Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Best Gifts of All...

Alas, Christmas is over… Don’t get me wrong, I love the holidays (it’s my favorite time of year) but it seems that over the years, things have become increasingly more hectic… Time is literally fleeting, lol.

I’ve also noticed that as I’ve gotten older, my taste in gifts has gotten more expensive (lol)… this same phenomena has been happening with my kids as well. They increasingly want the big ticket items, whereas when they were younger, it was easier to please them with a box of crayons, playdoh, and Matchbox cars. It’s challenging to get them to focus on the reason for the season and to understand the real gifts in life…

Thus, while reflecting about my most treasured gifts, I found myself thinking about my experiences in 2011… just what did happen this year?

Well, I certainly had my share of up’s and down’s... I was blessed with a stable job situation so my family didn’t have to worry about where they were getting their next meal or where we were going to sleep that night. I received the loving support of numerous family and friends - prodding me onward on those days when I just wanted to throw in the towel and sit on the sidelines. This year was also one of pain and loss - having to say good bye to loved ones that passed away and to relationships that moved on.

But through all things, these collective events are joined by a common thread: the fact that these experiences – great or small - were gifts – gifts that would allow me to grow just a tad bit more and helped me to appreciate the joys and follies the year had to offer. So here it is, my list of the Best Gifts of All:

RELATIONSHIPS Without a doubt, the unswaying love and support I have received over the years from my friends and family is what has carried me through the toughest times in life. This year was no exception – my friends being my source of refuge and comfort… my home base. Because of their unconditional acceptance, I can be my vulnerable self with them… they allow me to share my up’s, my downs, and my periodic lapses in judgment (lol). In the end, they always see the beauty within and have served to safeguard my spirit when life has taken its toll.

INSIGHTThe year was fraught with many an “a-hah” moment for me, helping me to gain a deeper sense of understanding as to why things happen as they do, especially when things don’t go as planned. As a control freak in recovery, I am learning to let go more and more – giving myself to the present so that I might fathom the significance of the moment, the here and now. In the words of the wise Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, “only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.” It is a process… and reflection and insight have enabled me to deepen my sense of self and appreciate the awakening that occurs as a result.

PERPSECTIVE While I like to think that I am open-minded and can see things from multiple perspectives… the reality is that I have some inherent limitations. My thinking is biased, colored by the many boundaries of my life experiences. Thankfully, a multitude of people – friends, colleagues, fellow bloggers, writers and even my kids -have shared with me the wisdom of their perspective. And in doing so, they have given me different angles with which to see and understand things. Oftentimes, when I am unable to see the forest from the trees, it is through these multiple lenses that I am able to not only see the forest and the tress, but the path that runs through it.  

WISDOM For me, gaining knowledge comes with living and learning. In this context, I am not referring to “knowledge” that is usually acquired by reading a book or obtaining a particular degree – I’m referring here to the idea of being life smart – learning the lessons that life has to teach me, gaining a greater sense of self and embracing the joys and disappointments in life equally. George Bernard Shaw once said, “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” I take comfort knowing that my many blunders this year were not for naught, lol.

COMPASSION As I listened to Fr. Boyle (founder of Homeboy Industries and a humanitarian) speak at a conference I attended, I learned what it meant to have compassion. His anecdotal stories about the homies and homegirls he worked with made me realize that compassion has no limitations – there is no “us vs. them,” only us.  “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals… [it] becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” (Pema Chodron) It is about seeing that in the grand scheme of things, no life is worth more or less than others; that I share more commonalities with folks than I do differences.

LOVEWhat can I say about LOVE? Probably so much that it could be a separate blog post in and of itself, lol. But here’s what my experience with love was like this year: I knew love in its many forms and dimensions… romantic love, supportive love, unconditional love… gratefully, love has continued to be a central part of my life. It is what sustains me: it rejuvenates my soul when all feels lost, and rekindles my spirit when darkness wanders in. And while love tends to contribute to the range of emotions I might experience, it is because of love that I have been given the gifts of relationship, insight, perspective, wisdom, and compassion.

