notquiteold

Nancy Roman

Having Lost My Mind

I have now been retired for five years.

I love being retired. I love living my life exactly as I wish. No schedule. No deadlines. No bosses.

And now I have done it. Or un-done it. Lost my senses.

I’ve un-retired.

I saw a posting for a part-time bookkeeper at my local library.

And all of a sudden, I wanted to do it.

Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to work in a library.

Imagine going to work every day in a place that’s full of books and people who like to read books. That is an introvert’s heaven.

I took a day to think about it. And decided that yes, I have indeed lost my mind.

But what if I could fulfill a childhood fantasy at the age of 70? Why wouldn’t I want to do that? After all, my other dream was to be a movie star, which isn’t so likely anymore.

And I had been a financial executive for thirty years. Bookkeeping wouldn’t be so hard. Just part-time too. I could do it.

I sent my resume. My cover letter said, “I know that my resume is a bit ‘extravagant’ for a part-time bookkeeper. But I’m no longer looking to move up in the world. A nice quiet world is fine by me.”

I got the job.

I have been at it for two weeks now.

On the first day, I was sure I had made a grievous mistake. Oh yuck, I thought. I am matching purchase orders to packing slips to invoices. Didn’t I do that in the 80s? And I’m lousy at it, to boot.

But on the second day, I found some of the purchase orders. And I found staples and paper clips. And the bathroom.

I worked so quietly, the staff forgot I was there. They were locking the doors and enabling the security system as they were leaving, as I rushed down the stairs. The librarians were shocked. Shocked that they almost locked me in, and probably shocked that I am even quieter than librarians.

To be honest, that had happened when I was new at my last job too. After working a little late trying to figure out what the hell I was doing, I got up from my desk, and all the building alarms went off. The police came. The company president gave me the security codes the next day.

On my third day at the library, I paid bills. I put checks in the printer and they didn’t even print upside down. Plus, I got out safely before the alarms went off.

Okay!

Week Two: I made a bank deposit and balanced the cash and produced a financial statement.

And I did it in a LIBRARY!

Unedited

I have a writer friend. Like many of my writer friends, I don’t truly know her. She’s a professional acquaintance. I like her. But mostly because I like writers.

I don’t even remember how we became friends – or, more accurately, internet acquaintances. But it was many years ago. Maybe our first books came out at the same time. Perhaps we belonged to some Facebook writers’ page and got to talking. I have no idea. She’s got a ton of Facebook friends, though, so perhaps people are just drawn to her. I certainly am.

Katharine writes ChickLit. I’m not much of a fan of that genre, but I appreciate the craft and its popularity. Good ChickLit makes for terrific beach reading. It’s light, enjoyable, amusing, romantic. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I would even argue that it’s pretty darn good to write novels that so many women love. Millions of women devour Romance novels and ChickLit. A voracious reader is every writer’s best friend.

Years ago, Katharine’s social media was just like everyone’s – family occasions, good eats, travel, and of course, writing.

But over the years, I’ve noticed a change. A change that lately has been bugging me. Katharine’s social media is predominantly selfies.

Oh, I like selfies. I love to see my friend’s beautiful faces. And I like to see my own kisser when I’m looking pretty good.

And Katharine is pretty. Very pretty.

But not pretty enough. Not pretty enough for Katharine.

Increasingly, Katharine is “fixing” herself.

Facetune is the most popular selfie editor, and I imagine that’s what Katharine is using.

Scrolling through her Instagram page, I have to go back to 2014 to see Katharine looking like a real human. And she’s very pretty in 2014.

In 2015, her selfies looked a little airbrushed. Nothing too dramatic. Just maybe a fix to an unattractive shadow.

In 2016, the airbrushing and photoshopping stepped up. Katharine looked beautiful. But she was beautiful before. Now her beauty looked slightly unnatural.

And at the end of 2016, the Facetune app was launched.

