What would a birthday be without a blog post? After all, I wrote my first eight years ago, on my 53rd birthday.
When I turned 30, an old college friend convinced me to do it up big, stating, “No one cares when you turn 31.” True. So for most of us, these ‘milestone’ birthdays tend to be momentous.
Last year, when I told my soon-to-be-retired ophthalmologist that I was nearly 60, he chuckled and remarked that once you hit 60, those ‘milestones’ are every five years instead of every ten years. Yikes, I thought.
But he was (partially) right. There are fewer decades left. I’ve seen too many friends die too soon, dammit.
My pal Christine DePetrillo asks every Friday online, “What are you celebrating?” Some Fridays I don’t have an answer, but it’s not because I’m a pessimist. Yesterday I thought, well, I’m celebrating my birthday this weekend. Sixty-one is as much a celebration as sixty, maybe even more so.
So, I jumped waves at the beach today with my husband, sang along to songs on the radio, accepted lots of well wishes (thank you!) and will indulge in something sweet after dinner tonight. It’s all worth celebrating.
Then again, I’m an author. So I’m never really retired, just able to devote more time to this thing I love. I know people who quit working at a much younger age, and I know plenty who will continue working, either by choice or necessity.
When I walked away from the lucrative job I had as a fraud investigator, I did so because the job, the toxic environment in which I worked, threatened my health. For the next three years, I did not work outside the home. But I tried. I looked for work. I was able to see how much the employment landscape had changed. Back in the 80s, I would revise my resume and send it out with a well-written cover letter to the head of personnel at a company. Ha! Five years ago, I applied online for a variety of jobs, trying to hide the fact that I was over 50, but I knew that whoever or whatever program sorted out applications, mine was likely tossed early.
Then I had an interview with HopeHealth (formerly known as Home and Hospice Care of Rhode Island). Here was an agency that actually valued experience! Here was a place that understood what I could offer. I worked part-time for Hospice from June 2014 until yesterday. I worked at the front desk in the Philip Hulitar Hospice Center in Providence, where old friends and colleagues were admitted at the end of their lives. I assisted in Medical Records, ensuring a patient’s file was complete. I helped out in Quality Control, doing tasks that added to the agency’s compliance with so many federal and state guidelines. All through it, I worked with smart, professional, dedicated people who truly put others before themselves. The years I spent working for Hospice helped to erase the bitter memories of my previous job.
And now it’s done. I’m 60 years old, which to some of you might seem young for retirement. But my time at Hospice has taught me that life can change in an instant. Sometimes circumstances dictate that we keep working, past the time we’d like to have stopped. My husband and I saved aggressively while we worked full-time, and we don’t live large. I don’t know how many years I have left on this earth – thirty? Eighteen? Three? My goal is to keep writing novels, cherishing a day at the ocean, a cup of coffee, the sound of my old dog snoring.
Do you feel it, too? It might be the middle of winter (by the calendar), but I think the changes are palpable. Longer days mean more daylight, as we march toward June. (Then, ironically, the longest day is the first day of summer, and from that day forward, the days grow shorter. How cruel.) Here in southern New England we had a brief taste of spring yesterday, but reality has touched our cheeks with icy fingers this morning.
February, this year, is so busy! Already it’s the 6th day of the shortest month, and I looked at our wall calendar (yes, we’re old school that way) – it’s filled with Sharpie notes and appointments. The dentist, the eye doctor, our accountant, our financial advisor. Book events, and a little research getaway. Days flying, and hoping for no snowstorms.
I mentioned in my last blog post (sorry to be such a recalcitrant blogger) that I’m participating in the 85k90 challenge and it’s working for me, for the most part. I’ve lost a few days due to not feeling good (allergy? sinus infection? cold? whatever, I feel lousy), but have stayed on track, and by today, the 37th day of the year, I’ve written 31,928 words of my new novel. It’s fewer words than I’d hoped for, but after I post this, I’ll return to the work-in-process, still untitled, and hope to log in another two thousand words.