Thankfully over the years, I’ve gained a richer perspective on the holiday season…
it’s made me much more appreciative for the intangible gifts in life. I’ve learned to recognize that sometimes what I want is not necessarily what I need.

I now understand that “the season of giving” did not stop at Christmas, it continued all year long for me – maybe it wasn’t exactly the way I wanted things to happen or how I had planned… perhaps it was even getting something that I didn’t want. But in the end, my experiences with people – be they brief encounters or long-term relationships – have filled me in some way… always bringing me back to me – and that is the greatest gift of all.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Owning the Age Thing...

The holidays are my favorite time of year – not only because it’s the holidays and there's festivities that surround it, but because my birthday falls somewhere in between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But this year is special… special because I am turning FIFTY, Whoo-hoo!

Now, I can proudly utter my age and make no bones about it… but I’ve noticed that that’s not necessarily the case for many people (mostly women) who are midlifers. WHY? How did we become a society where the older we get, it becomes almost embarrassing to utter our age? Why is it we can benefit from the wisdom of aging and still be stigmatized for it?

Well, I suspect that for many folks it has to do with the images we’ve been inundated with for decades, i.e., that youth or youthfulness is the ideal image to have… not aging. Hence, once many of us get past being able to “pass,” panic can set in and many folks start to resort to the promise of agelessness via the plethora of plastic surgeons, anti-aging skins creams, botox specialists, laser treatment centers, and hair replacement remedies. It’s a billion dollar industry that benefits by keeping the cultural mindset on staying young.

The unfortunate happenstance to all of this is that there is so much emphasis on our outer appearances that we fail to see the beauty within ourselves. We forget that true beauty lies within one's character not with exterior features. Now that is a shame!

For me, age is a state a mind (yes, I can say that despite the aches and pains I do feel now and then after a good workout). And getting older is as natural as living. So I’m not apologizing for getter older nor am I buying this “shame-on-me-for-getting-older” gimmick that the beauty industry would have me soak in. No, instead I choose to be me… a 50 year old who appreciates the wisdom gained with life experiences… in awe at the constant development of life and all its creatures… and one who embraces the knowledge that if life is all about the journey, then one might as well have fun along the way.

So, just for FUN, I tried my hand at creating a David Letterman’s list on the top 10 reasons why it’s great to be aging as a midlifer.


10. Your frequent trips to the bathroom can now be blamed on getting older instead of just having a weak bladder.

9. You can say more things uncensored and most young adults will not correct you but merely smile and nod.

8. It takes less time to shave body hair (although, for women we seem to get hair in places we didn’t use to it, so maybe this is a double-edged sword, lol, does this happen for men?)

7. You are more comfortable in saying WHAT you want to say, to WHOM you want to say it to WHEN you want to say it.

6. More often than not, nobody questions if you’re right or not when you’re recalling something circa the 1990’s because the younger ones weren’t even born yet.

5. You can take pride in identifying the original artist(s) and song(s) that are playing from a new song (I’ve also noticed that this applies to dance steps as well, i.e., some old moves get new names too).

4. You’ve lived long enough to know that fashion recycles itself, so if you hold on to choice pieces of clothing and shoes long enough, they always come back in style at some point in your life.

3. You can blame your momentary lapses in the brain or forgetfulness on having a “senior moment.”

2. You care less about what others think about how you look and more about how you feel when you’re with them.

1. You have more clarity about personal limitations (just because you can doesn’t mean you should); 
You have a greater understanding of what you can change about yourself and should;
And the wisdom to know whether you’ve already been there and done that.  

Okay, that’s my stab at laughing at life. How about you – what others would you add to the list???? You can probably do better than this, so please share. The more the merrier…  and CHEERS to aging, cheers to life!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Being Grateful for the Bumps & Lumps in Life…

It’s almost Thanksgiving… again. A signal that the holidays are fast approaching and that we will be closing out the 2011 year in the very near future. Like most of us, this particular holiday is one that gives me pause to stop and think about the abundance of blessings I have enjoyed over the year. Initially, I thought I’d write about what I am grateful for and so on… how original, right? Lol. But lately, a number of events have been happening that have given me pause to reflect on the state of my life in different ways.

