life

LIFE-CHANGING MOMENTS

Not for Thee — What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received that you wouldn’t give to anyone else? Why don’t you think it would apply to others?


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I’ve gotten some really great advice over the years. From professors at college, from people I worked with or for. From a husband or two. From friends. Advice that changed my life, career, and destiny.

I suppose, in theory, it could apply to someone else. But I doubt it because important advice is not pithy or necessarily quotable. It’s specific to an individual. Not aphorisms or “rote” messages. Not the kind of thing you toss around in casual conversation.

I remember the very first piece of life-changing advice. It came from a professor who’d become a friend and mentor. I was a music major, a pianist. Doing pretty well. I aced most of my classes. The only bothersome worry nibbling at my mind was what in the world I could do with this education? My talent as a pianist was limited. To a non-professional, I sounded great. To a professional, not so great. In short, not good enough. In classical music, not good enough is a million miles from good. Either you can compete — or not.

Dr. Deutsch accosted me as I was leaving a practice room one afternoon. “We should talk,” he said. I knew I wasn’t going to like what he had to say. And I knew I should listen.

“You’re good at this. You do well in your courses. Your grade point average is high. Very high. But your heart isn’t in it, not like it needs to be. Music is a hard road. If you aren’t fully committed, you won’t survive. Make a decision to get into it … or get out.”

It was a critical turning point. I was a single credit short of completing the major, but here was time to start a new major without delaying graduation. My choice of music had been based more on loving music than where it might take me professionally. To my surprise, I was more relieved than upset by what he said.

Practical young woman who I was, I selected Comparative Religion for my new major. As we all know, there are so many jobs opportunities in that field. I hedged my bet. I was already involved at the college radio station, so I majored in communications too, though I had no interest in working in radio, television, or theater. I just enjoyed messing around.

By then, it was obvious I would be a writer. I wrote. Always had. Even when I did it with a pencil on lined paper. It was obvious I had talent for words. I had fantasy visions of a Stephen King-like career living in a solitary retreat on a cliff overlooking the ocean. There, alone with my grand piano and a typewriter, great novels would emerge and take the world by storm.

Not exactly the way it all came down. While taking long hours of psychology, philosophy, and history of religion courses, I gained discipline. I had a wonderful, wise, perceptive professor who not only read what I wrote, but could tell the difference between when I’d done the work, and when I was glib and faking it. He was the only professor to ever give me a grade of A+/D on a paper. A+ for style, D for content.

Under his tutelage, I learned research methodology. How to write so others could follow my reasoning. Although I would later be surprised when technical writing became my career, it wasn’t as out-of-the-blue as it seemed. All those papers in college had paved the way.

Could either of these pieces of advice have been given to anyone but me? Would they have made sense to anyone else?

Later, there would be a husband who suggested I stop moaning about the past and move on. Pointing out there was little future in the past, he combined this with keeping my father out of my life to give me a chance to grow up in peace and safety. I will always be grateful.

Sometimes, a relationship lasts exactly as long as it is supposed to. That first marriage let me become an adult, with a husband who supported me, friends who cared. When I was ready to move on, he didn’t stop me. It was a good marriage that ended in divorce.

There was more. A lot more. I wonder, often, if the advice givers knew how much they were influencing me. How much their advice rocked my world, changed the direction of my life and career. Sometimes, a single sentence at the right moment was enough to illuminate the darkness. Perhaps one of my gifts has been knowing when to listen and who to trust.

These days, non-interference is the social gold-standard, but that’s part of the whole “me, me, me” mentality of the 21st century. Thoughtful, intelligent advice is never a bad thing. Whether or not it is appreciated or taken to heart is another issue.

Silence will never offer anything of value — while one important moment of truth can mean everything.

Take a chance. Save a life.

WHERE’S MY WIFE?

As we were packing up to come home — really, I wasn’t packing so much as stuffing my belongings into a duffel — I was bummed. At having to come home to reality. Reality is full of telephone calls. Details. Bills. Thanksgiving is next week, Christmas just a month after. Holidays and gifts mean money. Which is always a problem and […]

IMMORTALITY AND THE DAILY PROMPT

Finite Creatures – At what age did you realize you were not immortal? How did you react to that discovery?


