A Way to Cope, a Way to Rest

People find all kinds of ways to cope during difficult times. The plague of coronavirus coupled with the anger and divisiveness that’s rocking our nation currently, has sent many people to their therapists seeking help.  My daughter, who’s a mental health counselor, says her online client load has tripled.

I’ve benefited at different times in my life from therapy, but one of my mainstays for good mental health, something that is both free and easily accessible, has been meditational prayer.

I learned to pray going to church as a young girl when God was a magical, white-bearded being that looked and acted a lot like Santa Claus.  My every wish was his to grant.  If I just prayed hard enough and long enough, always humbly on my knees, I would be blessed with getting what I wanted.

As I grew up and changed, so did my prayers.  They became less about God doing my will, and more about me finding answers within myself.  And, in order to gain this understanding I had to inventory my thoughts and feelings in an honest, nonjudgmental way.  I talked to the “god within me” to help sort out my life—and found in the process not only comfort, but clarity.

For example, when I first married a desert farmer, I had a bad case of buyer’s remorse.  It wasn’t that I didn’t love my new husband, I just missed my home back East, the spreading oak trees and grassy lawns, the friends and neighbors I’d known growing up in a small town.

One time I felt so trapped and isolated living in a trailer in the neck of a canyon, I threw open the trailer door in a rage, and started walking.

I wasn’t watching where I was going, I just stomped out into the sagebrush, tears of frustration rolling down my cheeks. I ranted and swore at God about how I’d become this lonely farm wife.  Love or lust had kidnapped my life plans.  I lamented a languishing college degree and lost career.  I didn’t like living on a farm.  I didn’t want to plant a vegetable garden or sew curtains.  I just wanted some television reception, which seemed near impossible, a shaky antennae the only conduit for a few radio waves that managed to find their way to us.

When I was done praying, I felt better. I stood there a moment staring at the canyon wall in front of me, my eyelashes still moist from crying, and noticed some kind of trail going up the side. From a distance it looked like a path animals might use, maybe the deer I spotted out the window this morning, or the coyotes I heard baying at night.  Suddenly, I wanted to follow this trail, just to see where it led.

When I got to the top of the canyon wall I was sweaty and hot from climbing, but the view of peaceful farm fields along the Snake River was magnificent.  I experienced an incredible sense of calm, and knew then that everything would be okay.

Dr. David Rosmarin from the Harvard Medical School discussed prayer and praying in The Wall Street Journal recently.  He said research shows prayer calms the central nervous system and the “fight or flight” instinct. Prayer, much like meditation, rests our brains because it turns off our anxiety switch, and turns on our ability to self-reflect.  Praying is a time when we can be thoughtful, rather than reactive, about our life.

I’m a very relaxed pray-er.  So much so that I’ve had to be conscious about people nearby who might think I’m a little crazy, muttering to myself.  Mostly though, I pray alone, walking outdoors where the natural world almost always puts me in a spiritual space. Praying is especially doable during the Covid-19 pandemic. You may be six feet apart from everybody else, but when you pray, you get very close to yourself.

 

Image credit:  Coronavirus Prayer    Image credit:  Trailer House    Image credit:  From the top of the Canyon by Diana Hooley

I’ll Cry Tomorrow…

In the midst of a pandemic I find myself late afternoon channel surfing and old movies always catch my eye.  Today I watched the 1955 biopic, I’ll Cry Tomorrow, about the Broadway star Lillian Roth and her descent into alcoholism.  Roth eventually found her path to sobriety through Alcoholics Anonymous.  My husband thought the movie and its formulaic ending dated and archaic, but I was fascinated.  I realized how much attitudes about alcoholism have changed since 1955.

Today, alcoholism is classified as a disease, and a certain segment of alcoholics prefer to manage their addiction as opposed to fully abstain.  Sixty years ago though, alcoholism was viewed as a slippery slope to Hell, a shame-filled tragedy.

Watching I’ll Cry Tomorrow brought to my mind an encounter I had with a friend of a friend, a man who’d been to rehab for alcoholism and met regularly with his AA group.  I saw this man not too long ago at a gathering where the alcohol flowed.  I left the party early and was surprised to run into my friend’s friend in the parking lot.  He was just standing there with his hands in his pockets looking out toward the lowering sun.