It has made me wonder - just how did I get here? The short-answer to a long story: the bumps and lumps…

Yes, that’s right - those nasty and wicked events in our lives that we didn’t ask for, couldn’t or didn’t anticipate, and really would care not to repeat again in any lifetime. I’m talking about those dark moments in our lives when (at the time) life seemed grim, hope was all but dashed, or in some instances, one experienced heartache and grief beyond belief. Yes those…

Those treacherous bumps and lumps – as much as I hate to acknowledge it – are also responsible for a lot of the good that’s happened in my life as well. For example, despite two bad marriages, I have two wonderful kids. Moreover, if any of my marriages had lasted, there is no doubt in my mind that I would be leading a much different life right now than I am today… and probably would be living in a different town as well.

I would not have had the opportunity to meet the many beautiful people that have come into my life over the past few years – people who have touched me in ways that makes the heart grow stronger. Even some of my personal relationships that went awry have managed to help me heal from past hurts (as strange as that may sound). With the new people in my life, I have learned more about myself than I could ever have imagined.

Because of those dear bumps and lumps, I started taking dance lessons. Dance has always been a part of my soul as I was always in dance classes since I was little. But oddly enough, dance was always the first thing that left my life when all the responsibilities of marriage, children and work required my attention. So it was like finding an old friend when I finally step foot into a dance studio and began to move to music again.

I certainly would not be writing either were it not for the bumps or lumps that put me on this path. I actually thought I was on the path to being an academic, working on research articles for publication in a peer reviewed journal as I worked towards tenure. I thought I was on that track… I hadn’t even dared to dream of writing in a creative forum, what more write for my own blog.

It was inconceivable at the time, but then the bumps and lumps present themselves in such a way that even the best laid plans can be foiled. Ever have that experience?  

Thus, while those darn bumps and lumps are genuine and REAL pains in the you know what … they are also responsible for some REAL good that often comes about in due time. Time being the operative word here.

In time, the bumps and lumps dissipate - having served their purpose. We, on the other hand, also figure out how to survive the experiences. By “survive” I mean that we have selected a course of action, i.e., thinking about how to move on beyond the bump or lump itself. Do we keep the lesson to be learned or do we simply dismiss it as a fluke or major inconvenience in our lives? Do we manage to laugh back at life or do we retreat – feeling defeated by life itself? We have choices, and how we choose to survive the experience(s) often sets the tone for how we continue living.

In my opinion, bumps and lumps have gotten a bad rap and not enough credit. The most likely reason, of course, is because while we are experiencing the adverse event(s), we fail to see its larger purpose: the proverbial silver lining to it all. These days, I have come to think about bumps and lumps as those road grooves or reflectors in the road that remind you when you have strayed off the road too much. When the car hits them, they make enough sound to get your attention and get you back into your lane. Perhaps bumps and lumps function in this manner: maybe they act as guardrails in order to get us back on track when we have managed to wander too far from our life’s path. Perhaps they are mechanisms that help us refocus or shift our attention to where it needs to be in order for us to live life more fully.  

And so it is with gratitude and appreciation that I give thanks this year, not only for all the blessings that have come into my life, but for the many bumps and lumps that have landed in my life as well… without whose guidance I would not (and could not) be here where I am today.

Many blessings to you and your families! 

Monday, October 24, 2011

The ghosts that haunt us...

Being that it’s nearly the end of October and Halloween is upon us, it seems appropriate to talk about “ghosts.” When I first started to write on this topic, I decided it might be interesting to find out a little bit more about our spirited friends…and then wondered, how did these beings come to be representative of past events or people in our own lives?

Beliefs about ghosts and their existence comes in a variety of forms. The most commonly held belief is that ghosts are spirits of the dead who have been unable to pass onto the next world because of some trauma or tragedy. They are in essence earth-bound spirits who don’t know that they’ve died, so they are unaware of their need to move on.

Interesting… especially if you contemplate the many ways in which people do not know that they’ve stopped “living” in the proverbial sense. They are trapped in some ways by the past or held captive by a traumatic event - their lives a reflection of their inability to move on. Living, it seems, entails a certain amount of dying… dying in that we let go a part of our self – a belief, a memory, or a past relationship – in order to experience rebirth, new life.