And Katharine dissolved. There are no shadows falling across Katharine’s face. Dramatic lipstick is perfectly placed. Skin perfect. Hair perfect. She has no pores. She smiles a gorgeous smile, but there are no creases at the sides of her mouth.

And it bugs me.

Why is her beauty not enough for her?

I am afraid that the more she facetunes, the more she hates what she sees in real life. She can’t compete with the enhanced version of herself. Who could?

Some are calling this problem Snapchat Dysmorphia. People are going to plastic surgeons seeking to look like their own internet personas.

But here is when it gets more complicated for me.

I know a different person, (I’ll call her Sally), who recently had plastic surgery. And some of her friends are irritated with her. Why would Sally have surgery, they ask, when she was just fine? And when these friends were criticizing what they considered to be needless surgery, I said, “If it makes her feel better, and it doesn’t hurt you, why do you care?”

Oops.

Katharine has gone a little overboard in facetuning her selfies.

But how does that hurt me? Why do I care?

Am I really concerned that she will end up hating herself because she can’t measure up to the image she created?

Maybe.

But maybe I am more like the friends who are criticizing Sally.

I’ve taken some time this week to get honest with myself.

Yes, Katharine’s edited version of herself bothers me. Not only because of her insecurities. Because of mine.

Katharine is beautiful. Naturally beautiful. She’s more beautiful than I am. But apparently, she’s not beautiful enough for herself.

If she doesn’t think she’s beautiful enough, and she’s more beautiful than me, then I must be even more unattractive than I think I am.

That is the thought that hurts.

Katharine is raising the bar too high. If she can’t measure up, then I certainly can’t.

Oh, I do wish that we could accept ourselves as we are and not see our uniqueness as imperfections. We don’t have flaws – we have character. We have distinction.

But here I am. With hair dye and makeup and contact lenses and the very latest fashion. Trying to present a better me to the world.

And Katharine with her Facetune selfies, and Sally with her plastic surgery – that’s what they are trying to do too.

So today I say to Katharine and Sally – “You are beautiful. You are beautiful however you choose to be.”

Tomorrow I may say it to myself.

Oversharing

Today at the drugstore, the kid at the cash register was one of those Oversharers.

You know the type. Most often, it is an older person. Maybe lives alone. Maybe lonely. The old lady at the supermarket who starts by asking you about the pickles you are buying, and ends up telling you about her grandchildren, her arthritis, and how her Uncle Harold used to make, not only pickles, but pickled beets and pickled beans and a bit of moonshine on the side. And Uncle Harold was married to Aunt Helen, but he also had a girlfriend on the side. And they are all passed away now. But how she wishes she had the recipe. For the beets, not the hooch.

But the kid in the drugstore was a young boy, not more than twenty. He was cute, with dark curly hair and red lips.

I walked toward the register with my one pricey birthday card, the kind that doesn’t even say what you want it to say, but if you made one yourself that said what you wanted it to say, you’d look like a cheapskate, so there goes $8.99. (And of course, you know you will screw up the envelope.)

I was still fifteen feet from the register when the boy sprang up from the sunscreen aisle.

“All set to check out?” he asked.

“Well,” I said, “I still need a snack.” I have yet to exit a drugstore without a snack.

“Pick a good one!” he said. And I did. Snacks don’t get much better than potato chips. The kid approved. “I like those too. They’re the best.”

At the register, he told me he had just started his shift.

“I didn’t get a ride today. First time I had to walk all the way here. It’s a pretty long walk. And it would be such a hot day.”

Yes, his brown ringlets and forward looked a little damp.

“It’s nice, though,” I said. “It began to seem like we would need our parkas until the Fourth of July.”

He agreed. “Yeah, no kidding.” I’m not sure any place other than Connecticut says ‘no kidding’ as much as we do. But we say it a lot.

He rang me up. I didn’t have my discount card.

“Sorry,” he said. I understand that Canadians say this even more than New Englanders, but we apologize all the time here too.

“I got my tax refund today,” he said, apropos of nothing. “I’m going to buy myself something nice, and then I’ll bank the rest.”

