Friday, June 29, 2012

Day 181: The Consequences of Our Choices

"The price of anything is the amount of life 
 you exchange for it."~Henry David Thoreau

Those who know me, know that I am not a person who believes that things happen for some mysterious, unknown reason, that it is somehow destiny, is just meant to be, or, that it is part of some higher power's plan.

To me, things happen, and our lives go in a certain way because of some choice or decision we either made, or didn't make. You can call it fate, or you can call it destiny, but to me that negates the power we have over our own lives. Every step we take through our lives influences what happens to us, and what the next step will be. Things happen because they are part of life, or more specifically, part of our lives.

But, there are some things that we do not have control over, that we did not and cannot decide or choose, and that we certainly didn't ask for. They are the things that leave us asking, "why?"

Not surprisingly, these are usually not the good things. While there are so many good things, too many for me to even list, life also involves some painful and horrific things. Things that we are never prepared to deal with, but we somehow do because we have to.

I don't think these things happen as "punishment" or because we are bad people. The only answer I have found is that they just come with living as a human being. Our bodies wear out, we get sick or diseased physically and/or mentally, and on a smaller scale (although it doesn't feel that way to us) they happen because somebody else's choice or decision differs from ours (i.e. they don't love us back, they want to move on, etc.).

I certainly did not intend to write such a Debbie Downer post today. I guess it makes some sense since I have been reading about the death of Nora Ephron, the brilliant writer/screenwriter, who wrote some of my favorites like When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle.

She had a great sense of humor and was kind of a cynical romantic (sort of how I feel about things). And, now that I am 50 the fact that she died at 71 makes it even sadder to me.  I was particularly struck by something she wrote in her last book, about how the older you get, you realize that the days are getting shorter:
"You do get to a certain point in life where you have to realistically, I think, understand that the days are getting shorter, and you can't put things off thinking you'll get to them someday. If you really want to do them, you better do them. There are simply too many people getting sick, and sooner or later you will. So I'm very much a believer in knowing what it is that you love doing so you can do a great deal of it."
I have to say that over the past year, this whole turning 50 thing has really made me think about this. And, I am now going to admit in what sounds like the worst cliche yet, I have started to really think about my own mortality and making the most of the time I have left.

And, if I had to give advice to my 15 year-old self it would be this: "There are already many opportunities in my life that I have missed, remember that there is no "do over." Do not miss anymore." 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Day 176: Passion or Obsession?

"Cure for an obsession: get another one." ~Mason Cooley, literary professor 
One of the things I have increasingly noticed at my age is how easily it seems for people to take something they are really, really interested in, enjoy, and yes, maybe even love, and become obsessive (or, as I say OCD) about it.

It is all they talk about, all they do, and they are so one-tracked and obsessed with it, that they don't even see that: 1) other people do not like said "passion"; 2) other people are no longer listening when they talk about it or do not see their body language indicating this; or 3) they have actually started to make other people dislike or resent it, and want nothing to do with it.

I came to this conclusion in two ways. First, I have also increasingly noticed that if this said "obsession" is not one that I share and have started to really dislike, I often find myself with the desire to shout, "shut the hell up!" If I have to hear about your stupid stamp collection (or whatever) again, I am going to kill both you and myself." But, so far I haven't gone postal and done this, and have only heard it in my head and thankfully, have not heard myself utter it out loud.

But more profoundly, I recognize this in myself. After hearing myself drone on and on about my own "obsession," and seeing either the glazed over look in people's eyes, or, having them walk away in the hopes of escaping my incessant yammering about it, has really made me think about the danger of OCDing over anything.

My obsession with being a "writer," or, more specifically a farm/garden writer makes me want to "share" it with everyone. I somehow think it is my personal responsibility to save our small, local, and family farms, and to get more organic, edible, gardens planted, and to stop the "evil" corporations that are ruining our food system. I literally can't seem to turn it off.

However, my enthusiasm has been tempered by reality over the past 6 months (and not in a good way), and I have realized that there really is more to life than farming, sustainable food and gardening or writing about them. And, I seem to have suddenly realized that prior to this obsession, I liked to do many other things and I actually have many other interests.

This really hit home the other night when I was with some other people, and someone who has their own obsession (which in my opinion is way worse than mine) actually asked me to talk about gardening to change the subject. At that moment, I realized that is how people see me, that is how not only I define myself, but how they define me too.

I didn't realize this at the time, but, later when I thought about it,  I wish I would have said, "life is about more than just gardening. I like to talk about so many other things I am interested in. There's art, music, baseball, traveling, cooking, walking, reading, dancing, architecture, beer, tea, chocolate, cheese, movies, comedy, live theater, history, and so much more that we could talk about."

I don't want to be put in such a narrow little box, I don't want to be that one-dimensional. But, I am the one that has put myself there. That means I can take myself out. I am working hard on doing that by once again doing other things that I love other than working and volunteering. I will never stop doing either because I love them too. But, turning 50 has really reminded me that in what seems to be the blink of an eye, life starts to pass you by. Or, as Ferris Bueller said:

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Day 172: On Solstice & Baseball

"Strikeouts are boring - besides that, they're fascist.  Throw some ground balls.  More democratic."  ~From the movie Bull Durham

As hard as it is for me to believe, today marks the first "official" day of summer, aka the Summer Solstice. It is also known as the longest day of the year because it has the greatest number of daylight hours than any other day (brilliant I know).