How a ghost haunts seems to depend on the nature of their passing or purpose for haunting. Some ghosts seem to be in a perpetual state of replay, i.e., repeating and limiting their appearance to where they once lived, or recreating some traumatic or emotion-laden event.
A sort of paranomal version of Freud’s repetition compulsion…the term a “living hell” comes to mind when you think about it – being trapped in the after world and never finding resolution of the trauma or event. A reminder to us all that while we live, we still have time to turn our fate around. ….eerie sounds of wailing follow, lol.

Other ghosts, however, haunt to give us a message. These kinds of ghosts are apparently the most common and short-lived, in that they usually appear only once. These spirits are aware of their deaths and oftentimes come to give messages of comfort to their loved ones, to say that they are well and happy, and to not grieve for them. Any additional visits are to help the living cope with their loss.
In short: when we experience loss, we should take comfort in the fact that things happen for a reason... our lives will still be okay despite the fact that it doesn't feel like it at the time. We should take comfort in knowing that we will better for it and give ourselves permission to keep moving forward.
A myriad of cultures throughout history have written about ghosts, but the notoriety came with their appearance in English literature – particularly within the works of William Shakespeare, Washington Irving, Charles Dickens, and Oscar Wilde to name a few. The role of ghosts has been as varied as the rationale for their hauntings.

For example, in Dickens’ The Christmas Carol, the three ghosts haunt old Scrooge as a means of helping him change his ways. In Macbeth, the vanquished Banquo haunts and taunts Macbeth so that he appears insane to others.

And in Oscar Wilde’s The Cantervile Ghost, the lovable Sir Simon is frustrated by his inablitiy to frighten the Otis family away. Ultimately, we see the vulnerability of this specter and the lesson learned by Virginia Otis is one of understanding “what Life is, what Death signifies, and why Love is stronger than both.”

Worthy lessons in each tale… and perhaps that’s just what the ghosts in our lives do: they help us remember what it is we wanted to forget yet still need to resolve.

In the romance department (literature and movies), ghosts frequently depict some form of unfinished business (like the unrequited love between Heathcliff and Catherine in Wuthering Heights);

or, the lesson of taking risks when it comes to matters of the heart (like the risk of heartbreak as one that outweighs the regret of never loving at all, as learned by Matthew McConaughey’s character in The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past).

A cursory search on the net reveals that ghosts in our lives can represent:

  • a person from your past that brought troubles and is bringing new troubles again
  • a horrific past event that occurred and keeps bothering you because its memories won't go away
  • a past that comes back to haunt you (not solely a traumatic one)
  • unfinished business of whatever sort
  • reminders of our past mistakes
So what are my ghosts? I’m not so sure I know them all… the good, the bad, or the indifferent. I don’t think I’d want them to completely disappear from my life just yet either. I feel like I still have so much more to learn from them, so to some extent, I am happy to keep a few on board for the rest of life’s wild ride.

There are, obviously, other ghosts in my past that I need to let go and to those, I am happy to release them… but in all cases, these specters of my being – reminders of my existence, are my teachers. And while I may not necessarily like the lesson to be learned that day, I can appreciate their function and be grateful that they don’t necessarily disappear until I’ve actually learned what it is that I need to know!

So, what would you say are your “ghosts”?  Do you have a few for which you are grateful for and plan to keep? And a few that you are happy to say adieu?

As always, please feel free to share… and happy All Hallows’ Eve!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

On Taking Risks: The thrill of adventure… the agony of defeat

When I sat down to write this post, I had initially started by writing about forgiving ourselves… but what I found was that as much as they are interrelated to one another, forgiving ourselves and taking risks are each topics equally deserving a separate discussion of their own. So here it is… on risk.

Everything in our lives involves varying degrees of risk. In this context, I’m referring to risk as the personal liability we experience as a result of our decisions. The range of risk involved can be anything from making financial decisions, to breaking promises or diets (lol) to sharing personal stuff about ourselves… just to name a few. But in all cases, they involve taking chances – we have to risk something. So, when we decide to get into a new relationship, we risk personal heartache. When we decide to buy that new pair of shoes instead of getting the car fixed, we risk the car breaking down. When we decide to break that diet for a piece of extra dark chocolate, we risk gaining that damn pound we just lost… and so on.