Oh, I thought, the connection might be my snack. A treat. Maybe it made him think about treating himself.

“Good for you,” I said.

“Enjoy the rest of the day for me,” he said.

Well, that was a sweet way to say, ‘Have a nice day.’

A few years ago, this conversation would have made me uncomfortable. Why is he telling me about his tax refund? Why did he need to tell me about his walk?

But now, after this pandemic year, I think about these conversations differently.

Certainly, he was an Oversharer.

But the Pandemic has reminded me that you don’t have to be an elderly widow to be lonely. And you don’t even need a Pandemic to be lonely.

Too many people have no one to talk to. It is such a little thing to discuss your day. Not only do people have to keep their worries to themselves. They can’t even share their small happinesses.

I am an oversharer too. But I have a blog. I have a Twitter account. I can tell everyone important things, like how hard it is to see my mom in a nursing home. And I can share stupid, unimportant things, like how little girls wore big hair ribbons in 1910.

I have platforms that allow me to share. That makes me a fortunate oversharer.

This kid got his refund check. He’s going to buy something just for himself. He just wanted to share that little joy with someone.

He picked me.

That’s really nice.

It’s a compliment. He thinks I look like a kind woman. Someone he can talk to. A grandma that he can share good news with.

“Make sure you buy yourself something special,” I said.

My great-aunt Lillian’s class photo. She’s the little one seated on the left. Hair ribbons in 1910 were huge. I don’t know how little girls held their heads up. Thanks for letting me overshare.

Old Poetry

When I was a teenager, I wrote a lot of poetry. 

Some of it was good – I won a few awards. But most of it was typical adolescent mediocrity. Life is never more unfair or more glorious than when you are seventeen.

Most of it didn’t survive. I remember only orphan lines. They come to me sometimes because of a cadence I hear in something else – a rhythm that sounds familiar.

I worship you. You know that.
I give you all in adoration.
You give me back...

What he gave me back won’t come back to me. But I’ll bet it wasn’t good.

Confession, he said, 
is why us Catholics never need the shrink.

How I wish that were true. I think that poem ended with the guy on the next barstool springing for the beer.

Here’s the end of another:

Do you feel the hairs on the back of your neck
suspecting?

I think that one was supposed to be sexy.

Well, you get the idea.

There is one old snippet of poetry that recently emerged from one of those curlicue folds in my brain. It was a poem of four of five stanzas, I think, about the advantages of beauty. At the end of every stanza was the refrain:

If Nancy were pretty, how easy.

I must have been about nineteen when I wrote that. 

I was about nine when I realized that I wasn’t beautiful. And I saw the tremendous disadvantage of being plain even at that age. Mostly, it was Attention that I was seeking at that age.

At nineteen, what I was seeking was … still Attention. 

And not just from all the cute or even noncute boys. Teachers and hiring managers noticed the pretty girls. Even shoe salesmen waited on the pretty girls first. 

It didn’t change much as I got older. At work, I still saw who bosses and business associates, and even subordinates paid attention to. In my personal life, I was the funny, smart sidekick in every romantic comedy you ever saw.  

(Except one. In 1986, when I was thirty-five, I saw the film “Legal Eagles” with Robert Redford, Darryl Hannah, and Debra Winger. Darryl Hannah was so gorgeous. Debra Winger was so ‘everywoman.’ And in the end, Robert Redford chooses Winger. I loved that movie.)

Something else life-changing happened around the same time. 

I was friends with a woman who was extremely pretty. And as expected, I was her witty gal-pal; the tagalong who once in a while picked up Aphrodite’s cast-offs. By that age, I rather accepted the role with gratitude. I figured that once a man got over the disappointment of ending up with the consolation prize, he might find that he actually liked me. I was, after all, smart and funny, and not ugly. Just not beautiful.

But here’s the life-changing revelation. It was not a singular event. Not a lightning bolt, but a gradual awareness.