I am not sure I ever thought I was immortal — probably because I didn’t think about it at all. Until sometime in college, I did not ponder the nature of life and death.

College was a peak time for that kind of mental muck-raking. Was it the drugs? No, I’m inclined to think it was going to classes. You see, college presents no danger unless you actually attend lectures and stuff. If you just hang out on the quad, it’ll be okay. But I took courses like  “The Philosophy of Religion” and went to lectures on Phenomenology. And, I had a steady assignment of existential novels to read by Sartre, Camus, et al. Deep stuff. The kind of books I totally won’t look at any more.

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That this hyper-intellectual phase of my life coincided nicely with my first actual near-death experience was pure chance. It didn’t improve my personality, that’s for sure. There is nothing more aggravating than a teenage college student contemplating the philosophical meaning of life. And death. Had I not already been me, I would have had to expel myself as a punishment for being so annoying.

I’m pretty sure all of us thought we were very smart and had a solid grip on the life and death stuff. Even adding on my botched spine surgery — which nearly killed me for real and all — I was still an obnoxious wise-ass with an inflated sense of my intellectual prowess.

Things have really improved. Now I’m an aging senior citizen wise-ass. Oh, and I am pretty sure — not 100%, but maybe 90% — I am not immortal. Eventually, I’ll know for 100% certain.

I’ll get back to you on that.

BUT NOW THE DAYS ARE SHORT

The Autumn of the Year, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

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When I was seventeen, it was a very good year…

As I turned seventeen, I had finished my Junior year in high school and was looking forward to Senior Year at a new school.  It was a bit scary, I admit.  No one wants to leave his mates behind and start again, but that was my fate, not my choice.  At least the new school was in the neighborhood, and I already knew a few students who were going there.  Although we did not admit at the time, the final year of high school put many new thoughts in our heads.

You may think sex or sexual orientation, but those thoughts had already arrived years earlier.  All the passing of a few years meant was these thoughts and curiosities intensified.  As you might imagine, a few of the boys and girls were a little more advanced than the others.  I think that stands out to you a little more at seventeen.

The new school brought new friends, new interests and new teachers.  There were subjects and activities the other school lacked.  It also proved to be, as I suspect it did for many of my friends, one of the best years of my life.  Some of those friends and those memories stuck with me over the decades.  I had no idea then I would look back on it as the “best of times.”

When I was twenty-one, it was a very good year…

Four years later, brought a similar situation.  It was time to move on to Senior Year of university and hopefully finish my degree on time (I didn’t).  It did not hold the lasting thrills of 17, but it did seem in a certain way to represent the transition to adulthood.  In reality I was no more adult than at 20 or twenty-two.  It was just a symbolic thing.  The “coming of age” also allows you to drink legally, but that did not mean too much. I was days, weeks or months older than the friends I hung around with so it is not like we all headed off to some bar.  Still, the year seemed to hold a certain energy young adulthood will give you if you let it.

When I was thirty-five, it was a very good year…

I had finally earned my Masters Degree.  It was not about career advancement.  It was about reaching a goal I had set years earlier.  I sometimes studied for the Comprehensive exams with a woman in her 70’s.  She was pretty much doing the same thing, reaching for a past dream.  I could tell her of courses I had and of books I read, and she pushed me to study things I was certain would never be on the exam again.  She was right about the exam questions and perhaps the reason we both marched up to receive our diplomas.

It felt like I had hit my stride at 35, although I can not really point to other reasons why.  If you have good friends, good times, and a reason for doing things, all seems right with the world.  Well, almost all seemed right.  I never found the one right person to share my very good years.  Honestly, I can not say I looked all that hard.  I guess I was having too good of a time.

But now the days are short, I’m in the autumn of the year…

One thing that you become acutely aware of as you get older is that the days are short.  They don’t seem to last as long, you don’t seem to get as much done and you certainly don’t feel thirty-five.  You realize, no matter how desperately you try to suppress the thought, that the days are indeed numbered.  Even if you are optimistically believing that there are, let’s say, thirty-five years left, you know none will be like the year you were thirty-five.  With any luck at all some will be very good.