Each day our lives are shaped by decision-making great and small, and with that, comes the risk of exposing ourselves to intended and unintended outcomes – the good, the bad, and the ugly. There is no choice in the outcomes, merely the decision that we make will yield something that may or may not be what we wanted – that’s risk-taking!

Generally, most of us prefer to live with as little risk as possible. Quite frankly, I think it can feel pretty scary for us to intentionally expose ourselves to taking risks outside of our comfort zone. We all tend to have a filter of some sort which gives us the parameters of our risk-taking behaviors. Depending on the context and our previous experiences with like circumstances, our degree of confidence in rendering a decision varies as well. This becomes even trickier when we are dealing with “new territory” situations – situations that are brand new to us and we have no frame of reference of to guide us. How should we think about risk taking in those situations? Go for it or wait and see?

As a single mother, I have found myself preoccupied with thinking about the types and kinds of risks I take at many different levels: there are those associated with my career and future goals; those associated with parenting, and of course, those associated with dating and developing new partnerships. Over the years, I have found that my “risk management” skills has become more skilled in some areas, but still lacking in others, lol. For example, I am much more comfortable in taking risks associated with my own personal growth than I am in regards to forging new love interests.

As I contemplated why the discrepancy, I narrowed it down to my perceived degree of competence in making the right decision. In other words, I am more confident about my ability to do the work associated with personal development than I am about my ability to pick partners who are good for me, lol. Therefore, I am willing to take greater risks in the area of personal growth and perhaps be more conservative in the area of dating…. and then, there are certain things where I just won’t cross the line because the risks do not seem to outweigh the benefits.

With time and life experiences, I have developed more perspective with which to gauge my risk taking. Attempting to explore things from many different angles instead of my own myopic viewpoint, and to stay open, even when I know the associated risks in a given situation are high are two such tactics that I employ.

So what happens when you risk and don’t get the desired results? What do you find yourself doing? Do we engage in a round of self-loathing and close the door to ever trying that again? Do we stay open to trying things again and see what happens? Or do we begin to narrow those parameters of risk exposure, recalibrating and readjusting as we carry on? I am certainly not advocating for constant bad-decision making for the sake of risk-taking. But what I am wondering is the extent to which we ask ourselves about how life’s experiences have influenced us and shaped our willingness to engage in more risk or… perhaps, none at all.

Do we see risks as potential personal liabilities to ourselves, or do we see them as ventures into the realm of possibilities? Maybe it’s about thinking about what’s possible…

There’s a favorite quote that I use as one of my mantras, and it goes like this:
Remember that great love and great achievements involve great risk.”

So here’s to understanding that nothing is possible without some level of risk; and that everything through risk is an opportunity for us to learn about ourselves and others.  

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Guest Post Commentary: Chivalry from a Male's Perspective

(Written by my dear friend, "X")

I thought I’d throw my hat in and weigh in on the existence of chivalry (or lack thereof).  Writing from a male point of view, I will admit that my personal view is probably not the view of the masses (most men), but it is still male nonetheless.
Some background on me:  I was raised in a household with my mother and three sisters and manners were consistently emphasized.  My mother was married and remarried several times.  Knowing this about me should give quick reference points to an overall sense of who I have become as an aging (though not aged) adult.

I believe that Chivalry is gasping for air, but it is his ailing cousin Etiquette that should be given the electronic paddles.  I agree with some of the previous posters who hint that chivalry hearkens to a primitive time where the very act signifies recognition of a lower station.  (As I understand) It was a social expectation to act chivalrous to indicate etiquette which was often learned by wealthier men (ironically, from teachers who were women).   Men often behaved according to etiquette’s “rules” as a representation of themselves as educated (which again was a elite privilege), and also to show themselves as good potential mates to women who were also groomed to be properly behaved (and subservient).   I realize that these societal norms cross many cultural lines with some variations, but the core belief remains the same:  (I believe) Men were chivalrous to gain something.  Whether it was a “station” in life they were after or a spouse, it appears that many men were motivated by a type of power.  (Writers note:  I realize that I have simplified egalitarian politeness, which leads to either political power, or male dominance in relationships, but I only seek to make a point that motivations may not be entirely centered on treating an individual as an equally viewed HUMAN).

