Hello Sadness, My Old Friend

Inviting sadness in for yet another conversation

Photo by Artem Maltsev on Unsplash

I had a visitor in a dream last night. A very dear old friend who died several years ago. He was in my dreams, but as a much younger version of himself. A version that I had never known, since I met him later in his life. 

And during the dream, I realized that this friend was someone who had already died, so I thought I must be dreaming. Interesting to have a dream within a dream. And I felt so very sad. Grief. Loss. An ache that is like no other, the ache of grief for those lost to us. 

Sadness and grief are frequent companions to me now in my life. I suppose that comes with aging, as the losses mount up. I have lost family, friends, past lovers, and dear furry companions. That particular form of grief, for me, is like no other. The unconditional acceptance and love that I felt from my pets that I had not really felt before. Beings that I could be myself with, even with them right there beside me. Otherwise I can only be completely myself in solitude. Perhaps this is part of being an only child, I don’t know. 

How to deal with this pervasive sadness. It is not that this is all that I feel. Clinical depression, I believe, is a different issue and sometimes requires medical intervention. 

This sadness that I feel, to me, feels like the sadness that is part of life. The bitter that comes with the sweet. The ache of both loss and joy, different sides of the same coin. 

I can sometimes feel immobilized by this. And I do my best to sit with it and allow the feelings to come. I must admit that I am not always completely successful with this and will medicate at times with chocolate, carbs, and TV. I have more work to do on this. 

And it’s all ok. It’s ok to sometimes have to get away from the intensity of the feelings, as long as it is not in a self destructive way or in a way that then becomes a way of life. I want to feel it all. Even when it is so hard and painful to go into and through the feelings.

So I am sad today. Feeling the ache of all those that I have lost. I miss them all. I feel the place in my heart where they still live. But sometimes I want to be able to reach out and touch them, feel them close to me, hear their voice and breath, sit beside them and talk. Or simply sit beside them and be. 

I feel the ache of years gone by. My youth. Some of my dreams and hopes. My younger body, my younger face, my younger self with what felt like limitless dreams. I see photos of myself from the past and wish that I could have appreciated more of who I was back then. So many years spent in harsh self judgment. In trying to please others, which is impossible to maintain. The cost of trying to do that is beyond measure.

I feel the ache for this earth and its creatures that we have destroyed to the point of extinction. I feel the ache of the trees that we cut down. I feel the ache of the natural cycle of life. The need for the hunter to survive. The ache for the prey that will help to maintain that hunter for a bit longer. The earth that seems to be hurtling toward its end, with severe climate change and all the consequences of that.

I feel the ache of those in poverty, hunger, and war. 

I feel the ache of people misguided in their attempts to feel some sense of control in this world, not realizing the cost of their actions or beliefs. 

As my skin grows thinner, so does my boundary with all that is around me. It is as if I can literally feel the pain of the changes outside of me, as I struggle to accept the changes within me. 

So today I am trying my best to sit with my sadness. I am grateful to be able to write about it. I will begin another sketch for another painting. I will try to create space for the feelings to be and to come out where they will. 

I sat outside this morning, sipping coffee and simply being with the trees and birds around me, with the quiet of a Sunday morning. I am grateful to be able to do that, to be here now, to feel it all. 

I realize that as I continue to age, all these things become so much more precious to me. Partly because I realize that I, too, will someday be gone. That it is all temporary, and a gift to be cherished while we can, while we are still alive, breathing and feeling it all. Sadness and joy. Bitterness and sweetness. Love and loss. Life in all of its exquisitely poignant glory. 

So hello sadness, my old friend. I’m listening. 

Humbled By A Laptop

Technophobia. It’s Real.

Photo by Elisa Ventur on Unsplash

Here I sit, humbled at the foot of my laptop. 

I have an irrational reaction to tech. I have, in my life, deferred to partners who spoke this language easily and fluently. I am embarrassed to admit that I let them take this over, waited for them to just set the damn thing up for me so that I could do whatever it was that I needed to do.

Not anymore.