My beautiful friend complained to me that although she received plenty of attention, it was all superficial. Oh, she wasn’t above using it to her advantage, she readily admitted it, but she knew the attention was based on the nice arrangement of her body parts, and not who she was.

“No one listens to me!” she wailed.

And I could see the truth of it.

And it was the same as my truth. 

No one listened to me.

So if pretty girls are not listened to, and plain girls are not listened to – is it possible that the problem is not the ‘pretty versus plain’ part but the ‘girls’ part?

I want to be heard.

But so do all women. The pretty ones, the homely ones, the fat ones, the thin ones, the ones with disabilities and speech impediments and empty wallets.

I want to re-write that poem.

If Nancy were pretty, she'd still have to yell.

Not Having Children

(I wrote this essay twenty years ago. I published it here for the first time six years ago. This Mother’s Day, I share it again.)

***

I married when I was forty.

It was amazing at that age how many people asked me if we were going to have children. No, I’d say, We’re not having children. What is amazing to me now is that I thought I was lying. Keeping a secret.

Of course we would have children. Forty is still young.

I’m lucky. Lucky in my career, first of all. I am immodest enough to know that my business success is largely due to brains and hard work, but I am also honest enough to know that a part of my success is the result of just too much time on my hands. I work hard because I have no place better to be. I’m not so much ambitious as simply trying to pass the time as interestingly as possible. People at the office listen to me, value my opinion, and pay me pretty good money. How ungrateful I am to rather have a baby.

And on top of a great career, I found a husband at forty. A nice one. Those horrible statistics say I have a better chance of being hit by a meteor. And I want a baby too?

My husband never quite felt the same way. He’s a few years older than I, and was married before to a woman who could not have children. He got used to the idea years ago that children weren’t in his future. He has no experience with kids. He doesn’t think he’d be a good father.

He’d be a wonderful father. I’ve seen how he adores and protects our little cats – feeding them treats from the table, gently untangling knots from their coats, bragging about their exploits long after his audience has lost interest, and, in time, building small cedar coffins through his tears.

When we married, he knew I wanted a baby. He just couldn’t know the completeness of my desire

Early in our marriage, I was late with my period. My anxiety and happiness overwhelmed me. I found myself sitting still for long stretches, holding my breath, counting the seconds until my life changed forever. Two long weeks. I was terrified that it wouldn’t be true; I failed to see that my husband’s fear was different. A baby would be great…but…financially, things are tough right now, it would be career-limiting for you, we’ll be retirement age when college tuition is due, we could die leaving a child for someone else to raise… I never really listened past A baby would be great. When my period finally came, I was quietly devastated. My husband was kind and sweet, but woven through his condolences were the unmistakable threads of relief. I spent all day in bed with the shades drawn. I’d feel him every so often watching me helplessly from the doorway, as if he knew he could not enter my grief. I guess it would be nice to have a baby, he said. I know how happy it would make you.

I am the most selfish person on earth.

The following month my doctor recommended a fertility specialist. I put the referral in my purse, knowing I wouldn’t call.

But even without professional help, I was sure I would get pregnant. Every month I was sure. For ten years. I still cry when I get my period. I try to keep this private but sometimes my husband sees. He comforts me, and I hope he thinks that it’s just hormones. At my age, it probably is.

I am very jealous of mothers. I am jealous of teenage mothers. I am jealous of older mothers. I am jealous of women who get pregnant the first month they try. And I am jealous of women who finally, finally, after miscarriages and disappointments, have their babies.

And now I am fifty. We’re not having children.

Not having children doesn’t take any big adjustments. I am already living a childless life. Now it’s just permanent. It’s a very good life, and it will continue exactly as before. I just have to make some minor modifications of my imagination.

For thirty years I’ve watched mothers with their children and stored little scenes for my own future. I have stolen other women’s moments like a shoplifter who keeps all her pilfered items in the closet, afraid to wear them. My closet is full.