I have been witness to many male friends who in the process of wooing will open car doors, pull out chairs, and walk on the street side of the sidewalk.  These acts are abundant in the first several months of dating, but decline over time.  Maybe it’s the process of dating that I am commenting on, but I see that it is not only chivalry that is declining, but in these dating instances, it is manners and etiquette that has declined.

My mother raised me to be polite.  She is the first feminist that I have ever known.  She demanded that respect be the ultimate rule for interaction with both male and female.  She made sure that I knew how to iron, cook, and clean a toilet.  She instructed me to be gentle, kind, and slow to speak and this pertained (again) to ALL people.  I called people by last name (until instructed by them to do otherwise) and I was told to do for myself the things that I could do MYSELF, and extend that outward to those that I love.  I’ve simplified many years of upbringing into a single paragraph, but what my mother taught me was not that complicated:  treat all people with respect.  In retrospect, I see her not as a feminist as much as I see her as a HUMANist.

So, now I will tell you that I do hold car doors open.  I walk on the street side of the sidewalk when I’m walking with a female friend.  I make sure I stand when a female friend is leaving to go home and sometimes I even walk my friends to their cars.  Is this chivalry?  Maybe.  But, I think that it is just plain polite.  I may not hold a door open for a male friend, but I attempt politeness in other ways with my male friends (also to show them that they are deserving of respect).

I’m even learning “dancers” etiquette now.  There’s a whole new set of rules (a good blog topic for the future, perhaps), but I still fall on the side of what is polite rather than what falls under the name of chivalry.
Now that I am single, I have discovered a recognition for the “manners” that my mother made certain that I projected.  I challenge myself sometimes with whether or not I am projecting a view that might hint that I am superior in some way (I know that I am not).  As I look for a woman who appreciates me, I am hoping that she also sees that my actions come from a place of respect, and are not for others to view and evaluate, but for her to see that even the smallest gesture (even if it's pulling out a chair) that I am elevating her in my affection.  Each action is an act of respect, care, and a recognition that she is deserving of just that.

I choose civility.  I choose etiquette.  I choose manners.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

My Two-Cents... may be three, on Chivalry

I have appreciated the wonderful diversity of perspectives that folks have contributed in this week’s blog via postings and emails to me. I also want to apologize to my readers of the male persuasion – hindsight is always 20-20 and I realized yesterday that the way the second part of the question was phrased it essentially excluded the male voice, yikes! My apologies and certainly not my intent… it certainly would have been interesting to get the male perspective on the role of chivalry in male-female interactions, period. And so now I offer my two cents – a rather lengthy two-cents on this topic, lol.

But before doing so, I want to share with you some insightful and funny comments I found on the web as to whether or not chivalry was, perhaps, already dead:

“No, chivalry is not dead; however, some say it has taken a leave of absence.”
“No, but it is on life support.”
“No, but it is misplaced.”
“Yes, and women killed it.”
“Chivalry is not dead, it just doesn’t matter anymore.”
“It’s not dead, it’s just dormant.”
“Chivalry isn’t dead, it just lost its value; not to say that women don’t appreciate it, but it’s not expected anymore.”

Interesting! It certainly left me wondering that since we seemed to share a common understanding as to what chivalry is, then do we also have an understanding about its relevance in society… Just what is chivalry supposed to accomplish?

Many a debate took place between me and a dear friend of mine on this very topic, and it is because of these discussions I was able to take my thinking beyond the realm of everyday male-female interactions. But initially, I must confess, I felt very confused and flustered about his position that chivalry actually hurt women in the long run.

WHAT? How could that be? How could chivalry – that which required men to treat women with respectful and courteous behaviors – be harmful for women???