So, my laptop was going to need to be replaced soon, anyway. It uses Microsoft 8.1, which I am told that Microsoft will no longer support in a few months. This laptop is old, has served me well. I have trusted it with secrets, passwords kept, bills easily paid with a click. I meander through things intuitively and somehow manage to be somewhat functional on this device. But, the truth is, I don’t understand how it works nor have I ever cared to delve into this. That I have left for those whose brains seems to resonate with this language. That is not me. 

However, I am not partnered now, by choice. And it is time to face this anxiety and sometimes paralyzing fear. This morning I was able to adjust the screen just enough that I can write and see what I am writing. (The latest new issue of this tired laptop is a coming apart of the keyboard seams a bit, with the result being that it can be more difficult to see the screen.) 

I am grateful that the minor adjustment worked this morning. But, the warning has been given and hospice has been called for this brave little device that has worked so diligently. And I can no longer be in denial. 

Yesterday I froze with the anxiety of being overwhelmed with not knowing what to do or who to turn to. Today, I have some energy. A friend recommended someone that might be able to help, who is reasonable with his fees and whom she trusts. I also have Best Buy and the Geek Squad in my mind as another option. There is help to be hired. 

It’s interesting to me that one of the things about my own aging journey is that I begin to feel less confident at times in my competence to deal with situations. I freeze. Yesterday I did nothing, except feel the anxiety around this issue. I literally froze in place. 

I watch this with great interest. I seem to have made it this far in life and handled all the various things that life throws at all of us. So why do I doubt myself? Why does this freeze and paralyze me? 

So, I am having conversations with myself, reminding myself that I am a functional, competent woman who has dealt with much in her life. A small laptop is really not capable of defeating me. It can scare me temporarily, but not defeat me. I can ask for help, be vulnerable in expressing what I do not know or understand, and reach out. Which I have begun to do and will continue to do. Until this is resolved. 

With fear and trepidation, I will keep putting one foot in front of the other. I wonder, as I observe myself, if this is one of the challenges of aging. To keep believing in oneself, to keep trying to learn, to keep participating in life even with all the self doubts, to keep engaging. To admit weaknesses but not take that as a definition of who we are or what we have become. 

My strengths have never been in the technical direction. But I can talk about feelings with you. I can listen. I can do my best to write those and express them and perhaps touch some others and help them feel less alone. I can engage with others and help them feel seen and heard. I can be a friend. I can love animals and nature and find peace there. I can feel their presence, indeed feel the presence of the earth beneath my feet, the trees breathing around me. I can love.

So, onward today. Onward to call those of the tech country who speak that language, praying that they are bilingual in the language of tech anxiety and vulnerability. 

I am so grateful to be able to write this today. This recent challenge has further validated how important it is for me to write, to connect with you all this way. To have my words read, and to touch those who may resonate with what I write about. Writing is a lifeline for me. So I will wander into the scary land of technology, as an appreciative tourist, and find a translator to help me appreciate all the beauty and connection around me. And to be able to keep connecting.

Aging is a challenge. Facing each new fear and doubt to the best of my ability is important. It is too easy to fall victim to the siren call of “I can’t handle this. I can’t do this. I give up.” Rather, the challenge is to respond with the war cry of “I can do this. I don’t have to do it perfectly or even know exactly what I am doing. I am still capable, can still learn, can reach out for help, can keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep embracing what life offers. I am strong in my weaknesses. I am competent in my challenges. I am alive, with all my changes and aging issues.” I can freeze momentarily, and I can start moving again. It’s ok. I am ok. Technophobia and all. 

  I am here. I am still so very much here. 

Standing Naked in Front of My Dermatologist

Nothing left to hide. And it was ok.

Photo by Shane on Unsplash

I went to the Dermatologist today for my annual mole check. It had been several years, due to the pandemic, so I thought it was time. 

I have gone to this particular doctor for several years, have watched the family photos change on his wall showing how quickly his children were growing up. We have aged together, acknowledging this in our brief annual contact.

There I stood, ready to have my entire body examined for any possible signs of things to worry about, such as skin cancer. I get other check ups too, and more as I age it seems. Older models seem to need more maintenance as we go along. 