“Hey,” I greeted him as I passed by on my way to the car, “That was some party, wasn’t it?”

“Yep,” he nodded, noncommittally.

I stopped and looked back at him.  There was something about the tone of his voice.  I added, “But I’m not a drinker—so it was past time for me to leave.”  I nodded toward the horizon, “Nice sunset though.”

As I drove away I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw my friend’s friend open his car door.

Four years ago when my doctor mentioned the adverse effects of alcohol on aging internal organs, and that it was a known suspect in breast cancer, I decided to quit drinking.  It wasn’t that hard for me, but I did miss having a glass or two of wine when I ate out at restaurants.  I don’t really understand how difficult it is for an alcoholic to give up alcohol.  But I do know a little about being human and having limitations.  Like most people, I’ve had personal situations in my life where acknowledgement and acceptance were the greatest things I could do.

That was probably the most powerful part of I’ll Cry Tomorrow for me.  I choked up when Lillian Roth finally went to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting to get the help she so desperately needed.   She stood courageously before a group of men wearing boxy 1950’s suits and women in pencil skirts, and said, “My name is Lillian Roth and I’m an alcoholic.”

My husband shook his head when he heard this. “She shouldn’t have to shame herself like that,” he said.

In a way, he was right.  I taught educational psychology at a local university and I warned my students how damaging labels and labeling were.  Still, for adults, confession can be good for the soul.  It can be cathartic: a letting go, in order to begin anew.

In 2015 an Atlantic Monthly article criticized AA and their 12-step program, saying the program had no scientific basis.  The article, “The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous” said that other more modern treatments like therapy and drugs worked better. Interestingly, five years later, this past spring of 2020, the Stanford School of Medicine finally remedied the absence of research behind AA.  The Stanford article entitled “Alcoholics Anonymous Most Effective Path to Alcohol Abstinence” stated:

After evaluating 35 studies—involving the work of 145 scientists and the outcomes of 10,080 participants…AA was nearly always found to be more effective than psychotherapy in achieving abstinence.  In addition, most studies showed that AA participation lowered health care costs.”

For the many people that have been helped by AA, this is probably not news.  We are all individuals with our own unique paths.  Sometimes though, the old ways, the solutions used by our grandparents in the 1940’s and 50’s, still have merit.

 

Image credit: I’ll Cry Tomorrow           Image credit: Sober

Remember the Life You Led in the 1990’s?

One of my cherished morning rituals, when I couldn’t get my kids out of bed to go to school, was to blast Guns N’ Rose’s “Welcome to the Jungle” throughout the house. I thought of that ritual this morning as I poured a cup a black coffee and sat quietly in the big leather chair to watch the sun rise.  My solitude was only disturbed by the sound of wrens and robins waking up on the pear tree outside.  It was a thoughtful morning, the kind I like now that I’m older, so I took a sip of coffee and picked up a book sitting next to my cup.  I was struck by the first sentence I read: “There are many lifetimes, in a lifetime.”

Was this some sort of pitch for reincarnation, I wondered?  Then I reread the sentence and glanced up to watch the sun’s rays inch over the canyon wall.  Because I’d been thinking about my children, I considered that lifetime, the one I’d led in the late 80’s and early 90’s.  I was rushed and harried, always managing meals, clothing, appointments, and celebrations.  But I was young.  I had thick dark hair and firm, line-less skin.

I could do push-ups, and climb mountains, and eat a plate of spicy spaghetti without a hint of acid indigestion.

That lifetime, the 1990’s, was truly another lifetime.  The internet had not been invented yet so we spent time on telephones, looking up information in encyclopedias, and watching VHS videotapes we rented from Blockbuster Video.  We didn’t just look different back then, we were different, even at the cellular level.  According to Stanford University, the human body replaces itself with new cells every seven to ten years.

More importantly, we were not the same people emotionally and intellectually in that 1990 lifetime. Which is a good thing, considering some of the misses (mis-takes, mis-haps, and mis-steps) I made back then.  Like that time I drank too much at a faculty Christmas party.  I lost my balance and tossed a plate of chicken wings down the front of some glittery dress next to me.  I don’t like loud parties anymore, and I care even less about drinking too much.

