Mid-Life Series: Renaissance vs. Crisis

Renaissance: Rebirth, Revival

Crisis: An emotionally significant event or radical change of status in a person’s life

                        -Defined by Merriam-Webster

Say the word ‘mid-life’ and suddenly the stereotype of the fiftish man dumping his long-suffering wife for a younger woman, who buys an obnoxious sports car pops up into the brain.  Mid-life is met with groans and negativity.   The words ‘mid-life crisis’ are rampant for describing this period of life.  But I don’t think most of us have an actual ‘crisis’.  I believe it’s normal to step back and look at one’s life especially admist the many signficant life changes that can happen in this period such as a parent or both parent’s death, children leaving home and facing our own mortality more definitely now.

The average US life expectancy at this writing is approximately 78 years of age.  Divide that by two and you get 39.  Yep, at 39, you’re half way to dead if you live to this statistic.  That was a bit sobering for me when I did the math because I’m already 49.  Ten years into the downward spiral to the grave.  There are varying opinions of when mid-life crises seem to strike or when mid-life actually falls.  Frankly, none of usually know when we will die unless we have been unfortunately diagnosed with a terminal illness.  If you die when you are 30, then 15 was your mid-way point.  It’s the crap shoot of life, you just never know.

I know a lot of people around my age and honestly, unless it’s been kept a very tight secret, I’ve only seen a few of them go through what I would term a mid-life crises.  We are all going through changes to our life but haven’t we from the beginning?  It’s just that in mid-life, the changes sometimes are more painful.  Caring for an ill and/or aging parent or parents.  If you are a parent, your children leaving home can be bittersweet.  Some of you are super thrilled while others are gravely devastated. These are tough points in our lives and no one can truly prepare you for them.  I spent years preparing for the empty nest.  As soon as my oldest daughter graduated high school when I was 39, I went into preparation mode.  I read books and articles on empty nest.  None of which really helped.  You get vague advice like pursue your hobbies or start a new career, reconnect with old friends.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, but they don’t really say, grieve that part of your life.  It’s okay to feel sad about it.  Just don’t get stuck there.

When my youngest left home after living with us through four years of college, I spent the last few months she lived with us dreading her leaving.  Then after she left, the first few weeks were tough but then I adjusted.  Now, going on a year later, our relationship has evolved and even though we had a few bumps which I think are normal, I’m enjoying the empty nest quite a bit.  It’s a change.  There are good and bad parts of it but for me it was mostly good.  But getting over that hump was scary and difficult at times but mostly, I worked it up in my head to be worse than it truly turned out.  I was a young mother so at 49, I’m fully into mid-life, I’m an orphan because my parents and grandparents have all passed away and I’m living in an empty nest.  Which sounds somewhat depressing but it’s really part of life.  We won’t all be at the same place at the same time.

But did I go through a crisis?  No.  I had ups and downs but never a crisis.  I think much with this time of my life has to do with mentality.  How you see your life currently as it is.  It can’t stay the same, the kids grow up, people pass away and/or get sick, you get bored with your job (or not), you revisit old dreams only to find the are no longer valid.

I was sitting in a restaurant having lunch alone when the term ‘mid-life renaissance’ popped into my head.  I’ve embraced my introversion over the last year or so as I needed to recalibrate my life as an empty nester.  Actually, my nest isn’t empty, there is my husband and I and our cat and dog.  I really think they need a new term because “empty nest” makes it sound vacant.  Once a nest is empty in the bird world, not even the parents come back to it.  They move on to other locations and adventures.   Embracing my introversion means I actually enjoy doing things alone, mostly because it gives me a lot of time to think, which is really crucial to my personality.  I usually take in a book or a notebook, usually the latter, because I tend to do a lot of thinking while sitting in a restaurant.  I was thinking about what I want to do in the future, when the word ‘renaissance’ popped into my head.  Mid-Life Renaissance rather than a crisis.