 But this exam is different. This one is where I stand naked, in front of someone. These days the only one who sees me naked is me. And my mirror. And I have to work hard enough to quiet all the judgments there. Yet here I am, voluntarily standing in front of a doctor. And in this case, a male doctor. 

I was referred to him years ago, felt immediately comfortable with him and trusted his expertise. But, here I stood naked. And that pushes limits and touches vulnerabilities in a way that not much else can.

Interestingly enough, because I have been seeing him for years, we usually talk a bit about various topics during the appointments, as much as his hectic schedule will allow. Today, before he began the exam, he seemed to want to talk a bit more. I reflected on how his children have grown, how quickly time passes, as evidenced by the changing photos on his wall.

This seemed to open him up. He talked about where his children were in their lives, two of them graduating from college already. And then he stopped for a moment, looked at me and began talking about how surprised he was at the grief that he felt about that, how he had not expected that. I listened and reflected that back, how yes, there really is grief associated with aging, with changes that occur. I empathized and validated that of course he felt that grief, that the losses were real. I talked a little about how I write about grief and aging. How retirement has brought some of this home to me, the losses that we face, the changes that occur. He resonated, talking about that he would turn 60 soon and could begin to feel more of what I was talking about. He said he sometimes thinks about writing about these things as well. 

And then it was time for the exam. 

I am happy to report that all looks well, that he saw nothing that looked worrisome to him. I am grateful.

He left, wished me well. We both said it was nice to see each other again (although he saw much more than I did!) 

And I realized that this was a wonderful connection today. In the brief time that we had (and I could feel the pressure that he was under to get to the next patient), he opened up and shared a bit of who he was at that moment in time and in his life and about some of the things that he was struggling and working with. And that was a gift to me. And, I also realized, this made it much easier for me to stand there so completely exposed in front of him. 

Because I had seen some of his nakedness too. And we both were together in that moment in our vulnerability. And it was a human connection. In the space of a few minutes, there was a deep connection and understanding, before we each once again went our separate ways. Each to deal with our own grief, each knowing that others share this human bitter-sweet experience of life.

We each stand naked in front of each other in our deepest grief, in our losses, in our fears, in our journeys of aging. And having the courage to share that with each other can bring the sweetness to the bittersweet. We can offer each other some comfort and understanding along the way. We can see each other, truly see each other. See beyond the faces, the roles, the masks. See, honor, and cherish the beautiful nakedness of the humanity in us all. 

A Letter to my Younger Self

How did I not see you back then?

Photo by William Daigneault on Unsplash

Going through some old photos the other day, I found a photo of myself from decades ago, actually about 45 years ago. (Where did all those years go?)

One of my issues in my life has been that of being harsh on myself and lacking in confidence. I have always managed to find things about myself to criticize, to hold against myself in the tally of self worth, to pay more attention to what I thought were deductions to that value of myself rather than seeing any additions. 

How sad. Such a waste of precious time. 

I look at the photo now and see a young woman who was trying to navigate her way in the world, who was doing her best, who was beautiful in her own way and with her own style. I am drawn to this photo. I am drawn to her. I am drawn to that version of me. Young, learning, making mistakes, persevering. Innocent. Anxious but trying to hide that and act as if all was ok. Feeling like an imposter in the young adult world. Feeling like I had no clue what I was doing, yet doing my best. 

I look back on you, my younger self, and this is what I would like to tell you.

You are just fine. You are a beautiful, sensitive woman and you want the best for yourself and those around you. You are not what others may have told you that you are. You are not less than anyone else. You have a right to be here. You have a right to claim your space on this earth and in this life. You deserve to be here, as you are. There is no need to earn that right to your life. You already have that. It is your birthright.

 You don’t have to earn anyone’s love. You don’t have to measure yourself by anyone else’s opinion. You are a precious human being, with a life to live. And live it you must. The time goes by quickly, trust me. More quickly than you can ever imagine. 