In order to answer to that, you have to examine the societal context in which chivalry exists. The behaviors that characterize chivalry generally denote respect and courtesy from men to women. However, these behaviors have not, nor have they ever been defined by women; they were defined by men. We have all been raised to believe that when a man exercises these behaviors towards a woman, he is a decent man, and a man who does not is generally seen as rude or a jerk. Thus, chivalry is optional.

This dynamic, in my opinion, is quite sinister because we all get caught in the minutia. The bigger issue lies in the fact that chivalry is a matter of choice for men: one can either choose to exercise it or not. Thus, if chivalrous behavior is an option, then what is the societal norm? Is it plausible to argue that the social norm regarding the treatment of women does not require respect and courteous behaviors? Hhhmmm….

If chivalry is optional, then it’s no wonder we can find evidence of how that mentality manifests itself: Like the fact that women still experience pay inequality in the 21st century or that women experience the highest rates of intimate violence and rape or that single-female headed households suffer the highest rates of poverty rates in the U.S., and so on.

         Getting caught up in the small stuff has detracted us from seeing how larger issues do not reflect a society that sees or treats its women in a respectful way. On the contrary. In my opinion, chivalry masks the breadth and depth of the real issues so that we don’t see the big picture. We are placated by the niceties exchanged, but cannot see the hypocrisy of our current societal framework.

         So perhaps the answer as to chivalry’s relevance lies in our beliefs about respect and human dignity for each other. Maybe this is more about civility than chivalry. Maybe we should be talking about our desire for civility (i.e., mutual respect and equality between the sexes) to be the societal norm rather than an optional one... so that we don't have a special word in our vocabulary that highlights the special treatment of one group towards another... it's just expected.

Perhaps when civility is the general norm, then chivalry will rightfully loose its place and relevance… maybe then we might all happily kiss chivalry good-bye. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Should we kill off chivalry???

I have been engaged in several conversations of late regarding male-female interactions - specifically in regards to the issue of chivalry. Invariably, the topic always comes up if you're single and dating, but I have also had some interesting insights shared by married friends as well.

So, in my desire to make this blog more interactive and more interesting, I would like to pose some questions to my readship (am I allowed to use that term for such a small following, lol?) These questions are:

(1) Is chivalry relevant anymore? and
(2) What role does chivalry play in our relationships with men, dating and in general?

PLEASE, do share your thoughts, reflections, and ideas... there is no right answer! lol.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Midlife & "Do-Overs"

I have this dream: one day, I will have published a fantastic bestselling book or maybe I will have written an intriguing screenplay that is going to be made into a movie, or perhaps even have my poetry collection published. The point is I want to be a writer… or as I tell some of my friends – “I want to be a writer when I grow up.” Lol. And while the latter is said sort of tongue-in-cheek, the truth is that there’s something about being mid-point in your life, midlife – where a reference to growing up sounds quite plausible.

I have to say that when I hit the forties I thought life would be smooth sailing for me. At the time, I was happily married, with four kids, a stable career, and a house I could call my own. The epitome of the American dream, but then life happens… and for me, everything hit the proverbial fan when I entered “midlife.” Long story short (and some of you know the long version of my story), I am currently a single mom, my career is (thankfully) stable, and yes, I did keep the house.

Despite the dramatic upheavals, I’ve managed to keep my head on, staying forever optimistic and hopeful about the future.  I still believe in love and marriage, and recognize that all things happen for a reason. The silver lining in all this drama? (yes, there is a silver lining) Is that with each experience comes an opportunity for me to grow and learn about myself… opportunities that I like to call “Do-Overs.”

“Do-Overs” … some food for thought

“Midlife” is typically characterized by the media and movies as a time when folks between the ages of forty-something through their fifties experience life-changing events – more commonly known as midlife crisis’s. Researchers have found that this is a period of time when adults are heavily engaged in introspection and reflection, contemplating where they have been and where they are going. It is yet another stage in our human development when we are seeking identity reconfiguration. The impetus for reassessing our lives in this way is said to stem from our life experiences – death of loved ones, illnesses, losses such as jobs, marriages, and even life-long dreams. According to researchers, the culmination of these experiences has the effect of reminding us about our own mortality, our aging selves both physically and mentally, and our once youthful aspirations.