And I’ve managed to read a few books, too. I finished What If I Fly? by local author Jayne Conway. It’s a good first novel by a local author, and I’m looking forward to reading more of her work. Then I stayed local and read One American Robin by E.A. Mann. It’s got a gorgeous cover and that really drew me in. Finally, I finished Seventh Heaven by Alice Hoffman in two days, because I couldn’t put it down. Brilliant!
Anyway, there are still 22 days left in this month – lots to accomplish, changes afoot (I’ll write more about them once things settle), and we should all try to stay healthy!
January usually brings a feeling of renewal. The days are getting longer (they are!). It’s a new year. We have a chance to start fresh, whether that involves your eating habits, exercise routines, spending and saving and investing, or, for me, starting a new novel, January is an opportunity.
As some of you know, I try to complete a novel every year, and because the Association of Rhode Island Authors, a 300+-member group to which I belong, holds its annual RI Author Expo each December, I like to debut the new novel at that time. So January is a chance for me to get started.
This year, I’ve decided to participate in the 85k90 Challenge. Haven’t heard of it? If you’re a writer, or aspiring to be one, this is a terrific place to start. Started as a small Facebook group in 2016, the idea is simple – write 85,000 words in 90 days (January, February, March). I like the year-long plan, because it helps me to plot out the months. Unlike NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which asks you to write 1,000 words a day for a month (usually November, although there’s one in the summer, too), this 85k90 project is more realistic.
First of all, 30,000 words is not a novel, it’s a novella. I participated in NaNoWriMo twice, and I finished, but I was nowhere near done with writing. This year, if I can write (at least) 85,000 words by the end of March, I’ll be ready to step right into first edits. That’s the plan. Second, thirty days goes by quickly. If life interrupts your writing schedule, it’s difficult to catch up. With 85k90, you have more time. You’re still writing about 1,000 words a day, but there are many days when you’ll write more than that, and it gives you a little cushion for the days that maybe you can’t get to it.
The founder of 85k90 is Julie Valerie, a friend and fabulous writer. I’m so grateful to her for her vision and dedication to this project, and I’m right on track to get the new novel written.
And here’s a tiny bit about that new book – It’s going to be a sequel of two different novels. Yep, I’m writing a sequel to AprilinGalwayand combining it into a sequel to AJingleValleyWedding– and it’s working!
I’ve mentioned to a few people that it’s worth subscribing to Netflix just to watch “Springsteen on Broadway,” his almost one-man-show that ran at the Walter Kerr Theatre from October 2017 until a couple of weeks ago. On the day it ended, December 15, Netflix picked it up. And either before or after you watch this program, read Michael Hainey’s article about Springsteen in Esquire magazine. Even if you think you know Springsteen.
As a songwriter, he’s on par with Bob Dylan. As a performer, I’m not sure there’s anyone better alive today. Springsteen’s fans will recount their attendance at his legendary concerts.
He’s 69 now (and before you catch your breath on that, remember, as I did, that we’re all older) and he stands before you, the longtime fan, the new fan, the casual observer, and talks about his life. About his hometown, Freehold, New Jersey, the place he couldn’t wait to leave. About his parents, especially his father, who viewed the quiet, sensitive boy as a sissy. About the father-son relationship (“he was my hero, and my greatest foe”). Spoiler alert: it turns out okay in the end, and it might should make you cry a little.
His first breakdown occurred when he was thirty-two, years after he’d already enjoyed tremendous success (six million copies of Born to Run sold in the U.S.). It was hard to explain. He says, “All I do know is as we age, the weight of our unsorted baggage becomes heavier . . . much heavier. With each passing year, the price of our refusal to do that sorting rises higher and higher. . . .”
As a society, we’re talking more about mental illness these days (thankfully), and Springsteen’s candor must be helpful. As Hainey writes, “Springsteen’s desire to share his demons, and to argue for the need he believes all of us have to confront our own—this is one of the show’s great powers. We ignore our demons, he says, at our peril. . . . This is the work of a man revealing his flaws so that he can inspire us to redeem ourselves.”
Hainey and Springsteen discuss pieces of lyrics (brilliant lyrics) that are so much a part of Springsteen (about the line ‘the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted,’ Springsteen says, “Everybody carries those things with them. It’s a line that always penetrates. It still penetrates for me when I sing it each night.”)