Sometimes we forget that though our past belongs to us, we do not belong to our past.  We live many lifetimes in a lifetime.  That was then, this is now.  We do not have to be defined by our crazy youth, frustrated parenthood, or career-driven mid-life. Those were all our identities at one time, but I live now, in this space—and it’s different.

In fact, if we don’t move on to the next lifetime, we’ll inevitably run into trouble.

For example, a friend of mine was traveling through Kalispell, Montana with her husband when she decided to look up an old boyfriend who lived there.  She said it’d been nearly twenty years since she’d last seen this fellow.  They decided to have lunch together at a downtown restaurant, my friend and her husband, and her old beau and his newly pregnant wife.  She said it was so great to see her ex.  She laughed and talked to him in that old, familiar way.  She looked at her former boyfriend and said, “Oh, you were always such a renegade!”  Then suddenly the boyfriend moved closer to his wife and picked up her hand to hold it. “Am I a renegade honey?” he asked his wife.  My friend said she felt so embarrassed.  She’d temporarily lost herself in another lifetime when she’d had a relationship with this man.

I saw a movie in about 1990, a videotape I must have rented from Blockbuster.  The Mission starred that handsome young actor Robert De Niro.  De Niro played a conquistador in the 1600’s who’d killed his brother in a jealous rage.  Broken with shame and regret, De Niro’s conquistador turned to the church for help. He made a harrowing trek up the face of a cliff to a church mission at the top.  His journey up the cliff was made infinitely more dangerous because the conquistador insisted on carrying his armor, and the sword he killed his brother with, on his back.  When he finally clawed his way over the rim of the precipice, a priest came and cut away his heavy back pack.

I’ll never forget that scene, De Niro as the conquistador, laughing into the sky, free finally from the bonds of his past.  It’s a lesson for all of us.  We are fortunate to live many lifetimes in a lifetime.

 

 

 

Image Credit:  1990 Diana Hooley     Image Credit:  Women Rowing North by Mary Pipher     Image Credit:  The Mission

The Upside of Emotional Eating

Liver and onions?  Really?  A friend told me about this women serving a dinner of liver and onions to a man on their first date. The woman, she said, was from Oklahoma, an Oakie from Muskogee—as if that explained the meal choice.  I wondered later if liver and onions was “home” food for Oklahoman’s.

Living with our current viral pandemic, we all feel like eating comfort food. Some of us are “hangry” (hungry and angry both) stuck in our homes the past several weeks.

Others are more hanxious and full of hension.  My daughter messaged me a selfie with her head tilted back and a can of Cheez Whiz above her mouth.  Her finger was ready to push the can’s nozzle.  She wrote under the picture that after weeks of homeschooling her kids, she was now mainlining Cheez Whiz.

Really, it’s unremarkable and so characteristic of humans to turn to food in times of duress.  We’re programmed to be emotional eaters.  Food, like certain smells or an old song, can take us out of the misery of the here and now and transport us to another time and place entirely.  Food is our history, our culture. When my husband takes a bite from a slice of berry pie, he sees his Mennonite mother bent over her berry patch pruning raspberry stalks in early spring.

My father who looked Italian—but wasn’t, made the best spaghetti sauce ever, for a West Virginia hillbilly.

I can see him now, standing at the hot stove, stirring and taste-testing his bubbling sauce.  He’d cook shirtless with a tomato-stained tea towel thrown over a bare shoulder.  Dad cleaned out the fridge when he made spaghetti sauce, and caused not a few complaints from my brothers when they found bits of canned corn in their spaghetti dinner.  Still, I loved dad’s home-made sauce.  Just writing about it makes me want to grab my face mask and drive to the store to buy a couple of cans of tomatoes.

I read a poem online this week that had to do with food during a pandemic.

The poem was written by J. P. McEvoy in the fall of 1918 when the Spanish flu was killing thousands of Americans.  McEvoy colorfully captured what having the Spanish flu felt like: “When your food taste like a hard-boiled hearse … you’ve got the flu, boy, you’ve got the flu.”  I don’t know what a hard-boiled hearse tastes like, but I do understand the connection between food and fear.