Don’t forget to play. Yes, work hard, and play hard. Enjoy the moments of laughter and joy. They are more precious than you can realize right now. They will be your memories of gold and help sustain you through more difficult times.

You will have pain. That is part of life. That does not define you or your life. It simply is part of being human. It does not mean that you are a failure.

Yes, you have and will continue to make mistakes. You will regret some things. Don’t drown in your regret. Learn from it. And carry on. And do better, when you can. 

You are kind. Never ever underestimate the power of that trait. Treasure it. It helps define who you are, and that is beautiful.

Love passionately. Even if you have pain and disappointments in love. Even if relationships don’t last. They will add to the fabric of who you are and the rich tapestry of your life that you can look back on and smile. And know that you loved. And were loved. Even if it doesn’t last in the same form with everyone, it lasts in some measure. It lasts in the piece of you that knows how to love.

Treasure your love of art and writing. It will come back when you are ready to pay attention to it. It will help you save your soul as you approach the end of your path.

Treasure your love of animals. They will teach you about life, love, and loss. The pain will be deep, as deep as the love that you learned from them.

Treasure your body. Try to stop the incessant judgment of it. It is beautiful, just the way that it is. It will change as the years go by. And it will still be beautiful, albeit in a different way. It will reflect the years and your life. It will reflect your journey. It will always be a sacred vessel that carries your soul.

Treasure your spirituality. That will sustain you more than you can ever imagine right now. It will be your guide and your direction. 

Treasure your innocence and what can be your childlike qualities. They are wonderful and add joy and delight. Keep them close to you as you continue your journey into the years.

You have never really heard these words from me …“I love you, completely, as you are. You are perfect, with all your imperfections and flaws. You are so much more. You are alive, and you have a right to embrace that life fully, to be exactly who you are fully. There is no one exactly like you. Embrace that. Hold that close. It is a gift like no other, one that grows with time and with aging.”

I am glad to be able to write this letter to you now. I am glad to meet you again.

 And, as I think about this, perhaps this is also a letter to where I am now from my future self. Maybe I should read this again. And listen to the message. 

To live, fully, passionately, as my exquisite self. To fully inhabit where I am and who I am right now, still alive, still here. 

Self Worth By Number

Measuring our value by numbers

Photo by Amirhossein Azandarian Malayeri on Unsplash

We are often measured by various counts and numbers. Our height, our weight, our age, our income, our IQ, level of education, where we may have gone to school, the zip code where we live. The list goes on. 

To name those things is not harmful in and of itself, but have you noticed the value that may get assigned to each number?

If a man is 6’0, that’s in the plus category. If he is 5’0, not so much.

If a woman weighs 125, that’s seen as pretty good. 190? Not so much.

If someone is 25 years old, there is value seen. 75? Maybe not so much.

If an income is 6 figure, positive. $20,000 or even less? Not so much.

If a woman measures 36–24–36, positive. 45–45–45? Not so much.

 If a woman has C or D cups bra size, positive. A cups? Not so much. 

Insert measurements of men’s penises here. You know the drill.

I agree that structuring and categorizing things helps us bring some order and less chaos to our perception of the world. But, when it comes to human worth, that’s where the line is crossed. We are not numbers. Our worth cannot be measured quantitatively. We are so much more than that.

We are human beings, with such a variety and richness to us. And each of us has something unique to bring to the table. 

If we are constantly trying to measure up to some ideal of perfection, then we cannot appreciate who we are and all that we have to offer. We lose the beauty of each of our imperfections and how we can understand each other’s pain and struggles. We can get lost in our comparisons and forget to touch and connect more with each other along the way. We measure ourselves as less than, as not good enough, and we can then quietly isolate ourselves out of sight so as to try and reduce the judgments (not realizing the most painful of these comes from ourselves and the standards that we have internalized). 

I have done this in my life. And I tire of it. I have had enough. And I am enough, just the way that I am. That does not mean that I do not work on trying to be the best that I can be, but that is not a condition for self love and self acceptance. It is not a prerequisite to be able to live the fullest life possible, to love to the utmost, to inhabit our bodies fully and our lives passionately and completely. To be 100% alive. That is the number to live by. That is measurement enough. 