But these clothes don’t fit me any more. It’s time to pack up these images likes bundles for Goodwill.

The first day of school, Mother’s Day cards and macaroni necklaces. Ice skating, singing Old MacDonald in the car. Chicken pox and computer games; soccer practice. Tantrums. Cheerios in the sofa cushions, bicycles in the driveway.

They are such little pictures. Insignificant really. Someone else’s memories. Time to give them up. We’re not having children.

At the restaurant a young boy rests his head for a moment on his mother’s breast. She smooths his hair. He returns to his pizza. Last year I would have certainly snatched up that moment. But now I have no place to put it. I let it go.

There is an emptiness where my vision of the future used to be. But not forever. I am a women with aspirations after all. So I know that there will be new images. Maybe warm fireplaces and good books. Fresh flowers on the table. Beaches. Sunsets. Conversations. Porch swings. I tend to think these new dreams will be quieter dreams, but I know that they are already waiting for me.

All these years I have been saving money for a rainy day that was secretly a college education. But we’re not having children. The money has been redirected.

My husband and I are building a home in the country. It’s a wonderful home on a breathtakingly beautiful piece of land. We designed the house ourselves. So it has almost everything we ever wanted.

Remember the movie, Grand Canyon? I don’t think the critics liked it, but I did. In one storyline, Mary McDonnell is out jogging and finds an abandoned baby in the bushes. She keeps it. Her husband is not crazy about the idea, but he is Kevin Kline and fabulous and their relationship is perfect and they have such a healthy outlook on life that you know it will work out beautifully.

Sometimes when I am out walking, I keep my eyes on the shrubbery.

Ghosted

I just spent all day writing a long piece on the end of a friendship.

I decided not to post it.

Because I realize that after 1500 words, what I wanted to say wasn’t there.

Here is a short version.

A year ago, a friend ghosted me.

She broke dates, stopped calling, stopped returning my calls. I blamed it on the Pandemic.

We were not soulmates. But I don’t believe much in soulmates anyway. I know from decades of family, friendships, and marriage, that even those closest to you don’t always understand you. And that dear friends can get on your nerves as easily (if not easier) than strangers.

But I also believe that you don’t need to be soulmates to be friends. That sometimes friendship is a matter of proximity and convenience – and that there’s nothing wrong with that. Just think back to childhood when your best buddies were the kids who lived on your block. You played with them because they were THERE. And not only was that okay, it was probably good for you. You learned to appreciate people because you needed a friend, and they were right there, ready to accept you too.

I appreciated this friend’s accessibility. We had some things in common and some things not in common. But she was there.

I am also confused and hurt.

Because she “ghosted” me.

One day, I went to her Facebook page, and all her posts had disappeared. She had not “unfriended” me. But there were no posts to see except her cover photo.

It took me another month to realize that she hadn’t deleted her Facebook posts. She had excluded me. With Facebook, you can “unfriend” someone, and you can “block” them (which is worse). But you can also “restrict” them. You don’t have to unfriend them. You can just exclude them from seeing anything you post. That’s what my friend did.

After writing all day about what I may have done wrong or what she may have done wrong, I realize that it doesn’t matter.

Because what I keep thinking about – all these months later – is how sad it is to be excluded.

Ghosting is a cowardly thing. The ghosters never explain why. They just disappear.

I am 70 years old. I have learned over these many years that not everyone will like me. I want to be liked. I sometimes crave approval. But I also know that it won’t kill me if I don’t get it.

I want to grow. I strive to become a better person, no matter how old I am. But I also have come to like myself as I am. It’s no small accomplishment.

Ghosting haunts me, though. (I like the word “haunts” with “ghosting,” by the way. It’s perfect.)

I keep thinking about teenagers. People who aren’t 70. Who don’t love themselves yet.

If ghosting hurts me, when I am in that stage of my life when I have achieved some level of self-assurance and self-love, how does it hurt those young people who are so filled with self-doubt? I think about this because I know that ghosting is a common tactic for young people.

