
“Christmas is coming.” he said, in a tone that sounded more threatening than generous.

The conversation moved on to anecdotes about his children. (aka, my grandchildren) One lovely moment, when he was reciting an incident that required some serious parenting on his part, I applauded his approach, and swelled at the thought that, in retelling the story, he may even have been seeking my approval of his actions. And so the phone call ended with plans for future family gatherings. And on we went with our separate lives.

But the gauntlet had been thrown in front of me. What was I to do about this “living in a box” accusation? How was I going to be able to gain approval from him? More importantly, how was I to gain approval for myself. He knew exactly what he had done. Whether premeditated or spur of the moment, the challenge was now out there, and could not be ignored.

What were my options? I could call a travel agent; book a flight to wherever; buy a good camera; pack a carry-on; keep a diary; return in a year, having left a cryptic message on my answering machine (“I cannot be reached at the moment because I have left my box temporarily to travel the world. If your message is urgent please call my son and let him deal with it.”)

I have dealt with many challenges in my life, self imposed and otherwise. This one was different. It really involved more than just backpacking and a flight plan. Instead, it urged me into a full unpacking of my life, my philosophy of living, what constituted happiness, adventure. In short, the meaning and purpose of my life. Whew, all this from a little Sunday night, 15minute, dutiful, “time to check on mom” phone call.

Maybe I could write a movie script about a mid-life travel adventure, “Gone with the Backpack”; send it to Mike Nichols; insist on Susan Sarandon in the lead role; and agree to come to Hollywood to oversee production. Now that would be a box breaker. Better still, if it were a box-office breaker. Now I was getting silly. Time to get back to serious.
And seriously was how I felt about this admonition, accusation, call it what you will. My reputation as a mother, grandmother, role model, stunning geriatric with good debating skills, was at stake.

My greatest happiness comes from times spent with those I love; and travelling in my mind with the memories, which photographs awaken, of those times. Our universe is expanding and contracting simultaneously. Box or no box, I need to do the same.

So, after much deliberation and coffee, here is my penultimate plan. (I always like to leave room to change my mind.) I will attempt all of the above, (except for the Susan Sarandon demands; Helen Mirren should be fine.) I will graciously accept the ticket as purchased (“Merry Christmas.”); and hope that whatever destination my son chooses will allow freedom and time to read, write, think, drink wine (forget the coffee), and take lots of pictures.


I don’t usually remember my dreams. But this morning I did. It wasn’t a dream exactly, more like something on this side of a nightmare. I was in a metropolis area that I did not recognize. It was a warm season because I was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, with the flimsiest sandals on my feet, the sort of paper scuffies they give you to pad around in, after a pedicure. Somehow they managed to stay on my feet, in one piece, as I travelled through this city, primarily on foot.

Throughout this perambulation a huge wave of disorientation surrounded me. I suddenly felt anxious to return home. But I couldn’t remember where “home” was. So there I was, wandering the streets, asking people, could they name various buildings, hotels, streets because I was lost, and if I heard a familiar name I might recognize it and then could they give me directions to get there? My anxiety increased with each rejection. Who was this crazed, scruffy woman? I awoke and immediately checked my feet.

Aha, I thought. That must the sensation that an Alzheimer victim feels on a regular or intermittent basis. How truly horrible. And yet, forget the Alzheimer’s tag. The more I analyzed this little immediate dream of mine, the more I realized that, in large part, I have walked in and around and through my entire life, never having been entirely sure where “home” is.

Even as a child, I never felt that I was an integrated part of my family. It was as if I simply resided with this group of individuals (two sisters, and a nice set of parents, as parents go) but for the most part drifted, in a semi-autistic world, above (or sometimes below) their conversations and gatherings. Gradually, I shifted from girl, to wife, to mother, to career, back to mother, then wife again, (adrift with someone who vaguely resembled the young, gorgeous man I once knew) and now to grandmother.

I visit my children’s homes as a foreigner to their lives. They invite me to share food and wine and their children, especially their children, when I am called upon to be a grandparent-practitioner in their cherished absence.

Looking at my grown children, they seem nothing like I imagined they would become. On the other hand, did I ever really entertain such images? More likely I was immersed in their immediate selves, as if that was the way they would always be. Forever laughing or arguing and forever my children. I remember the huge pangs of emptiness when they left home for university and, ultimately, their full-time adult lives. I think what I missed the most was their music. It filled the house with energy, arriving to my ear before and after their voices and the vibrations of their being.