While I was going to school to get my doctorate, I lived in a tiny apartment, one of several, in a large old house.  I used to lay on my bed and look up at the crumbly ceiling and the spider web hanging down in the corner. One morning I woke up and happen to brush my hand across my chest.  I felt a small raised area just under the skin.  I sat up, suddenly alert, and performed a more thorough exploration.  I definitely had a breast lump. Soon the doctor was called and a diagnostic mammogram scheduled at the hospital.  When I found out I didn’t have breast cancer, I was ecstatic.  In fact, the doctor told me I didn’t have any breast disease at all, but a reaction to a spider bite.  Imagine that.

When I left the hospital, I got into my car and drove to a ritzy restaurant downtown.  It was time to celebrate.

Food works in all kinds of situations: sad, bad, or happy. 

After I ordered a three-course meal, appetizer and dessert included, I tipped my waitress generously.

 

 

Image Credit:  My dad, photo by Diana Hooley    Image Credit:  Spanish flu

 

The Past is Not Dead

 

I had a time travel experience.

No, it wasn’t a dream, but I felt dazed, like I’d taken too long a nap. Maybe I time traveled because I’d spent part of this winter in a motel room in Salt Lake City—relocated here since my husband’s surgery. I needed to get outside, smell fresh air, and feel the sunshine on my face. Yes, I wanted to shake the cold off, and move around—but not necessarily travel in time.

My experience began with a simple walk. Some of my best flights (of imagination) happen walking. I’d seen a city park driving through downtown Salt Lake that had a nice footpath circling a pond full of ducks.  Finding the entrance to the park though, proved difficult. I drove past tennis courts, an aviary, and an outdoor stage, all located within the park confines, but couldn’t find the entryway. This park seemed a world of its own–and at 80 acres (I read later)—it was its own sphere. On a side street, I finally spotted the park entrance and central pathway, lined on either side by poplars and mulberry trees.

It was amazing such a large park was located in the middle of this big city. As soon as I got out of the car, I took a deep breath of fragrant wood-scented air, and closed my eyes. In the background I heard traffic honking, an ambulance siren, and faint, car-radio music.

I can’t explain the rush of feeling at that moment, but suddenly I was in Central Park, New York City, several years ago.

It was the time I’d taken my teenage children to New York for a “cultural experience.” But they, being teenagers, weren’t interested in culture. Aubrey kept dodging around corners in Little Italy, trying to avoid my camera. And Sammy had his nose so deep in a fantasy novel, he hardly noticed the Statue of Liberty.  Liberty Park, that was the name of this urban escape in Salt Lake.  I saw it clearly labeled on a nature-friendly, green sign. As I read it I felt such a deep longing, a missing of my younger children.

A good heart-pounding walk, not just a stroll, would probably clear my head and shake me out of my fugue.  I saw plenty of power walkers and joggers around me, so I joined the flow. Fifty minutes later and just past the Chase House, a folk art museum in the park, I was gratifyingly flushed and sweaty.

I leaned an arm up against a tree for a brief rest-stop, and soon found myself staring at a little girl skipping along the park sidewalk near me. It was late afternoon and the shadows on the sidewalk caught my attention. Maybe it was the angle of the light, soft and buttery, but an ancient memory arose, and then, I was a little girl again, in Chicago in the 1950’s. I was playing in front of our big, white apartment building. As I hop-scotched I saw my shadow on the cinder block wall.

What stood out was how rich my emotions were, the joy and wonder I felt then, not yet muted by time and age. 

Next to my tree in Salt Lake, I felt momentarily elated.

I slowly made my way back to the parking lot.  As I opened my car door, I glanced above the park trees and saw the high, snow-clad peaks of the Wasatch Mountains. I smiled to myself.  The great American author, William Faulkner, once wrote, “The past is not dead, it’s not even past.” This late afternoon, at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City, I knew exactly what he was talking about.

