Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Reading Signals

Ever since childhood, other people have considered me to be sensitive to the feelings of others. When it came to interpreting what was going on emotionally with people around me, I seemed able to recognize what went unseen by most others.

When my uncle and his wife were reaching the point of divorce, I was the first person to read their emotions. Although I was about 11 at the time, I recognized that my aunt was "acting strange" and mentioned the fact to my mother. Our family saw my uncle and his family only every couple of months since they lived several hours away. But I had always felt close to them and I was the daughter my aunt never had. She doted a bit and usually brought me a treat when they came to visit. However, on this one occasion, I could tell that something was wrong. A few weeks later they went their separate ways and that was the last time I ever saw her.

It's not that I am psychic or possess rare or unusual powers. There are some people who are simply more attune to the behavior by people and animals. Kindred spirits or such, I guess, and I must fall into that group.

Seems like when our lives are busy with careers and daily demands, we run around busily somewhat like chickens with their heads cut off. During such frenzied times, we are less likely to pick up on the "signals," which are bouncing around us all the time. But when we are relaxed, on vacation or otherwise engaged in quiet pursuits, there is less static in the air. Our antenna begin to retrieve a few of the vibes that are being transmitted.

Retirement brings a much longer period of relaxation. It creates the perfect atmosphere in which to intercept vibes. And, unfortunately, by the time we reach retirement, much of this atmosphere is negative in nature.

Baby Boomers who have retired seem to worry incessantly about nearly everything. Many mature folks express concerns about their appearance. We may not feel as confident at 65 as we did at 45. We may be carrying a bit more weight than a few years earlier. Certain parts of our anatomy may have changed in appearance. It takes longer to glue ourselves together than previously.

People might tell us that we look good -- all things considered -- but what really matters is how each of us feels about ourselves. And how we feel about ourselves is directly related to the signals we have received.

Perhaps this phenomenon of receiving less-than-desired signals can account for a variety of mid-life adjustments. Whether we call them mid-life crises or mid-life crazies, the fact is that many people suddenly become aware that they might be missing a lot of life.

Close friends may suddenly seem absorbed with their own personal problems -- aging parents, neglectful spouses, foolish adult children who are creating their own problems. Problems may seem magnified by the fact that they at last have adequate time to become overly-fixated on mundane issues. These perpetual worriers project such unending anxiety that their family can have a hard time listening to the analysis of every worry. The family becomes less attentive which in turn causes additional problems.

Spouses cannot bear to hear a constant rehash of anxiety from his/her partner. Each spouse may have some of the same concerns about similar issues, perhaps in addition to harboring unshared concerns about health issues. In some instances, these moments of stress may erupt into a midlife divorce. It happens all the time.

If someone you know and care about seems inclined to fix everyone else's problems, try to gently bring this to their attention. They need to stop tending to every other garden and look after their own. Weeds will grow without proper maintenance.

Retirement should be a joyous experience, a time to enjoy life, not to be spent worrying every minute of every day about problems which are truly private and should be resolved in private.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Style and Grace

Recently I watched an interview on Turner Classic Movies that ignited some thoughts.

The subject of the interview actress Kim Novak. She was interviewed by Robert Osborne during the 2012 TCM Classic Film Festival. Novak, now nearly 80, looked great and seems to have finally caught the brass ring of life -- especially since she turned her back on the Hollywood lifestyle at the pinnacle of her career.

Over 30 years ago, she married an equine veterinarian and moved to rural Oregon. Her life there sounds idyllic and includes a happy marriage, unbridled natural beauty and scores of horses and other animals.

Novak seems extremely content with life and several of her observations caught my attention.

It sounds as though the Hollywood experience was the result of happenstance. During the summer in the early 1950s, Novak and two friends traveled the country to showcase and advertise refrigerators, of all things. Their tour terminated in California and the girls decided to visit a movie studio. During a the studio tour, Kim Novak was hired as an extra to appear in a movie musical. There she was spotted by an agent, got a screen test, etc. Voila. A star was born.

Despite difficulties encountered in movie land, Novak did not appear bitter about what followed. She spoke of how pleasant and full life can be when one is surrounded by positive people whose opinions we appreciate.

Isn't that true? Think of situations that are positive and then some that have been less than positive. These situations could be brief or lengthy, but we've all had some of each type.