So now, like so many women in their sixties and beyond, I seek to make a life for myself, apart from children, grandchildren and, yes, spouse. The mind is its own place, said William Blake, and clearly I am still searching for that place. I am aware of all the positive motifs of journey, evolution, change. My dream, however, did not elicit excitement and energy. Rather it was wrought with anxiety and confusion. Why is that? Perhaps I haven’t asked enough people for guidance through the morass of my life. Or maybe I just didn’t ask the right people? Is it too late? I wonder.

Perhaps tonight’s dream will provide some answers. Mostly, I wonder what I will be wearing on my feet.


“I know only that I know not” (Socrates)

I don’t know who I am.

I am a white, Anglo-Saxon, middle-aged female. I have been married for forty years, raised three children, held a professional career for thirty years, and still my identity escapes me.
I realize that I am not alone and that this is a long standing archetypal quest or theme of literature and religion, old and new. The fact that it is careening at me so immediately and incessantly these days, has me somewhat perplexed. Shouldn’t I have figured this out a long time ago? Me, a literature major? Or did I already have a definition of self that has somehow disappeared and needs a new formulation? Somehow I don’t think so.

My son says that I have lived in a box all my life. I am beginning to think that he is right. But every time I try to push away at the sides of this box, something is either pushing back, stronger than my own urges. Or, more likely, I just give up trying altogether, afraid perhaps of what lies beyond.

Inertia is easy, but also deadly. My box runneth over with inertia. I want to spill over the edge, letting it carry me along for the ride. But what then? Will I float or land firmly on level ground. Do I even want to reach a level of complacency again? Exchanging currencies of conformity. I don’t think so. But again, I just don’t know.

My life up to now has been easily defined by a successful husband, beautiful children and a traditional career. Hence, here I am. Wife, mother, teacher. Hmm. But these are all external identities dependent upon others to provide definition to any outline of a self. Yes, mothering, teaching, wifing (why not?) all have their internal energies, intellectual and emotional, as well as instinctive and gratifying. No man is an island, so why the need for a singular self actualization (as people like Maslow would say)?

But I return to the nagging urges. With all my experiences, my education, my loving, successful, supportive family, with all that is within and without me, in spite and because of me, there must be some answer. Pardon the expression, but “God forbid, it should be an epiphany.” One thing for certain, I am not looking for a sign from any almighty power, or for any Damascus moment.

I really just want some feeling of coherency inside myself. This is what I stand for. This is who I am. These are my values. My talents and energies are still not fully realized. What do I want to do with the rest of my life? I am grown up, so silly clichés are not useful here. But, clichéd as it may seem, I do feel that I am on a real problem solving quest.

I am usually good at problem solving (motherhood skills and all). But where to begin? Okay, maybe I begin at the beginning, do a type of archeological dig of the self and soul. What were my dreams at 5, 15, 25, 45? What talents have been rewarded or denied? If I could be anyone else in the world, who would it be? (Scratch that; I love who I am, trying to figure out who I am.)

Meditation is an art form. Unfortunately, I cannot stop my brain long enough to listen to my breath. Okay so, meditation bores me. At least we know I like challenges and stimulation rather that quiet and repose. Is it possible that chaos is my natural comfort climate? We hear of executives who go away on a holiday and drop dead of a heart attack. Or is it boredom and withdrawal from the adrenalin rush of living in the business of chaos management that sends them to oblivion.

Yeats wrote about a system of Gyres, whereby he proposed that everything in the universe, historical, personal, spiritual, is winding up and down simultaneously. End points are also beginnings, and contrary intersections occur incessantly along the paths of existence.

Okay, here is my Eureka moment. Socrates was wrong about the poets. I will go back with Yeats to where the dreams all start, in the rag and bone shop of the heart. And, I will return to his Vision and find out where I stand in the winding and unwinding of my own life. Maybe who I am and who I am becoming is a reiteration of what I have already been. But now, I can select those areas of my life that either gave me the most satisfaction or perhaps were incomplete, and return to them for a fuller realization of the power of the self to reinvent and reignite at will.