 

Image credit: Diana Hooley      Image credit:  Diana Hooley

 

 

Sleeping with Strangers

I never dreamed of living in a motel.  Then my husband had surgery, and the doctor told us we’d need to move 278 miles away for a period of five weeks to be near the hospital.  Suddenly visions of room service danced in my head.  I’ve only known one man, Stu (not his real name), who lived in a hotel.  Stu moved into a big hotel downtown with a ballroom and a red-carpeted staircase.  He dreamed of becoming a movie star and didn’t want to deny himself the finer things of life.  When Stu’s money ran out, he borrowed more.

Reportedly, Stu spent many hours in the hotel hot tub waiting for the call from Hollywood.

But motels are mainly built for transient customers.  The word “motel” is a combination of “motor” and “hotel” and came into common parlance in the 1920’s when people began traveling around in their new horseless carriages.  Motels were never meant to be homes.  When my husband first got the word that a temporary relocation was in our future, I searched for vacation rentals, Airbnb’s, and apartments.  It was only when I lowered my standards from “looking-for-a home” to “looking-for-a bed” that I found a reasonably priced motel room we could live in.

You may be wondering, what’s it like to live in a motel?  Tight, it’s tight.

Motels are not for the obese.  Or clumsy.  If you have great coordination, maybe not elite athlete level, but still you’re flexible enough to move between beds, desks, and sundry other furniture squeezed into a 14 by 12 space—you’re gold.  I am not an elite athlete, but I’m coordinated enough to do the salsa.  This talent, I’m convinced, has helped me avoid serious injury in our motel room.

Motel living presents other challenges too.  With only a microwave and a mini-fridge for kitchen appliances, your menu suddenly becomes very limited.  I’m here to tell you there’s a reason frozen entrees are called that.  If you don’t microwave them a minute more than the package directions, these meals are so icy your teeth can’t “entrée” them.  That’s why we’ve been eating a lot of take-out–and having a lot of take-out, fall out, of the mini-fridge.

I try not to think about all the people that have stayed in our motel room before us.

Still, my eyes glide dubiously over the bed coverlet.  I glare suspiciously in the bathtub.  Yesterday when I swam in the motel pool, a large hairy man with pimples on his back was in the pool with me.  The thought crossed my mind that this man is probably not unlike many who’ve slept in my motel bed.  Slept and farted on my mattress.  That’s the thing about living in a motel room.  Of course people have dragged their crusty skin and weeping sores (of indeterminate origin) across your bed.

Still, I’ve tried to comfort myself with how fresh and clean our motel room smells.  It doesn’t smell like foot fungus.  Then I passed the housekeeper’s cart loaded with linens, towels, and cleaning products.  I noticed instead of multiple bottles of bleach or disinfectant in the cart, several bottles of room deodorant.  Room deodorants, for the uninitiated, are chemical sprays meant to mask offensive odor more than kill the bacteria that caused it.  So our room may smell like a rose, but no doubt there’s bugs on the stem.

And that’s another risk of motel rooms:  bed bugs.

Surely you say, this problem is found only in third world countries where donkeys rule the road.  No, according to www.travelpulse.com at least 45% of hotels IN AMERICA have faced legal action over bed bugs.  That’s enough information to keep me squirming on our motel bed for hours. My farmer husband says sleeping with me is like sleeping with a cow dog who keeps circling the gunny sack in an effort to get comfortable.

I’m not a cow or a dog, but I can say after two weeks in a motel, home on the range sounds much better than home in a motel room.

 

Image credit:  El Rancho Motel      Image credit:  Diana Hooley      Image credit:  Diana Hooley

Driving Miss Nina

(What’s the age people quit driving?  How do you get loved one to give up the keys?)

Mom was eating a personal-pan-pizza I bought her for lunch when she made her big announcement.  She said she wasn’t going to drive much anymore—if at all.

I glanced across to my sister Lainey, who was eating lunch with us, but she kept her eyes focused on mom. I was surprised by mom’s announcement, but I shouldn’t have been.  The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that fatal crashes begin peaking at age 85, and mom was 86.

My mother has been a chauffeur and driver for as long as I’ve known her.