If your life is like a fine wine, there will be many years that were a good vintage.  This wine aficionados will refer to it as a “very good year.”  I seem to still have them.  None are 17 or 21 or 35, nor will they be again.  With any luck at all, I will be able to drink in the rest and enjoy them as if I were sitting in a vineyard in France with one of my best friends while we recall our great adventures together.

And I think of my life as vintage wine
From fine old kegs,
From the brim to the dregs,
It poured sweet and clear.
It was a very good year.

Although many had recorded this song, it won the Grammy Award for Best Vocal Performance, Male in 1966 for Frank Sinatra.

It Was A Very Good Year, by Ervin Drake, 1961, lyrics © SONGWRITERS GUILD OF AMERICA OBO LINDABET MUSIC INC

DAY IS DONE. ME TOO

It was one of Those Days. Started out normal. We had to get up a bit early because I had a doctor appointment and even though we left plenty of time, we got out of the house a bit late. Time slipped away.

My appointment went fine. Next stop? Grocery store.

We couldn’t get to the store. There had been a fire. Or something. The street was closed. Not the whole street, just the couple of hundred feet in front of the parking lot. Other than the fire engine with the flashing lights, there was no hint of a fire, or any evidence of anything. No smoke. No injuries. No water on the street. No crime scene tape. A blocked street where we needed to go. They were allowing cars to drive through from the other direction. So there was no legitimate reason we couldn’t go a few dozen feet to Hannaford’s parking lot. But nope, we had to take the detour.

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Uxbridge not being a real city, a detour isn’t a quick trip around a city block. We were in Douglas before we could start looping back to town. By which time they had parked the fire truck and there were no official obstructions.

Shopping concluded, leaving town was our next trial. Civic excitement is rare in our little town, so everyone had to take a long look at the … what? Fire? Crime scene? False alarm? One of the rubberneckers was riding a bicycle. We were behind him, trying to drive at 1 mph. As soon as we (finally) got around him, someone pulled out of a side street, slowed down to about 10 mph. Directly in front of us. We crawled home. Karma is.

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Groceries unpacked. Television turned on. Surprise! Half our premium channels aren’t working. “Temporarily Off the Air. Try Again Later.” I call Charter. They’ve been having a bad week too and this is my third call in two days. Any day I have to call Charter is not a great day.

After a long hold, the agent assures me they are merely doing (more) repair work, but hope it will be finished any day now. They’ll call when it’s finished. Maybe even today. I go to make dinner and step in a pool of dog pee. I don’t know which of the little furry menaces did it, but I don’t get it. Why? They’ve got their own door and it isn’t even raining.

Eventually, dinner having been served, eaten, and cleared, the phone rings. Charter (recorded message) says “Repairs are complete, thank you for your patience.” But it is not fixed. Half the hi-def channels are “Temporarily Off the Air. Try Again Later.”

Any day on which I have to call Charter once is not great. Twice? Very bad. They tell me to reboot. They send a repair signal. My channels do not come back. They can’t get a tech here until Thursday.  I am grumpy, but make the appointment. I need to write it down, so I turn on the light.

The bulb explodes.

My day is done.

GETTING OLD BEATS GETTING DEAD

10,000 Spoons? Excuse me?

Mr. Ben Huberman, what were you thinking when you posted today’s Daily Prompt? Was this a test? To see how many of us knew what you are talking about? Well, guess what? I failed.

I don’t know  Alanis Morissette from a hole in the wall. I don’t know if he is a she, or maybe a they, and what “the classic” refers to — a book, movie, or music?

A thing that happens as we age is we lose contact with, and interest, in pop culture. It starts early, as early as ones 30s when you realize you don’t like the music. By your 40s, you don’t care who knows it and drop any pretense of caring about “the latest thing.” Movies and some television may go the distance … but Alani Morissette didn’t make my cut.

In protest and because I think putting up a prompt of which more than an entire generation may well have no knowledge or interest is rude, I’m just going to link this post, which I think is pretty good, to the Daily Prompt.