As part of this ‘renaissance’, I’ve started challenging myself to do things out of my comfort zone.  Yesterday, I went to a large festival I really enjoy and almost always attend with someone else.  This time however, I went alone.  I was a little nervous riding the shuttle bus by myself.  But I forced myself into the long line and did it anyway.  A teenager sat down beside me relieved she didn’t have to sit alone.  She worked in the town where the festival was happening and knew she wouldn’t find parking so she opted for the shuttle.  So it happened that I was able to qualm her nervousness just by being there. At the festival, I walked around taking my time and stopping to talk to the artists at some of the booths.  I took photos of things that I thought were cool that I might not have noticed had I been with other people.  Essentially, I enjoyed the experience and getting out of my comfort zone is a key part of my mid-life renaissance.   Bottom line, I have fun by myself or with someone else along.   But I don’t need someone to go with me all the time.

Really we have little control over the world and what happens but we can control how we think about it and our reactions.  We can think of mid-life in the negative, that it sucks and so on or we can embrace this time, understand there are some tough moments to it, but find the beauty in the storm.  For example, I love to bicycle but at 49, I don’t recover like I once did.  I find myself being more cautious to prevent injuries because it simply takes longer to heal.  I could be upset and depressed about that fact or I can look at it as hey look, I’m 49 and I can still go out to ride fifty miles.  Choosing the positive outlook very much changes the feel of the exact same situation.  Yes at times I get passed by younger, fitter cyclists but on the other hand, I pass quite a few cyclists myself that are younger than me.  I chose at this point in my life to just compete with myself and listen to my body.   I’m not 20, listening to my body is crucial but it’s not a bad thing either.  I did damage to my body when I was younger that I pay for today.  I don’t want to repeat that mistake.

I’m at a point of my life that I am financially stable and want for very little materialistically.  I’ve worked hard to get here and have suffered several setbacks usually in the way of divorce, that required me to start over again.   But for this moment, I’m in a very good place and it’s time to enjoy what I’ve worked so hard for.  Mid-life is a time to stop and look around.  To stop racing so hard, pushing so hard especially when you’ve reached a large number of your goals.

Mid-life is your time for a renaissance, a rebirth, a revival.  To start embracing the gifts you have been given, to really start being cognizant of how you spend your time and with whom.  Mid-life isn’t a death sentence, it’s a gift all its own where you get to take your hard-earned wisdom and put it to use.  It’s a time to experience new things with the time that may suddenly appear after the kids move out and so on.  It’s your rebirth, but this time you don’t usually have to start from the bottom and work your way up.  Chances are you’ve already done that and have a solid foundation that allows you to enjoy your life and explore new avenues.

Very simply, it’s not required to have a mid-life crisis though I know people may experience this but I believe they are in the minority and have personality traits that set them up for this such as large egos or deep-seated insecurity.  The rest of us can embrace a rebirth, a revival, a mid-life renaissance.  I’m excited for this next par tof my life.

‘Till next post…

 

 

Selfies, Not So Silly?

Selfies are a bit of a running joke with anyone who is familiar with social media.  Even grandmas are doing selfies and posting them to their news feed.  They have even created a “selfie stick” to aid in taking photos of ones self especially those of us with tyrannosaurus rex length arms like myself but I have yet to succumb to purchasing a selfie stick.

When I first ventured into selfie territory, I felt quite silly taking pictures of myself.  More on the humorous side, I went for more of the ‘sarcastic selfie’, overdone facial expressions to make it all seem a little less awkward though I looked way more awkward.  I found it easier to take selfies with my girls in them, they seemed more ‘legit’ rather than some overly engrossed middle-age woman trying to be cool.  Being 40’ish, you seem like you are always straddling the line of what seems to be trying to hard and looking ridiculous.

Every day I peruse my Facebook feed reading up on what my friends and family are up to, admiring their pictures, laughing at their humor and feeling sad with their difficult moments.  Selfies fill up a lot of the feed but I never think, wow, they are so vain or stuck on themselves.  I love seeing pictures of people I’ve known most of my life as they smile and look happy.  I always feel like smiling back, noting beauty in each person even though they, like me, are all getting older.  But age doesn’t necessarily mean you become ugly, it just means that beauty changes, evolves.

I have found that taking photos of myself has done a great deal toward making me less photo shy.  Now if someone wants to take my picture, I don’t run away, literally, I would run away, I hated my picture so much.  I can remember once one of my girls, I think my youngest, said, “Momma, you’re never in any of our pictures.”  And then she would stare at me accusingly as if it was a conspiracy.  I never could get much by any of my daughters.  She wanted to know what did I feel was so wrong with me that I didn’t want to be captured in a photograph.  She patted me on the leg and said “But Momma you are pretty.”  As if that solved all my years of body and self-esteem issues.