Lest I digress too much (like usual) and start getting all scientific, the point of this post is that it is summer and I really, really like summer. I know that this isn't unusual, most people do. It's just that as I have gotten older, I seem to have forgotten how to just have fun and enjoy the season like I used to.

I know that it isn't possible to just do nothing all summer like I did when I was a kid. Even when I was in college, I may have had summer off from school, but, that just meant working full time. However, even then I managed to have more play time than work time.

I even wrote this week's Care 2 post about celebrating the summer so that I could remind myself to do the same. In it, one of the things I suggested was to have your own "Summer Film Festival," and I wrote that mine would consist of baseball movies, especially Bull Durham and Field of Dreams. Because to me baseball is summer.

This got me to thinking (of course it did) about how much I used to watch baseball and how much I love the game, and how much I missed watching it. It is just one of many things I stopped doing or enjoying for many years, and that I have rediscovered this past year thanks to my friends who always remind me that life is short, and that there is more to it than working and volunteering.

So, in that spirit, I decided to take it a little further than just watching baseball movies by going to some games as well. I thought it was especially fitting to start this on my actual 50th birthday and so when we went to San Francisco, I went to see my Giants play (among other things I did in the city).

And, on Monday I had a rare chance to see my Giants play the Angels at Angel Stadium for an inter-league game. Unlike last night, my Giants won.
Giants warming up at Angel Stadium
I have to say that going to the stadium and watching the game live, with all the sights, sounds, and aromas, was just as great as I remember. And, I will definitely be going to more games.

"A hot dog at the ballgame beats roast beef at the Ritz." ~Humphrey Bogart

Giants won 5-3, was surprised that there were so many Giants' fans there chanting with me, "Let's go Giants!"

Friday, June 15, 2012

Day 167: One Month (+1 day) Post 50

Ah, nothing like starting out a post by repeating the same tired cliche: "time sure does fly," especially as one ages. I remember how the days seemed to crawl as I awaited my 18th birthday and then my 21st. But, once I turned 21, and especially once I graduated from college, it seems like somebody set my clock to warp speed and it hasn't slowed down since.

I meant to post this yesterday on the 14th which was actually "one month post 50!" But, I was just too busy and too tired last night to stay up and write. So, since it is my blog and nobody is the boss of me (that was for you Missy), I am writing it now.

I am not sure what I expected when the big day came. Did I think I would suddenly feel "old?" Or, that I would suddenly be wise and stop making the same stupid mistakes I always do? Yeah right. I may be 50 now, but I am still me, mistakes and all, over thinking at times, and not thinking at others, and always, over committing and over doing.

I am also beginning to realize that while I am working hard on changing some things that I don't particularly like, that I am also coming to some reluctant level of acceptance of others that I either cannot or will not change. And, depending on my mood, I choose which to focus on.

When I am feeling like working hard on being what I think would make me a better person, I have found some quotes to inspire me to keep changing for the better:

Conversely, when I am just tired of thinking and just feeling "spent," this one makes me feel a whole lot better (thanks to my buddy Howard for posting it on his FB wall on his 50th birthday):

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Day 162: An Old Dog CAN Learn New Tricks

When I look at my life since I gave up a career that made me miserable (way back in 1994), as hard as it was, I realize that making the leap and changing something that really, really did not work for me, was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

As I wrote about last week, change is hard and it requires you to give up a lot, sometimes more than you even realize at the time. I had a "secure" job that paid pretty well, with full benefits, and I was using my hard-earned M.P.A., and my research and writing skills. But, I was miserable and saw that it was a dead end. More than that, to keep moving up required me to compromise myself, and that was something I just couldn't do anymore.

So, I left. When I did, it certainly made our lives much harder, especially for the first few years. At first my leaving wasn't intentional. I went part time to help my hubby heal from his first broken hip (that is worthy of its own blog posting) which he broke 21 days before our wedding (and yes, this also merits yet another blog posting).

And, as I was prone to do when I was younger, I made an impulsive decision; once I went part-time, I thought it was working out so well that I just quit without any actual plan or income. Not surprisingly, I saw that it wasn't going quite so well once the reality of the situation was reflected in our checking account.

I floundered for several years until (again) quite accidentally I stumbled on something that I loved to do but alas, did not pay much. So, I took whatever part time work I could find to supplement our income. I was a merchandiser for Hallmark cards, a merchandiser for Burpee Seeds (way before I knew what GMO's were) and I even worked as a tutor for ESL students. And, I wrote for local businesses and non profits and started building up my writing portfolio.

Ah, but again, I am digressing too much. The point of all this is that after hitting on farm and garden writing, I started to write for anyone I could find, whether they paid me or not (yet another painful lesson to learn, don't work for free). But, I loved it. It got me thinking about work in a way I never thought of before: you can actually like what you do for a living.