If today’s prompt was an attempt to exclude me, get rid of me, it didn’t work. On the other hand, if Mr. Huberman is merely incredibly insensitive and out of touch with the people who follow these prompts, many (most?) of whom are not kids or even young … maybe it’s time to find someone else to do his job.

Because this isn’t merely incompetent. It’s bad manners.


I hear a lot of bitching about aging. While getting old ain’t fun, NOT getting old is worse.

Age brings financial limitations, aches, pains, and indigestion. On the positive side, it brings an end to commuting, doing whatever your boss tells you because you need the paycheck, and never having time for yourself. Regardless, whatever the limitations, being alive offers significant advantages over being dead which, to the best of my knowledge, is the only alternative to growing old.

I think we are most afraid of age when we aren’t old yet, but see it coming. Most of the bewailing and bewhining about getting old comes from people in their forties and fifties who are old enough and would like to just stop this aging nonsense. Can’t things just stay as they are?

Unfortunately, no. Nothing ever stays the same. As soon as you think you’ve got a handle on it, life moves on.

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The good news is the fear of getting old is worse than being old.

When you get to whatever age you have defined as officially “old” (probably when you sign up for Social Security and Medicare), old turns out to be a continuation. It’s not something brand new. There’s no sign saying “Welcome to Old, a really BIG town.”

Many of my friends and family died younger than I am now. A lot younger. There’s damned little point in agonizing about what might happen. Worry doesn’t change anything, but sure does suck the joy out of the here and now. The worst part of all the stressing over possible future disasters is we worry about the wrong stuff. Inevitably, what actually happens isn’t what we worried about. It’s something we never expected, for which we are totally unprepared.

Someone said that in this secular age, worry has taken the place of prayer.  I don’t know whether or not prayer was ever effective at preventing bad stuff from happening, but I’m sure worry  isn’t.

In the long haul — if you’re lucky enough to have a long haul — there will be enough real problems to keep you busy. You don’t need to worry about stuff that may never happen. Figure out what to do about the crisis when and if it happens. Otherwise, enjoy what you can.

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I gave up worrying. Life has been hard and I’m more than a little surprised I’m still here to write this. At some point, I decided I didn’t need an extra layer of stress. Life was already dumping on me.

I recommend living in the moment. It’s better. Try it. You’ll see.

I don’t mind getting old. I resent being sick and hate being poor. On the positive side, I’m alive to complain about it. A lot of folks I used to know cannot say the same. They can’t say anything. That’s the down side of being dead.

Getting old, with all its hazards, will always beat getting dead.

IS IT HOT OR IS IT ME? WHAT?

SECOND OPINION – What are some (or one) of the things about which you usually don’t trust your own judgment, and need someone’s else’s confirmation?


You mean … there IS another opinion other than mine that might contain something worth knowing? Are you implying that I am imperfect? I am insulted. How dare you suggest such a thing. I will report you to … someone. I’ll have to think for a while which authority should be involved, but really! Such gall!

Photo: Debbie Stone

Photo: Debbie Stone

There is one little thing. It seems that as I’ve gotten older, my thermostat no longer works. It started with The Change, you know, menopause.

Shhh. Let’s not be indelicate. Although my husband is … a man … and not subject to the full Monte of mind and body altering experiences that this special Time of Life engenders, he too seems to have acquired a broken thermostat. Thus neither of us is entirely sure if it’s hot, cold, or us.

Conversation A:

“Is it hot or is it me?”

“It’s hot.”

“Oh, good. I’ll turn on the fan.”

Conversation B:

“Is it hot or is it me?”

“It’s not hot. It’s a bit chilly.”

“Maybe it’s hot and you are chilly.”

“Possibly, but you asked. All I can tell you is what I feel.”

“I’m turning on the fan.”

“I’m putting on a sweatshirt.”

You can see the value of a second opinion under these circumstances. Oh, and there’s another one.

Conversation: What?

“What did he say?”

“What did who say?”

“The guy, the one with the hat.”

“The guy on the left?”

“No he’s not there anymore. The one who had the gun. Before.”

“They all have guns.”

“Oh, never mind.”

Otherwise, I know pretty much everything. Ask my husband. He will tell you. “She knows everything. Just ask her.” You see? We are in complete agreement. On everything.

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