Maybe some of it is age, the older I get the less I give a rat’s ass about what anyone thinks about me.  At this point you are just grateful you have most of your organs and things work even if they hurt.  I have lost people I love younger than myself to tragedies, accidents and cruel illnesses.  You are a bit more thankful to wake up each morning.  But some of it is just I have forced myself to be less camera shy.  Over the years, it became easier.  Most of my selfies just go into my hard drive and online photo service where I store them as a backup.  Though I own a nice Nikon DSLR camera, I have gotten lazy and take so many of my photos with my iPhone because it’s always available and slowly these phone cameras are becoming almost as advanced as my Nikon.

I have a folder for each year for simply cell phone uploads.  Odds and ends of memories that I capture in my day to day.  Looking at this album, it is almost like a journal, I capture whatever sparks my fancy that day.  Including odd ball items like price tags of floor laminate (so I remember the cost per square or linear foot for when we estimate a job cost), food at restaurants, a flower in a garden somewhere, a random sunset, a strange bug I saw out hiking and many of my girls.  My iPhone photo app now has developed to the point it can detect most though not all of my selfies and puts them into their own folder designation. Literally I have a “Selfies” folder in my iPhone photo app.  I didn’t create it, Apple did but I thought well as times have changed, everyone is taking pictures of themselves.

Am I more self-absorbed because I take these photos as the experts claim we are all becoming?  Not really, I am sure if I was, my husband would probably point out my annoying behavior at some point.  I haven’t crawled into my own world and started ignoring everything and everyone around me.  No, I have simply become much more comfortable in my own skin.  More accepting and less critical of my photos.  Granted I take some selfies and cringe but I can simply delete them.  Take it again.  It is all about camera angle and lighting.

I don’t use filter apps to take away every wrinkle and flaw before I post my pictures or share them.  I’ve run into friends I haven’t seen for years only to not really recognize them because all their social media photos are run through this glam filter that takes away the lines and imperfections making them look twenty years younger.  I wonder if they realize that people are surprised when they see them in person because obviously you can’t walk around with a filter over your face as if it were magic makeup.  Just a random thought.   Now, being more wise to these filter users, when I see someone on my news feed who looks impossibly young for her age, I know, the photo has been probably doctored.

I like real untouched photos, the one that shows how someone truly is.  It is one of the reasons I am not a big makeup wearer.  I’ve seen those makeup tutorials and before/after shots of celebrities and models where you look at the “before” and think well you’re just a regular person like me.  I often thought if I have to put that much makeup on to attract a date, well I just give up.  To each their own of course but I don’t want someone waking up beside me sans my makeup and they freak out because I do not look the same.  Not that it isn’t fun to do dramatic makeup to go out for the night, sometimes I do but mostly my husband looks at me and says something like “You’re wearing a lot of makeup.”  As if I’m trying out for the Bozo convention at the clown college.  He simply is not a fan of me in heavy makeup.  I did grow up in the 80’s though.  We loved all the dramatic look back then.

When I was in my early 20’s, the actress Jenny McCarthy was up and coming.  One day she was on Oprah and I can remember her taking a poster of herself and using a black Sharpie marker, she circled all the areas that had been retouched.  I remember sitting there with my mouth open as this had never occurred to me that these people weren’t perfect after all, they were just manipulated to look perfect.  All those years of sighing over Seventeen magazine or entertainment magazines feeling ugly and imperfect was for nothing.  Certainly there are people with much better genes than I possess but they aren’t these goddesses that they are made out to be.  Throw in my family’s obsession with being thin and yes, I had eating disorders and self-image problems.

Now when I look back of photos of myself in my teens or early 20’s, I want to go back and slap myself.  I want to tell my younger self, “Hey girl, you look good, wear that leather miniskirt and heels.  Own it. ”  Which in turn makes me wonder what my 60-something self would want to tell me now.  I think my older self might just want to tell me to relax and enjoy life.  You don’t always have to be achieving something even though it feels like you wasted your life sometimes, you haven’t.  I need a time capsule.  Or a note I open in 20 years.   Well, I have this blog, maybe that would work as a reminder.