Be Careful What You Ask For

Gifts can come in very unexpected (and uncomfortable) packages

Photo by Carlos Quintero on Unsplash

I have written that I want to experience life fully, live it passionately, feel it all. 

It can hurt. And it can amaze and fill us with such wonder and joy. And it can hurt again. And again. 

Life is full of so much, both bitter and sweet. And it becomes so much more poignant as we continue on our aging journey.

We love. We lose. 

We laugh. We cry.

We are connected. We are deeply, achingly alone.

We live. We die.

It is all part of the package. I cannot have one half without the other. Indeed, the more painful parts help me to appreciate the joy. But to feel it all comes with a cost. Feeling the pain, the loss, the heartaches….not for the faint of heart. Feeling the joy, the love, the passion, the aching beauty of it all…also not for the faint of heart.

To be alive, fully, is to feel. It all. 

I have loved people, and I have lost many of them. I have loved animals, and they are also gone. All pieces of my heart torn out. I have loved and continue to love life, and it is temporary. I have felt the deep connection, passion, sheer abundance and elation. And I feel the aloneness, the emptiness, the sadness, the ache of loss, the inconsolable pain of deep grief. The ever increasing awareness of my own mortality and ending. 

It’s all part of the package. If I ask for life, I ask for it all. I invite it all in. 

And it can bring me joy, although this somehow doesn’t seem to linger quite as long as the grief does, at least for me. Maybe it’s part of being human, of the attachment that precedes grief. Of love we do not want to let go of. 

And yet, I am grateful. I would not want to give up the joy and aliveness, so I pay the price of loss and grief.

 I love roses. Roses have thorns. And sometimes they make us bleed. 

They tell us to be careful of what we ask for. True. But, if we don’t ask, we don’t receive any of it. And for me that would be too high a price to pay. Since I am still alive, I choose to experience it all. I signed up for this ride, so I will buckle up and try and enjoy it as much as I can, until it is time to stop. There is time enough to be dead and not feel when we are gone. But, for now, I will keep asking for life. Thorns and all. 

The Healing Medicine of Trees

Nature as Pure Therapy

Photo by Victoria Palacios on Unsplash

There are times that I find it difficult to find solace anywhere, as the agitation within is relentless during those times and it is hard to quiet it. 

The other day was one of those days. There were various things going on that had me stirred up and uncomfortable in my own skin. Days like we all have. 

So I took myself for a long walk in the park. I am lucky enough to live fairly close to a park that is filled with redwoods. It is my place of most intense prayer and meditation. It is a place that I go not only to talk to God/Universe (which I do all the time), but I place that helps me stop talking and simply allow myself to be quiet and listen more.

I walked, enjoying the beauty around me, grateful for the smiles and hellos from strangers walking by. And I walked. And walked. 

I stopped and sat down in a clearing that had a few picnic benches, with no one else around. I simply sat there. I thought I would spend a few minutes before getting up to walk more. I sat there for close to an hour. Being. Simply and quietly being.

Surrounded by these majestic trees. Trees that have lived longer than I, have seen so much more than I, have wisdom to share. I feel the presence of trees more these days. I feel the presence of all of nature more these days, now that I am retired and have stopped the crazy busy routine that left me no time to stop and breathe. I feel the connection to every living being that I share this earth with. 

I touched the trees. Gazed up at their incredible height. Felt their solidness and stability. Listened to the whispering of the breeze through their leaves. This to me feels like the voice of God. Quiet, steady, calm, powerful, there if you stop and get quiet and still. 

And I listened. To the quiet voice within, to the wisdom of the trees, to the Universe around me reminding me to stop, to breathe, to truly feel this moment in time, this moment in eternity. 

And I let the tears come, some of which had no name. I let them flow. And cleanse. I gave them space to be. I gave my soul space to be. And I was quieted. I was comforted. Comforted with the sacred blessing of that particular moment in time and my being able to be present for it, truly present. 