I remember being a little girl in the 1960’s and driving with mom in the front seat of the Chevy.  Seat belts weren’t mandatory back then, so when mom made a sudden stop, she threw her arm protectively across my chest to keep me from bonking my head on the dashboard.  In my lifetime, my mother has picked me up from junior high sleep-overs, high school choir practice, and the residence hall at college.  When I was about 19 mom taught me how to drive, and her days of hauling her oldest daughter places, finally came to an end.  But mom still ferried other people.  Even as an older woman she’s been the driver for many of her friends.  She’s taken Ellie and Dorothy to church, to doctor appointments, or just to get groceries.

“I know you had that little fender-bumper at the Albertson’s parking lot last week mom, but it doesn’t mean you have to quit…” my sister began.

Mom waved her hand at Lainey. “No-no, it’s time.  I don’t want to hurt anyone on the road, much less get myself killed.”

I know some seniors struggle to leave their driving days behind, but mom isn’t one of them.

One octogenarian neighbor refused to give up his keys even though he sometimes fought to stay awake at the wheel.  His wife decided she needed to drive with him, and tap his knee to keep him awake.  Another good friend was shocked when she heard the state of Idaho had issued a driver’s license to her 93 year-old father-in-law—especially since he was losing both his hearing and sight.  Then there was Fan.  She was a great-great aunt and a shirttail relative.  I sat in my car at a traffic light one day and watched Fan slowly make a left-hand turn from the right-hand lane.  Adding insult to injury, Fan then drove down a one-way street, the wrong way.  I honked along with everyone else, but Fan passed us all, head held high.

The American Auto Association said that almost 90 percent of seniors they surveyed thought giving up driving would be a big problem for them.

Sometimes concerned family members find creative ways to keep their loved ones off the road.  Families have anonymously reported grandpa to the DMV, knowing this would force him to retake the driver’s test.  Others have asked friends to “borrow” their grandmother’s car and “forget” to bring it home.  Another oft-used ploy is to accidentally hide or lose the car keys of an older driver.

“You don’t have to worry about me,” mom tried to assure my sister and me.  “I’m fine.  I’ve got several people lined up to drive me where I need to go.”

“Mom,” I told her, “I’m really proud of you for doing this.  I know it’s not easy.  And yet, you decided to make this choice on your own.”

I really was pleased with mom for acting so responsibly.  But at the same time, I knew giving up driving was a milestone, a marker that most people face only near the end of their life.  And so, a little voice inside of me, the child of the mother I love, anxiously whispered, “Stay with me mom.  It’s not time to go yet.”

 

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Image Credit:   Driving Miss Daisy     Image Credit:  Driver and Dog

 

 

 

My Little Singing Problem

(How many people can’t sing?  How can you improve your singing?  What’s the one thing to remember if you want to join a choir?)

My son John is tall and handsome.  Smart too.  Lest you think I’m just a biased mother, I’m also going to say that John is so tone deaf if he hummed “Happy Birthday to You” on your big day, you wouldn’t recognize the melody.  John’s not the only one who can’t carry a tune in a bucket.  According to experts at BRAMS (International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research) about 60% of people have a hard time carrying a pitch. If you’ve watched the auditions for American Idol you already know this though.

Singing for me has also been a problem—but for a very different reason. 

Several people have told me I have a pretty voice.  Some have even used the words “beautiful voice.”  To which I usually respond with batted eyelashes and an “aw shucks” kind-of false humility. Hearing so much of this kind of feedback is probably the main reason I’m such an overly confident, robust (to put it mildly) singer.  I’ve internalized these compliments over the years and at some level, close to, well, conscious thought, I must be convinced the world needs to hear my voice.  You have to sing loud if your audience is the world.

Both my mother and her mother, Grandma Verna, were loud singers.

I remember my Grandma Verna singing “The Old Rugged Cross” at the Baptist church.  Her voice sounded like God with a megaphone.  Inevitably, little kids in the pew in front of us would turn around to watch Grandma Verna sing, “On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross . . . ”  So, maybe it’s a genetic thing.  Kind of like being overweight.  Some people have low metabolism and some people have big larynx’s.  Shout-singing just feels normal to us.