Remember being in school? Some years were a lot more enjoyable than others and it was the good years that we recall more easily. School might have been more enjoyable because we were sitting near a friend, we enjoyed the view from the classroom windows or a particular teacher made us feel special. Years later when I became a teacher, I was always aware of the impact that the teacher has. He/she could casually make some off-the-cuff comment that might be remembered by the students for years. If students felt inferior or slighted, that feeling could linger with that child for a lengthy period of time.

We have all had friendships that became uncomfortable. I have worked with adults who had severe personal problems of one type or another, perhaps even marital difficulties. When I would be around those persons, I felt guarded and ill at ease for fear of saying something inappropriate. Such an feeling of constant uneasiness is tiring, to say the least. Despite our best efforts, these situations remain unpleasant until terminated.

My marriage was much the same. I was constantly criticized and chastised. The manner of the dominant male merely reflected the way in which my husband had been raised. The man made all the decisions with no options and no room for negotiation. The result was years of keeping my opinions entirely to myself, squelching my views, interests and outlooks. Fortunately, that marriage ended and we were both free to move on with our lives.

I know people who would rather endure years of misery than to express an unpopular idea or terminate any relationship, whether that relates to spouses, friends, interests or jobs. It takes courage to remain in a situation that is unpleasant, especially if there does not appear to be an end in sight.

It is only natural that we seek out people who make us feel valued. The teacher who realized that we thought differently and acknowledged our opinion remains a valued part of our past. A friend who shares our outlook and exchanges information with enthusiasm is a treasure. A person who seems to like us as much as we should like ourselves is someone we should keep close.

This observation is not complicated. In fact, it's rather simplistic. Unfortunately, many of the basic truths of life are so simple that we tend to overlook them entirely.

We all need to keep in mind that we should seek people who value us as much as we should value ourselves. Then we need to hang on to these people and keep them in our lives.

Everyone can benefit from having a someone special in their corner.







Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Keeping at It

There were several big stories in the news yesterday. But few seemed as impressive as the fact that Diana Nyad had been successful in swimming from Cuba to the Florida Keys. That's 110 miles and she swam for 52 hours, 54 minutes to complete the trip.

Oh, and she is 64 years old.

When I heard the news, it was announced simply as, "She made it" and I knew immediately what that meant.

"Really?" I responded. "Wow."

The fact that anyone could swim from Cuba to the Florida Keys is remarkable. The fact that this 64-year-old could make the successfully complete the trip was nothing short of phenomenal.

One has to wonder why she would even want to set a record in endurance swimming. Such a feat might well be matched and likely bettered by another swimmer, perhaps soon after Nyad's victory. The world is filled with adventurers who would love nothing more than topping the previous act.

The entire concept of endurance swimming seems a little self-serving because it involves no competition and few actual followers. Scores of people do not camp-out or line the path to watch the endeavor. The story had little media hype or coverage other than remarks to the effect of "There she goes again."

But you really have to admire someone who sets any type of personal goal and then keeps at it until they are victorious.

In Nyad's case, her effort at this goal began in 1978 when she experienced the first of four unsuccessful attempts to cross the open sea.. Reportedly she did not try again until she reached the age of 60 and then said she felt compelled to resume trying to achieve her goal.

How many people do you know with that type of persistence? I can honestly say I know of no one personally although I have heard and read of such chutzpah. I have also long admired those who will go to great lengths to accomplish a particular task.

We live in an era of quitting. We are surrounded by throngs of folks with short attention spans. They can't wait for a slow search engine, a long check-out line or too many commercials on TV. They click, switch, balk and fidget when delayed in any manner.

Young people want a new car when they first learn to drive, not the older but reliable car that we cherished while in high school. Young couples want their first house to be their dream house with all the bells and whistles, granite countertops, 4,000 square feet, 4 bedrooms and a home theatre. The current way of thinking is: "Let's get it now or forget it."

Gone are the days when newbies entered the work force and were happy just to have a job, any job. Now they want to impress their friends right away by having their own office, perks and privileges. Why wait for what you want now? What's the point in waiting? Can't afford it? Just charge it and move on.

Somewhere between wanting nothing and wanting everything should be a happy spot where we could be content. It would be nice if we could reach that plateau.

Not that I expect Diana Nyad's victory to transform our extremely impatient society. But it's nice to know there are still folks out there with high principles and a great deal of drive. These are the people who help us maintain the bar at a reasonable height, even if we can't manage to raise it.