Nothing else mattered in that moment. It was enough to simply be. To breathe it in. To allow all of it to flow through me. It was all ok. That moment was the gift that I can so easily forget to give myself. I was, and still am, so very grateful. 

I was eased, held, soothed, given solace and love. A therapy like no other. A touch like no other. A sweetness like no other. A medicine like no other. Sacred medicine whose branches reach into my soul and whisper…..”You are enough and it is enough for you to simply be here. You are loved.”

The Shame of Weight/The Weight of Shame

The Tyranny of Body Image and the Measurement of Self

Photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash

I have struggled with my weight for most of my life. I easily gain, I use food as comfort and as an anesthetic. And I feel ashamed.

I recently had a photo shoot for a small local magazine. The photos show what I look like. I cannot deny what is the truth of what my body looks like, what my face looks like, what image I present to the world. And here is this image, captured for all to see (as if they cannot see it in person?). Here is the image, that will be published next month, captured and frozen for all to see. The image of an overweight, older woman. The image that is the me that the world sees. 

I notice that I focus on what the photo looks like, what I look like. I don’t focus on the honor to be chosen for this magazine, that a friend referred me to them because I have been able to finally express parts of me that I had no time for when working full time. To finally begin to express the writer in me, the artist in me. I don’t focus on the part of me that agreed, with much fear and trepidation, to be part of the magazine, even though I didn’t feel like my story was special. I wanted to encourage others to tell their story, to acknowledge and validate that everyone has a story and their own brand of special that they can share. And to give a message that it’s ok to express this, even though we have been told not to as we compare ourselves to others.

 But these last things are not what has occupied my mind these last few days. No, I have focused on the photographs. An image of me frozen in a moment of time that in no way expresses all of who I am. 

I think that sometimes I can get fairly deep into denial, avoid looking at parts of myself in the mirror that I don’t want to see the truth about. 

But, there it is in a photograph for all to see. For me to see. Going to be published. Seriously?

How many of us struggle with shame about our bodies? As women (and I know that men have their own pain and struggles about these issues, but I can only speak to what I know about intimately), as women, we are taught about the value of looks, of beauty as it is defined by the current societal standards, of unwanted and unloved weight. 

To be overweight, to be fat, is to be less than what we are supposed to be. (Well, actually more than, but in essence, less than.) This is not something that we can hide or camouflage, as our bodies are there for all to see, try as we might to wear “slimming” clothes. We cannot hide what is the truth of what we look like.

I ask myself, though, even though it is true that I carry more pounds than I need, that I want to lose weight, that I continually try new ideas to do this, why is shame so deeply connected with this part of me?

 I cannot hide my use of food. I cannot hide the layers that I try and hide behind. I cannot hide that I struggle with this. I cannot hide that I am seen as less than and that I know this, on a very deep level. I feel the judgments. The harshest one being my own.

I have internalized the harsh critic, the beratement, the judgments, the disdain. And I fling them at myself. With no compassion.

This hurts. And part of me feels that I deserve this punishment. For being weak and not having the self control to get myself into the accepted shape, even at my age. 

Yes, I want to lose weight for health reasons. But, to be honest, the bottom line is that I would like to feel and look better in my skin and my clothes. And let go of the weight of all the judgments that I feel coming at me, both externally and internally.

We are taught to shame ourselves, to hate ourselves, to try and hide and not be seen, to accept the categorization of being less than. 

I applaud all the body positive work that people are trying to do these days. It is a step. There is much work to do. It doesn’t take much research to find the disdainful comments that others feel they have the right to make when they see the images of women that are not the idealized form. 

Jordan Peterson comes to mind as one example. He clearly writes that the photo of the larger (gorgeous)woman on Sports Illustrated is not beautiful and never will or can be. And although we protest his comments, how many of us abuse ourselves in this way on a daily basis? Is he not verbalizing what our internal judge is already saying? I find myself angry with him for this, yet somehow let myself get away with much worse comments than his toward myself. Toward this body that has gotten me this far in life and survived and struggled and come through so much. This body that breathes and walks and helps me experience what this world has to offer. This body that is a vessel for my soul. 

The weight is heavy. The shame is even heavier. 