Despite my little problem, I’ve enjoyed singing in choirs and choral groups for many years.  Which doesn’t mean I haven’t been politely informed on several occasions that I’m “over-singing.”  Still, I find I can hardly help myself.  It’s just too much fun to belt out songs like an opera singer with a horned Viking helmet on my head.  I have to repeatedly remind myself, over and over again like a mantra:  the goal of a choir member is to blend in . . . the goal of a choir member is to blend in.

Adding insult to injury, I’m not only a loud singer, I’m a loud singer with a lot of vibrato, or as is commonly known in the vernacular: a wobbly voice.

“And please folks, (chorus leaders have instructed), could you (meaning me) tone down the vibrato?”

Which is a hard thing to do.  Just ask Dolly Parton. Over the years I’ve come to find out what having a naturally loud singing voice means: I’ve got the pipes, but not the training.  According to AskaVocalCoach engaging your diaphragm when you sing helps you control your air and your volume .  Everyone sings better when they learn how to control their breathing.  Even singing more quietly requires as much, if not more, air and breathe control.

Singing at all volume levels and on pitch then, is doable.  It just takes a lot of practice.  Practice I’m not likely to engage in at this point in my life.  I guess I’d rather accept my singing as is.  Because really, technical proficiency is only part of the equation when it comes to making music.  The other is spirit.  And despite my volume challenges and my son John’s pitch problems, these issues have never stopped either of us from singing full-hearted and full-throated–whenever we’ve felt like it.  And who would ever want to change that?

 

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Image Credit:  American Idol     Image Credit:  Little girl singing     Image Credit:  Dolly Parton

 

 

These Kids! Warning: the Generation Gap Lives!

(Who are the Millennials?  Why do techy people like nature?  How did fighting with our parents’ generation make us better?)

“They may not want a traditional family,” my son-in-law, Simon, told me explaining the difference between his generation and the Millennials, the 20 and 30-year-olds he works with as an engineer.  We were watching Simon’s children, my grandchildren, building a science project at the kitchen table.

“Yeah,” I said, “They’re just a bunch of slackers.”  I was being flippant, but Simon wanted to make a point.

“What?  No, no, that’s not what I mean.  Millennials work hard too.  They just have different ideas.”

I’ve been largely oblivious to the new generations coming up, the “Z’s” and the “X’ers.”  These alphabet labels make the next generation sound like they just stepped out of an elementary classroom instead of into adulthood.  I’d trade being called Baby Boomer for Generation W (standing for “wise,” of course).  Baby Boomer sounds like the nickname for an overweight football player.  Or Baby Boomer is a big puppy that drools a lot.

Every 20 years or so we have a new crop of young people entering the work force and needing a label.  All these generational lines have blurred for me.  Maybe because I’m retired now.  There’s no need to compare salaries and work styles.  I don’t fear becoming irrelevant at the office.

But my ignorance doesn’t change the fact that with each generation there are new ways of being and doing that challenge past generations.  Millennial author, Noah Strycker, echoed my son-in-law’s comment.  He said 30-somethings were less family-oriented and more narcissistic. But they love nature and the outdoors, ironically, because they are so wired-in and techy.  Millennials know how to app information about any animal, rafting trip, or hiking trail within minutes, if not seconds.

Some age groups clash more than others though, and not just related to the work place.  I drove my mother back from her cardiologist appointment yesterday and she casually commented that her granddaughter, my niece, was living with her boyfriend.

“Mom, I can’t believe you said that.  Would you listen to yourself?  Forty years ago you had a near melt-down when I suggested living with my boyfriend.”

“It’s still wrong!  The institution of marriage is being trampled on.  This younger generation just doesn’t seem to care . . .”

My parents are good people but as a baby boomer, I experienced far more generational conflict between them and myself, than I do between me and my own children.  I remember my dad shaking his fist at the evening news on TV as he watched footage of long-haired hippies living in communes and trespassing on private land.  Of course, our generation responded in kind.  We sang songs with lyrics that said:  “What gives you the right to put up a sign to keep me out—and keep Mother Nature in?”  Our generational divide was popularized back then as a generation “gap.”

Though I get along with my own children better than my parents did with me, I may be taking credit where none is deserved.  Sociologists tell us that my parent’s generation, the generation born at the front of the Great Depression, experienced not only a major economic crisis, but also a world war.  Their age group is known as the Silent Generation for good reason.  They like peace and are risk-adverse.  They don’t like rocking the boat.  Understandably then, they had trouble with the loud protests and counter culture movements we baby boomers engaged in.