It also got me to start gardening and to take classes to learn more, until I finally went so far as to apply to the UC Master Garden Program. Much to my surprise, I got accepted and have now been certified for 8 years!

Aside from being a UC Master Gardener, I also volunteered for other groups in my community. I never thought about getting something from my volunteering, but, I not only have met some wonderful people, it has also led me to another thing that I love. That is teaching gardening classes to seniors at Torrance Memorial Medical Center.

Somebody I had volunteered with many years ago, recommended me to become the Editor/Writer for the newsletter for the hospital's 50+ (seniors) newsletter. And, since it fell under the Health Education Department, I was able to ask if I could teach some gardening classes.

I have been doing that for two years now, holding classes only in conference rooms at the hospital. But, my years as a volunteer at the Torrance Farmers' Market (I write the newsletter) have paid off. The Market Manager also happens to be the Community Garden Manager and I asked if there were any open plots. She said there was one that was overgrown, and if I cleaned it up, we could have it. So, now we finally have a place to work in the ground.

Plot before weeding

Plot after weeding
My "boss" at the hospital is ordering these for me and I couldn't be more excited.

This is a screen shot of .pdf of my new business cards

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Day 157: Weeding It Out

"Some faults are so closely allied to qualities that it is difficult to weed out the vice without eradicating the virtue."~Oliver Goldsmith, Irish essayist, poet and novelist

Today turned out to be a day of weeding things out. It started this morning when I actually got into my own garden to plant some pole beans and burpless cucumbers (yes, they are indeed burpless and tasty too) and to do some weeding. It continued this afternoon when I went to weed the community garden plot for my senior garden program. And tonight, it ended as I was weeding through the paperwork that has piled up on my desk.

While I was weeding, I got to thinking (big shock I know) how weeding a garden bed is a never ending chore and yet, we keep doing it, almost without thinking about it. Or, about the fact that it never truly ends.

That's not to say it is an easy chore. If you let them grow too tall, getting rid of weeds requires great physical effort. Even if they aren't that big, it requires commitment and effort to keep them under control. And yet, we keep weeding. And, not just in the garden.

We weed out all kinds of things. Usually they are things that are easy to get rid of. Like weeding a garden bed, we don't even think about it when we do it: we weed through the fridge, getting rid of spoiled food; we weed through our closets and dressers getting rid of old clothes; and we weed through our mail, our files, and our paperwork. We get rid of things that we don't need, that are no good anymore, that we don't have space for, or, that basically serve no purpose. And, we do it to make room for newer or better things.

But, the things that really matter to us, the things that we should weed out, we don't. These are usually the people or things in our lives that make us unhappy, that create a constant source of drama or problems for us, or that hold us back.

Often, they are the parts of ourselves that we just can't seem to let go of, or, that we don't know how to get rid of, or that require too much emotional effort to get rid of.

It is much easier for us to exert ourselves physically than emotionally. Maybe that's because you can easily see the results when you complete the weeding of a garden bed. It is obvious and there's an immediate payoff to the hard work. And soon, the space you have cleared becomes home to the things that you want to grow, to the things that bring beauty and joy to your life.

But, if we weed out those things and people that serve no purpose in our lives other than to create this unhappiness, imagine how much we could grow once we are not crowded out or held back by them.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Day 154: Can An Old Dog Learn New Tricks?

As I have written here several times before, I over think things. And, as should be obvious by this blog itself, I have really excelled at over thinking this turning 50 thing.

But, since I am 50, it is more than likely that I will not ever change this. Instead, I have come to a reluctant acceptance of it. Now, when I start to feel that my head is going to explode from all of this thinking (note: I did not say it was always deep thinking), I force myself to think of something else, or to do something else, or to talk to someone else.

Naturally, all of this thinking about my over thinking has led me to think of something else ;-P. That is this: at what point does change just become too hard? Or, can you teach an old dog new tricks?

This has come to me during the past year because I have been working at changing the things about myself and my life that I feel just don't work for me anymore. This is one lesson that I have finally learned, and that took me until my 50th year to get: Don't settle for things that don't work for you. Don't try to keep making yourself fit into some box that you don't fit in. I have already wasted too many years doing that. I don't have another 50 years to give up anymore. You don't think of that when you are young. At least I didn't. You always think you will have more time and more opportunities. Or, you think that somehow things will just get better.

They don't just get better. You have to make them better. All the bitching and whining, and yes, over thinking in the world, will not change things or make my life better. And here's another "duh" obvious statement that I never got at 20, 25, 30 or even 40. It is only the doing that will change things. And, the doing is one of the hardest things there is. I see this not only in myself but in so many other people in my life. They stay in careers that they hate, or in relationships that make them unhappy, or live somewhere they hate, because change is so hard, and because of what they'd have to give up or because they are afraid to be alone, to be broke, or, to be considered a "failure" or some other thing they are afraid of.

But, what we often don't see is what we will gain instead of what we will lose. And, seeing change as positive is the first change that needs to be made for most of us. 

Steve Jobs, Stanford commencement address 2005