So here is the challenge, I think. How to learn to love myself where and how I am right now, this very moment, in this very skin and shape, even as I try to lose some weight. To accept what is, with compassion. To stop the endless cycle of self shaming which can then lead to further self sabotage. To see myself as I am, as I look, and to see all of me. To see this body that holds who I am and have been. This body that navigates this world. This body that shivers with fear, cold, excitement. The body that feels the grief of loss, the joy of connection, the delight of touch, the bittersweet experience of being alive. The body that breathes, feels, responds, keeps going strong. This body that helps me express my soul through writing, through art, through my eyes, through my smile, through my tears. 

Can I learn, on a deep level, that it is ok that we are less than perfect? And that we can love what is, as we keep trying to be the best version of ourselves? 

We are human, we are alive, we are flawed, and we are absolutely stunningly beautiful. As is. 

A Humble Nod to the Jury Within

Recognizing the intensity of the inner critic and initiating a conversation

Photo by Mahdi Bafande on Unsplash

Today I broke some rules. I was referred by a friend to be the featured resident for our monthly local neighborhood magazine. Today was the photo shoot.

What? The inner voices, critics, jury, the terrified self appointed would be protectors screamed in protest. Screaming messages like “What? Who do you think that you are doing this? You have nothing to really offer. And look at you…you are heavier than you need to be, look older…..a photo shoot?? Are you serious?”

I pushed through, since I believe that we need to face our fears, face our inner critics, do the deed, break the rules that were put into place to try and keep us safe, and succeeded in keeping us invisible and quiet. Keeping us out of trouble, keeping us out of life. 

So push I did. The photo shoot happened. This particular photographer and I did not immediately click (pun intended). He seemed a nice enough man, but the chemistry was not there in a way that helped reduce my anxiety at all, that helped me relax into this photo shoot. 

I got through it. 30 minutes or so of pure discomfort and anxiety. Self doubt proclaiming its right to be there, insecurities flooding my system, inner critics demeaning and berating me for doing this, with no lack of opinions about photos that I got a glimpse of.

Their mean comments were relentless. Look at your body, and how much weight you have gained over the years. Look at your face and how much older you look. Look at how uncomfortable you look. What are you doing, posing for these photos? Stop this nonsense now before you make a huge fool of yourself. Stop while you still have time. Who do you think that you are? What the hell are you doing?

The photographer left, and I was left with the chorus of inner opinions and judgments. I took myself for a walk, to get a bit of air for a while. A few strangers smiled at me along the way, which helped. (Please never underestimate the power of a kind smile. You never know what someone’s day has been like.)

I came home from my walk, and could see that I needed to begin yet another conversation with these harsh members of this inner jury of mine. And so we began to talk. 

Talking, communicating involves listening to both sides. So I listened, and tried to understand where their comments were coming from. 

They, members of this inner jury, have been with me for life. They came on board to help protect me, to take over where perhaps some parental judgments began their indoctrination. They came to save me from further pain and humiliation and punishment. They came to keep me quiet so that I would not be attacked, so that I would be safe.

I understand this. I truly do. And I appreciate their effort, their intention. And now I have something to say to them. 

You did protect me, you did keep me quiet, perhaps in a time when that really was what I needed to do to keep living and keep going. 

But, dear jury, you then became rigid and took your role as one that lasts a lifetime, which it is not. 

To remain quiet is to keep me out of life’s mainstream. To keep me from living fully, passionately. To keep me from taking risks, which also keeps me from potential joy and delight found when taking those risks. To deaden me before I am dead. To live a life on the fringes and behind the scenes. To live and yet not live my life. To accept sad resignation as natural. To not learn all that I could be, and also possibly not be.

 Failures are part of life, but they do not mean that I am a failure. 

So, the photo shoot is done. And I am not backing out. I will breathe through the experience of what my reaction is when the magazine comes out. I will breathe through the internal opinions, comments, judgments. And I will keep going. 