The Silent Generation or the Greatest Generation if you prefer, are slowly leaving us. 

It’s exciting to read about Gen-X’ers like Elon Musk, the Tesla engineer, or Greta Thunberg, a Generation Z’er whose passion for climate politics is igniting change.  But as we embrace these younger people and their achievements, we cannot forget the smart, brave generation that came before us.  We fought with them, yes, but it’s often the clash of ideas, from one generation to the next, that define us.  That struggle, can and does, propels us forward.

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Image Credit: Millennials     Image Credit: Noah Strycker’s book     Image Credit: Greta Thunberg

I’m Going Back to the Plough

 

Before the coronavirus raised its ugly head and scared everyone away from the city, I lived there part-time while I taught at a local university.  Earlier this year though, I boxed and taped my city underwear and moved back to the farm permanently.  According to Allied Van Lines making moves and changing locations is not that unusual.  On average, most people change their address 11 times during a lifetime.  My mother, who’s less a rolling stone and more a streaking comet, moved nine times within a five-year period.  The majority of moves we make are local though, from an apartment to a house in the same town, for example.

But people in my age group, the baby boomers, are the least likely of any demographic to make a big move. 

Generally, older adults have finally paid the mortgage off and are unwilling to take on any new debt, especially house loans.  And if they do change homes, they want to live closer to town, not further away.  They want to be nearer goods and services, and especially medical facilities as they age.

None of those issues mattered to me when I decided to move back full-time to the farm.  I’d become fatigued of sitting in lines of hot cars at traffic lights.  The charm of living among hundreds of interesting and colorful people was spent.  The evening before I moved out of town, I watched Rocketman, a biopic about classic rocker, Elton John.  The next day packing boxes, I found myself singing one of Elton’s songs:  “So goodbye yellow brick road, where the dogs of society howl, you can’t plant me in your penthouse, I’m going back to my plough…”

The farm does have plows, which means work, so country living has not always been my panacea.  For twenty years after marrying a farmer I plied, if not plowed the land.  During that time I often walked field roads dreaming of city streets and city lights.  I’d become a hay seed, but I longed to make hay in the big city.  I couldn’t shake wonderful memories of being a college coed in a big city back east where I grew up.  I loved the city parks with their beautiful fountains of sculptured winged gods spouting water.  Down the boulevard were magnificent museums and large libraries, repositories of learning.

I finally got the chance to leave the farm once my children were raised, and I became a university professor.

I moved into my little part-time apartment in the biggest city around: Boise, Idaho, population 226,570.  It wasn’t the Big Apple but it was a fairly large potato.  When I made that move a farm girlfriend of mine asked me, “What does the city have that the country doesn’t–besides shopping?”

I thought (but didn’t say): you plebeian!  A country girl could never understand the excitement, the energy, of so many people working and thinking and creating, in one big, buzzing place.  Even Michelangelo said, “I have never found salvation in nature.  I love cities above all.”

But I came to discover my plebeian friend had a point.  Though cultural centers too, for most people cities are basically shopping meccas.  In terms of daily living, this is their biggest draw and greatest drawback.  I soon found I had only so much time and money to spend in big box stores buried in concrete canyons.

Another friend, Donna, said, “Won’t you be bored living out on the farm again?”

Maybe.  But I’m beginning to understand the upside of boredom, how it motivates you to engage with all the little things you missed before, like the litter of kittens out by the barn.  Besides, every day’s not meant to be a bell-ringer.  If you can’t stand the lethargy of time, you’ll die young—or at least sooner from rushing about so much.

So, it could be I moved back to the farm to save my life—or savor it.  Really it doesn’t matter.  If I’m honest, it’s how you live, not where you live that matters.

Early this morning, when it was still dark, I opened the door to my back patio.  I heard the river rushing past, and when I looked up, I saw a spray of stars in the sky.  Mornings on the farm are the best.

 

Image Credit: packing boxes        Image Credit:  Rocketman        Image Credit:  old barn photo by Diana Hooley