Being a midlifer myself, I have very much been engaged in a constant state of self-reflection. And contrary to what the media might portray, stopping to take a moment and think isn’t such a bad thing after all – I have often wondered if I might have been a much better human being if I had engaged in this type of self-reflection all along!

And so through my journeys in midlife, it dawned on me that the whole process and experience was very reminiscent of another time in my life - a time when internal chaos and turmoil seemed more the norm; when questions about one’s self-image and sexual attractiveness to the opposite sex abounded; and the sorting through the uncertainty of one’s future led to contemplation of goals and planning. Sound familiar? This all reminded me of adolescence and young adulthood…. The only difference being that I have more control and power over my situation than I did as a young adult…. and the wisdom of an additional twenty-something years of life experiences is advantageous when trying to make sense of things and learn from your past.

It dawned on me that while many people might be lamenting the woes of midlife, there exists a great opportunity that we are missing: the Do-Over. Yeah, you know, when you were a kid and playing a particular board game and you “accidentally” made a mistake – you got a chance to do things over – like re-spinning the wheel or re-casting the die and then continue playing the game. I am not suggesting that life is merely a game, but that the analogy has implications for how we live and breathe through this stage of human development.

The silver lining lies in how we approach the opportunities to “do-over.” While researchers characterize midlife as a depressing stage in the life span where reexamination and reconciliation of life experiences can serve as the springboard for disillusionment and despondency. I argue the contrary: that no matter what life experiences you have endured, the beauty of midlife is its opportunity to learn something from it and heal.

In Freudian psychology, the concept of repetition compulsion says that we play out traumatic events over and over in our lives as a means of gaining mastery over those experiences. “Traumatic” in this sense does not necessarily refer to a death or divorce…. It could be something as inconspicuous as the break-up of your first love or growing up in an unpredictable home environment. Whatever the nature those experiences may be, Freudian psychology says that throughout our lives, we continue to play out these unresolved traumatic events through unconscious behavioral patterns or patterns in decision making that subconsciously recreate a similar event(s). The cycle ends when we have “conquered the demons” so to speak, i.e., we have resolved our feelings and the experience with a positive outcome. 

Midlife presents us with the opportunity to self-reflect about those very patterns of behavior that we may or may not already been aware of. These patterns may have had the untoward effect of undermining our self-confidence, our self-esteem, our relationships both personally and socially, and our overall sense of well-being. Reflection at midlife begs us to engage on a deeper and more profound level within ourselves – For example: I may have patterns of choosing partners that are emotionally unavailable to me… but the deeper reflection asks, “What do I understand about myself in that pattern? What is the nature of the pattern and for what purpose does it serve?”

Simply contemplating the why’s and how’s of our inner selves is vacuous if it is not accompanied by resolution…. A Do-Over implies action - a conscious effort to do things differently so as not to repeat them over in the next twenty-, thirty- or forty- something years left of life. A Do-Over is an opportunity to change any pattern once and for all.

It is important to recognize and not minimize our life experiences, but at the same time it is futile to live in the past. We cannot change the past; what’s done is done. And while we wish we could control others, the reality is we can only control ourselves. So why not focus on ourselves in a way that will lead to increased insight and acceptance of ourselves, and tolerance for our own limitations? Perhaps a Do-Over is just what the doctor ordered - an opportunity to embrace ourselves for who we are right now, instead of bemoaning and regretting that which we have not become.

My hope is that by writing about this subject, people will come to embrace and appreciate the opportunity that midlife has to offer – whether one is single, married, or somewhere in between – midlife is a chance to bridge the chasms within our very being. It is a time to be re-engaged with ourselves in a way that does not promote denial of aging but rather celebrates the wisdom gained from living. It is a time for us to open our eyes to that which has blinded us from being a better human being and to revaluate the relevance of blind adherence to social norms and values. It is a time for us to reconcile our experiences unto ourselves and to heal….

In my mind, it is a stage in our human development where the gift of self-reflection presents us with the opportunity to “do over”…. and hopefully, this time we do it right.