And I will have a whole bunch of selfies to remember how good I looked in my forties…  My daughters won’t have to scramble for photos of me when they are older, I’ve created my own gallery.   Even ones with absolutely no makeup as the one I am attaching to this post with my cat.  It’s one of my favorite pictures of myself and I have no makeup on, my hair is barely combed but I think it truly captures me at this time in my life.   I have been through a lot but I still find simple joys in life like my cat cuddling with me.

Oh and I’m asking for a selfie stick for Christmas….

The Art of Writing

Yesterday as I was walking around a large arts festival between downpours, I saw all sorts of amazing creations.  I’m a bit jaded as my daughters are hugely artistic.  I do photography, though not seriously, mostly for my own enjoyment.  I sketch a bit but a sixth grader can overshadow my work pretty easily.  There were artists from all over the country there with all sorts of media from paint, to wood, to metal, to fabric, to jewelry and mixed media.  Anything you could think of was housed in those white tents lining the streets and bridges.  Of course everything I liked was priced out of what I would be willing to pay for it but I am cheap.  And we have been trying to downsize our possessions, not add to them.  So it would have to be a work of art that would absolutely move me for me to even purchase it.

There was so much talent residing in that one area, it started me thinking.  My one real art that I am passionate about is writing.  No, I don’t pen fabulously crafted sentences with prose that other authors would envy.  My writing is pretty straight forward, like my personality.  My strength seems to be empathy not creativity so much.  I write in a voice that others hear in their own heads and hearts.  I can paint a picture with words but it won’t be flowery and chock full of adjectives describing the scene to the minute degree.  I like to keep it moving.  When I read and start getting mired in overly descriptive paragraphs about nothing, my natural tendency toward efficiency will have me skimming the lines until I find some real action again.   Some readers love an author who will wax poetic for long stints.  Me, I think, what’s next?  What happens next?

Driving home alone after being rained out of the festival, I opened the sunroof of my truck, letting the warm, humid air blow through the cab.  If I can help it, every vehicle I own from now on will have a sunroof.  Even if it’s a junker.  I love the sky above me and the air blowing through the roof.  I turned up my music and enjoyed watching the dance of the fading sun and storm clouds in the horizon knowing soon, I’d have to shut the sunroof when the next round of rain came upon me.  This is summer at it’s best for me.  Just being able to open the windows and not freeze.  Moments like these make me feel inspired.

I have been thinking about reinvention and second acts that are popular with my age group (middle aged).  People ruse being middle aged as the approach to the end.  As if “middle aged” is a bad word or words.  What people don’t realize is that while yes, you are past that ‘young’ era but that isn’t necessarily a negative thing.  I sat in a bar/restaurant yesterday that caters to the younger, hipster crowd noting that I was one of the oldest people in there.  My daughter and her boyfriend love this place and it does have fabulous food and atmosphere.  I’m overhearing conversations, watching the interactions of these 20-somethings, maybe 30-somethings and thinking I am so glad I am 45.  There is a wisdom and freedom with this age and older.  You have passed a lot of the frivolous drama, marriage and raising kids or at the later part of raising kids.

I also realized that I have much in common with what was either in college or just out of college kids.  I have my whole life ahead of me albeit about 20 so more years into the process.  But I have this advantage over them.  Many of them will be getting married and having children (or adopting etc for same sex couples).  I’ve already experienced this part of my life.  I am financially stable and less encumbered.  I’ve learned many lessons in life already (and will continue to learn) that I can use to my advantage.  I’m not too old for most things.  If an 80 year old woman can become a DJ in night clubs, imagine what I can do?  I may not be joining the military or doing Ironman competitions because of my knee problems but I still have the chance to become a best-selling writer if I’d ever publish something.

I saw all those artists today who have put their work out there for the world, that are pursuing their goals and I realized I can write all I want but until I start actually finishing something I can submit, my work is going to go unnoticed outside of this blog.   As far as the reinvention which is really not that, but more about experiencing life and not limiting myself to what I am today, it’s about stepping out of my comfort zone.  Exploring things as I would have when I was younger.  Actually, it’s not reinventing anything, it’s simply living my life to the fullest.  Taking some chances, stop being so safe all the time.  Trying on different hats.  Stretching the imagination.

Middle aged isn’t a death sentence as everyone wants you to believe.  It’s a new beginning.