And finally, those two lines from “Born to Run,” – “Together, Wendy, we can live with the sadness/I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul”
He was only 24 when he wrote those words, years before he had his first breakdown. And they’re possibly the most self-describing lyrics he’s ever written.
Go watch “Springsteen on Broadway.” And let me know what you think.
Well, that year flew by. I seem to be saying that all the time lately.
A year ago, inspired by The Minimalists (Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus), I decided to begin my own journey toward living a more minimal, and more mindful, life. If I blogged about it every Friday, I’d be more accountable, and maybe if I had a flash of insight, I’d share it.
It began by cleaning out a drawer, then another. Then a cabinet and a cupboard, and another. Closets, multiple times. I began to look at possessions differently – all those collectibles that my husband I had bought through the years of our marriage, little trinkets of remembrance. Some Many of those items are worth keeping – like the prints and paintings that remind us of a special trip. Other things just take up space.
I’m not done. This is an ongoing project, and I never did clean out the garage as much as I’d wanted to, so I’ve marked that as a fall project. We still have our beloved dog, Bonnie (thankfully), so the well-worn furniture that she claims as her own stays, for now.
My friend gave me this wonderful bracelet for my recent birthday – how thoughtful she is, especially knowing how I feel about plastics and ocean pollution. Please click the link for more information about how you, too, can help. Gifts with purpose!!
If you’re overwhelmed with clutter, know that if you want to change that situation, you can. And if you look around and think you can never live more minimally, start small (like I did). Start with one drawer. Or, start on August 1 and get rid of (meaning, recycle, repurpose, or toss out) one item. On August 2, do the same with two items, and go through the month that way. You can throw out an old tube of mascara on August 1 and donate a worn but still wearable pair of shoes on August 2. Yes, you can do this.
So even though I won’t be blogging every week about my journey, the journey continues.
I’ve only had a few birthday parties in my 60 years on this earth. Birthdays weren’t something my parents made a big fuss over, although the celebration was always enough. Hamburgers on the grill, chocolate cake with white frosting. “Milestone” birthdays are usually a bigger deal (until they aren’t). Although this year, celebrating with my two sisters, brother-in-law, and husband was one of the best days ever.
I’ve never liked having my picture taken, so I don’t get the obsession of some people with selfies. I see myself in photographs and cringe – bad hair, fat face, goofy look, whatever, I could always find a flaw. Adding three pictures of myself to this blog post feels self-serving.
Through the years, I’ve celebrated my birthday with family and friends, most of the time. In 1981, I was working as an au pair in Switzerland, living with an unhappy couple and their badly behaved little boy. On my birthday, I broke a lamp in their house. It was an accident, but oh. Not a good day. She was much more forgiving than he was.
The year I turned 40, my husband and I went to Boston, and, as it turned out, we were back there for my 50th ( I spent my birthday facilitating a roundtable discussion with fellow fraud investigators). But, our hotel room had a view of Fenway Park and I ate chocolate-covered strawberries.
I’ve lost some friends over the years. By the time you reach this age, it’s not completely unexpected, although I do expect to attend wakes and funerals for the parents of my contemporaries, not my contemporaries. Still. Jeff, Steve, Lucy, Kevin, Sue, Paul, Kathy, Jack, Patty, Susan, Michael, Andy, Danny, Carole, Tom, Pat, Karen, Joe, Tim. Always remembered.
My friend Tommy Hobin (we’re going on 48 years now) says we’re living in “bonus time.” How many of us can say we’re still alive thanks to good fortune or dumb luck – those narrow escapes we reminisce about but don’t want to share with our children or grandchildren. Bonus time.
This year we won’t be in Boston, but I’ll be somewhere near the Atlantic Ocean. I had a new headshot taken, by my dear friend Dianna Solimeo of Vee’s Photography. It’s me at 60, with my Coke-bottle eyeglasses and lines on my face. It is a true photo of the real me. Maybe, finally, I’m okay with it.
If you’ve read this far, you deserve a reward! Every single one of my books (all eight) are discounted to 99 cents for the digital version. Seven novels, including my Swiss Chocolate trilogy, and one nonfiction. I’ll keep the prices low for a week or so. 💛💚💙