My audience is not young people. I have no way of reaching out to them. I want to reassure them that exclusion is survivable.

I can perhaps reach a few of their parents. I need to tell them this about ghosting:

It’s awful. Exclusion is awful.

Don’t minimize it to your kids. Don’t tell them it’s nothing. Don’t say it doesn’t matter. It’s silent bullying and it hurts.

Maybe you can tell them this: That you know an old lady who got ghosted and she says it sucks. You can’t fix it, but you can acknowledge it.

Someone asked me if I ghosted my ghoster back. I did not. I refuse to use that weapon.

Please parents:

Start young. Make sure your little ones send Valentine cards to everyone. Make sure they bring enough cupcakes on their birthday. Make sure they invite the lonely kid to sit with them at lunch.

For a whole year now, I have felt like everyone got a Valentine’s card but me.

Me. Surviving.

More Lessons From My Phone

Well, last week I bitched commented about how the interior design game I chose for my new phone wouldn’t let me win.

I took a positive attitude, describing how it was teaching me worthwhile lessons about whether to please myself or please others.

But in truth, I was pretty pissed disillusioned.

I am here today with updates.

I have won. A couple of times. It’s very satisfying. I win fake money to enter more contests. It’s very wonderful fake money.

But more often than not, I continue to lose.

But I have learned a couple of new lessons.

The first is that the folks who cheat are not just lucky – they are blessed. Because the way to cheat is to text your friends with photos of your designs, so they will know who to vote for. These guys have friends that will vote for them even if their designs are awful. Those are some pretty good friends. How nice is that?

And the second lesson is even nicer.

Because I have learned that sometimes (maybe even often) I have lost because the other designs are ACTUALLY BETTER than mine. That sometimes I am not the best. Sounds incredible, right?

But it’s very good to know.

And applicable to,

well,

Just About Everything.

***


PS – Amazon is offering the Kindle version of my latest novel, SISTERS, SECRETS, AND THE JUNIOR PROM, for just 99 cents for the next few days. If you thought the sixties were groovy and that high school was confusing, this might be the book for you. And it has a few important things to say, that I snuck in there while making you laugh.

Winning The Game

You know how we translate age for dogs and cats? Like “Old Jasper is 82 in dog years…”  

Well, if there is not an age-equivalency term for electronic equipment, there should be. Maybe we could call it nano-years.  “This old phone?… It’s 107 in nano-years” – which in human chronological terms means: it’s three.

So on to the story…

My old phone was 347 in nano-years, and a few weeks ago, it sent me a text message saying, “That’s enough, lol” (my phone thinks it has a sense of humor) – and turned itself off. For good.

Now I get swindled all the time by salespeople, because my hereditary niceness makes me a poor negotiator. And also because I am an old lady, and old ladies get taken advantage of as a matter of normal business practice.

So my husband brought me to the phone store that gave him a very good deal, determined to get me a good deal too (which I did not have with old GrandpaPhone). 

The sales associate was a nice Hispanic woman. Right away, I was relieved. Those young conceited techno-geeks that usually work in these places always make me feel like I have to pretend to be knowledgeable or something. When down deep, I am sure that all this stuff inside my phone and television and computer is a bunch of magic sauce.

I didn’t have to pretend to understand what a gig or a ram or a cloud might be (although I am partial to the puffy clouds over the stringy ones). I could let my husband pretend. He may actually know, but I have no way of checking this out, which probably takes the pressure off of him too.

The nice saleswoman asked me what I wanted, and I said, “I want it to have a very good camera because my dog Theo is a Twitter celebrity.” Since my dog is more famous than me, I figured it didn’t hurt to name-drop.

“Okay,” she said, “what else?”

“Well,” I said, “my old phone was all filled up, so I would like one that is roomier.”

She didn’t laugh at me, like a techno-geek would have, although she may have stifled a chuckle. “Understood,” she said. She pointed to a phone. “This one.”

“Okay,” I said, using the sum total of my negotiating skills. 