And maybe, just maybe, it will be ok. It will not be perfect. It will cause reverberations within me, will cause tension and doubt. But, it will also be proof of a risk taken, of daring to allow myself, with all of my imperfections, to be seen and heard. It will be a “No!” to the constant message to be invisible and quiet. It will be a yes to jumping into life more. 

So, come along jury, for this journey. We can keep this discussion going. You have served me in my life, and it is time to step back, relax a bit, and trust that it will all be ok. You can trust me more. You can ease up. It’s going to be ok. We are going to be ok. Because this is life. And I am still alive. And it’s ok to really live while I am still alive, to fully inhabit this body and this life before it is time to go. Take my hand. We can do this. 

Unmuting Myself

I have lived most of my life being fairly quiet, doing my work quietly, not wanting to draw too much attention to myself. This was what I learned to try and do to feel as safe as I could in the world. This wasn’t too easy, since I was an only child, which made it much harder to hide. So I figured out a way to become less visible, less vibrant, less in the spotlight, less seen, less vulnerable.

I have handled my career this way (I was a social worker), even getting the comment from a psychologist that I worked with that I “quietly do what needs to be done”. No fanfare, no pointing out things that I had done. Just quietly doing my job as well as I knew how.

I have done this in relationships, thus sabotaging them because if someone does not truly express all of who they are or feel free to ask for what they really need, that relationship has no chance to really thrive. And we also then act out the parts of us that we think we may have shut down, but that manage to make themselves known anyway, and not always in the healthiest of ways.

And now I am retired.

I have been able to come home to parts of myself that I didn’t have time to attend to. The artist within. The writer within. (Notice that these are also passions that are, at least for me, best done alone and quietly). No surprise there.

However, there is a difference now. I now submit both my paintings and my writing online for others to see, to read. For others to see and hear me. I am daring to call attention to myself.

It is exciting, and also scares the hell out of me. I am leaving my comfort zone, daring to ask to be seen and heard. I am breaking the self imposed rules for staying safe, or as safe as can be, given that life is not really safe.

I am taking the mute button off myself. I am daring to express my voice.

To my delighted surprise, I have had some of my paintings accepted in online exhibits. I have had some of my articles published. I am thrilled.

There is also a part of me that fears that I will be discovered soon (imposter syndrome) and that others will see that they made a mistake. Ah, the internal jury within is a fierce one. The jury that , in its efforts to try and protect me, judges me as not good enough for whatever it is that I might try. I have many discussions with this jury, and let them know the limits and scope of their roles and power. And I add new jurors continually, those with a more balanced and fair view. Those who do not mistake themselves for the judge.

So I continue unmuting myself.

My lovely friend, who supports my painting and writing and growth, and who is a fierce New Yorker who has not hidden in her life, recently recommended me as the feature resident of our very small local neighborhood magazine. My initial reaction was to think and say that I didn’t have anything major to say or to offer to get that kind of recognition.

And I caught myself. I heard what I said to her and myself. And I said “enough”. I think being closer to the reality of mortality does increase one’s courage. What the hell, I tell myself that I am going to die anyway, so what difference does it make? Might as well go for it.

So, I did the zoom interview with the very kind writer for this magazine, who was reassuring and encouraging. And tomorrow, dare I say it, tomorrow is the “photo shoot”. What? Photo shoot? Me? Need I express that the juror whose role seems to be to comment and judge my physical appearance has stood up to take on a major role in this particular endeavor? Indeed, this juror tells me that I should ask the photographer if he has a lens that can take off both pounds and years. I will not ask that question of him, funny as I think that might be to say. I will not make a joke at my own expense. I have had enough of that.

So, I will have my photo shoot. I will hold my breath to see what the magazine looks like when it comes out. I will have a meeting with my jury first, to set some ground rules and limits on their comments and behaviors.

I will choose to be seen, to be heard, to dare to allow myself to be photographed in all of my glorious imperfections, lumps, bumps, lines and wrinkles. I will allow myself to jump into this goal that I have for the rest of my life. The goal of living fully out loud. Unmuted. Visible. Expressing myself with written word and with canvas. Very imperfectly. And that is absolutely ok. It is time right now, right here. It is time.