So I have a new phone!

Since it’s much roomier than my old phone, I decided to add something I was never able to download on my old phone: a game.

I looked at a bunch of different gaming apps, and I chose one that looked interesting. It’s an interior design game. They give you a room, and you pick colors and textures and art to enhance the space. Other users vote on the best designs.

But there’s a problem (besides being a huge time-suck). I suck at this game.

I am becoming increasingly frustrated. My designs are beautiful – but no one else thinks so.

I am ready to delete the game.

However, just yesterday, I realized that this game is important. It’s a perfect metaphor for real life. 

It’s amazing, really.

First of all, there are no penalties for not playing by the rules. Because no one voting knows what the rules are. One particular competition may say, “One item should be pink.” But then the designs are shown to the voters with no explanation. No pink, no problem. In real life, people often win by ignoring the rules. 

Next, there’s an advantage to playing it safe. The winning designs are almost always beige. Or grey. Oh yes, better fit in, better blend in. Stand out too much and you’ll look weird.

Then there’s money. You have to buy the paint, curtains, upholstery, rugs, art, vases, and pillows. They give you a considerable amount of play money to buy your stuff. But – all the good stuff is locked, and you can’t get it unless you upgrade your status – with REAL money. I am not paying real money to win fake money. So I have to use the same boring materials over and over again. Just like in real life, rich folks have an insurmountable advantage.

But here is the critical life lesson: What am a willing to do to win?  

I can play the game to please myself. Choose the materials – however limited my selection – that excite me, and use them in ways that make me happy. And lose.

Or – I can study previous contests, determine what other people like, and design something that will please the voters. And win.

That’s pretty much what I have been doing my whole life. Subjugating my own desires to please others.  

Which is okay, I guess – I like that I am a very nice person.

But this is a game. Do I really have to tweak my personality for a phone game?

NO!

I think I will continue to be a loser who has fun.

my losing design

Blame

An old friend from work is in a very messy situation.

She’s a wreck. Her family is a wreck. 

And there is no way to get around it – she brought it on herself.

I’m sure you know someone like Maggie. If there are two choices, she will pick the worse one every time. It’s as if she confronts every decision by saying, “Oh, this way will probably screw up my life, but I’m going to do it anyway.”

And the “anyway” NEVER works out. I wonder if maybe there was a time, way back before I knew Maggie, when a bad decision did work out for her. When she skated away from a mess. Perhaps it was so exhilarating to come so close to disaster – and escape – that the thrill of a bad decision is irresistible.

Honestly, though, I don’t think so. I don’t believe Maggie makes terrible decisions because they are exciting. I think the answer is more mundane. Maggie has no capacity for prediction. There is no “cause and effect” gene in her. Simply stated, she has no imagination.

Imagination is a necessary skill in decision-making. We need to be able to see what could happen. And Maggie’s lack of imagination is specific. She can’t imagine the bad outcome. 

Most of us excel at picturing the worst. That’s why we worry. I wrote once that my mother turned worry into an art form. I named it “Ditch-picturing.” No one could conjure up more vivid images of loved ones lying in a ditch than my mom.

But Maggie can’t picture the worst. (It’s probably one of the reasons she has so many friends, despite our frustration with her.) She never sees the worst when it is right in front of her, never mind imagining future troubles. She has no idea why her life is such a mess.

Oh, we friends advise her. We try to steer her in the right direction. But Maggie is like the Titanic, moving inexorably in the direction of disaster. We may say, “Why don’t you take care of that now, and we’ll help you, instead of missing another deadline?” And she says, “Oh, thanks. I will.”  

But she doesn’t.

And the authorities, whoever they are at the time, eventually come swooping down with demands and penalties and blame.

Of course, she deserves it.

Every lousy thing that has happened to her in the years I have known her is her own fault.

There are bills not paid, calls not returned, forms not filled out, jobs lost, cars abandoned.

And yet, what I feel for Maggie is not blame.  

It’s empathy.

Talking with a mutual friend recently, the friend said, “I can’t feel sorry for Maggie any longer. She brought in all on herself.”

I understand how my friend feels. It’s maddening to watch someone make the same mistakes over and over. We help Maggie, but is it helping or enabling? Can she ever learn to save herself if we keep rescuing her?

And yet. Empathy.

I see that Maggie has made a disaster of her own life. But I also see how easy it is for small disasters to pile up. Or to accept that your life is a mess, and just go with it. To turn a blind eye to your own complicity in the mess.

I can still feel sympathy for Maggie, even as I recognize her responsibility. If someone had cancer from a lifetime of smoking, wouldn’t you still feel sad that they are in pain? Can we find the same sympathy for a person who cannot manage her life decisions as we can for a person who couldn’t manage her physical addictions? Both made bad choices. Can we love them anyway?

Can we forget blame?

Can we forget about what people deserve?

Or at least give people the kind-hearted thing we all deserve – to recognize their humanity, their imperfections, and their pain.

Empathy without blame is a good definition of Kindness.

‘Not Quite Old’ Is Now Quite Old

Another birthday.

A big one.

I’m 70.

Dear God – could that even be true?

Seventy.

I’m not sure what 70 is supposed to feel like. But I didn’t expect it to feel like this.

Like …

Nice.

I just received a card in the mail from a sweet cousin. It made me laugh out loud.

Oh, it’s true. It’s too late to be young.

But – entirely unexpectedly – I don’t want to be.

I have spent the last ten years – or perhaps fifteen – trying rather desperately to stay young.

But I turned 70 anyway.

And to my amazement, I kind of LIKE the idea of being old.

It feels …

Easier.

Certainly, it will be easier to look old. Not that I don’t love fashion and makeup and being in style. So I’ll still be stylish – just ‘old’ stylish. I’m not exactly sure what that means yet, but I’m pretty sure being stylish at 70 has got to be easier than being 60 trying to look 40.

For one thing, I don’t have to weigh what I weighed in high school. Or wear stilettos. Or give a minute’s thought to the perkiness of my lady parts.

More importantly, I feel the burden of ‘accomplishment’ falling from me. Oh, I can still have goals, and I do. But I don’t feel much pressure to accomplish anything more in my life. I wrote and published three novels. I think there is a fourth novel in me – but three is good enough. A fourth will be a bonus. A pleasant surprise if it happens. But I am not a failure if I don’t write it.

In retirement, I’ve rediscovered the joy of painting.

My watercolors please me. They are even profitable. But the second they stop being a pleasure and start being a chore is the moment I stop. I don’t anticipate that happening, but I don’t fear it either. When I paint a portrait, sometimes I don’t succeed. It doesn’t stress me out. It is paper and paint and a little bit of time. I throw away my failures and try again. Did you know that you can try as many times as you want? How easy is that?

No one cares if an old person’s house isn’t spotless. No one cares if an old person’s hair needs a trim. No one cares if an old person’s library books are overdue. And if by any chance there is someone out there who DOES care – well, they just can offer to help out. My mother’s neighbors fight over who gets the privilege of shoveling her drive. I will let my neighbors fight over me.

I will ask for a senior discount on everything.

I will laugh when I want to laugh and cry when I want to cry, and say no whenever I want to. And everyone will love me anyway. Because everyone loves old people.

Not so, you say? Old people are invisible, you say. Well, I’m okay with that too. If no one can even see me, I can do whatever I want.

Except for maybe the neighbors doing my chores, it seems that I could have had most of these pleasures long before I turned 70.

I just didn’t know it.

I’ve been writing this blog for nearly ten years. And every year, on my birthday, I post an unretouched selfie.

I’ve always said that the reasons are two-fold:

1. To say that getting old isn’t so bad
2. To say, “Screw you, Mother Nature!”

But I find that I am down to just one reason, since Mother Nature and I have reconciled.

Getting old isn’t so bad.

Me. 70.