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 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

 

 

Going Wild in Alaska

Out the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry window is a bank of white fog that lines the shores of British Columbia.  I know beyond that is hundreds of miles of dark green forest, taiga.  It’s such a big land up here.  Miles of nothing, miles of everything plant, tree, and animal-wise. How would I do living in such wilderness?  I’ve marveled at all those eccentric homesteaders in Alaska watching that reality TV show, Alaskan Bush People.  Could I go without my Starbucks coffee—room for cream please?  What about my allergy medication?  I guess I could sneeze and cough my way through bear country.

Suddenly I’m keenly aware of how much it takes to keep me operative.

“Where’s your sense of adventure?” my husband chides me.

Dale’s ready to go native, but I’m hesitant to leave life as I know it behind. And is it really an adventure to not reserve a room in Talkeetna?  To end up sleeping in the back of the Prius huddled under some hoody jackets?  To my thinking, that’s not adventure, that’s dumb.

“All I’m saying is we don’t have to plan this trip to-the-teeth.  Let’s live a little dangerously,” Dale tells me.

I think about a documentary I saw once about a young man, Timothy Treadwell, who lived his life very dangerously.  He was so fascinated by grizzly bears he decided to live among them in Alaska.  He even made friends with a few bears—or tried to.  One, he affectionately named “Brownie.”  Then, he drug his girlfriend up to his campsite to experience the wild and sadly, they both were attacked and killed by bears.  It’s a tragic tale—yet still worth mentioning under present circumstances.

My compromise on the “adventure” part of our trip to Alaska was to not book a motel for three nights of our two-week vacation.

I know, I know, it seems risky to me too, but I’m big enough to let fate decide where I lay my head and find my sustenance in the Alaskan outback.

“You know, they do have stores in Alaska,” our friend Ed told me when I voiced my concerns about roughing it.

Thinking about having an adventure in Alaska made me remember “the law of contrasts.”  I made this “law” up a long time ago when I noticed my days seemed to be blurring one into another, dependent on the same routes and routines.  I felt a little numb driving to work, picking up groceries, and doing laundry on the weekends.  It didn’t feel like madness to me.  The problem was, it didn’t feel like anything.  I was stuck beyond feeling—until I began to jog.

What I needed in my life was some contrast.

Jogging is nothing like climbing Denali, but you have to admit there is something torturous about both tasks.  I began jogging to lose weight.  Before work early in the morning when it was dark and cold outside, I’d dutifully put on my sneakers and ran down our gravel road, a mile and back.

What I discovered beyond all the jogging pain—was true gain.  For the rest of the day I usually felt good, happy even.  It could have been the mythic endorphin “rush” runners get.  But I’ve read you actually have to run the length of an Iditarod (or portion thereof) to get a real runner’s high.  I think the suffering of my morning jog elevated my mood somehow and made me notice, in contrast, how pleasant the rest of the day was.

I could remind Dale about my law of contrasts, but I don’t want to give him more ammunition for arguments against preplanning our motels in Alaska.  Instead, I’ll take my philosophizing another direction and talk about how difficult life can be, and why make it more so?  It’s so easy to just pick up the cell phone and make a reservation. They do have cell service in Alaska, don’t they?

 

Image CreditAlaskan Bush People      Image Credit:  Alaska (Diana Hooley)    Image Credit:  Dale and Diana (Diana Hooley)

The Job of My Dreams

I was offered a job teaching kindergarten two mornings a week in the little village of Hammett, Idaho.  I considered taking the job even though I’ve spent my career teaching older students, adults and teens.  It was a thrill.  It was a challenge.  It was a nightmare.  No, not a nightmare—it was a dream.  My head nestled deep in a pillow, I’d dreamt about the Hammett job offer.  It wasn’t real.  I know some people still dream about their jobs, their careers, long past retirement:  waiting on tables, writing reports in an office, dealing with co-workers.  My farmer-husband woke up one morning this past summer and when I asked him over coffee how he’d slept, he said, “I worked all night.”

“No you didn’t,” I took a sip of my hot coffee.  “You snored all night.”

“That wasn’t a snore.  That was me grunting, trying to keep up with the farm (bailing hay, moving irrigation pipe, fixing the tractor).  There was too much pressure.  I had to wake up just to get some rest.”

Even though leaving our work identities behind after retirement can be both freeing and frightening, our careers, our work leaves marks on our psyche as deep and wide as Big Foot’s tracks on the forest floor.

This is why retirement for many people is such a dramatic sea change. It’s not just changing our behaviors, it’s changing how we think.  In light of such a big transition, some of us choose to hang on to our jobs. I hiked with a friend in the foothills north of Boise, Idaho the other day, and she told me her brother, at 76, plans to keep his career as a communications professor at Portland State University, as long as he can.  Sitting on a restaurant patio last week, I ran into another old friend, Fred, who’s been a practicing mental health therapist for at least thirty years.  Fred told me he’d probably work until the day he dies.  And like the great therapist he is, Fred didn’t want to talk about himself, he wanted to talk about me.

“So Diana,” he said, “I hear you’re doing a lot of writing these days…”

My husband and I have another friend, Bob, who has a decidedly different take on retirement.  Bob said, “It takes guts to retire.”  He went on to talk about the courage it took for him to sit with feelings of boredom and aimlessness—a perspective I found interesting.  Some people say they’re busier than ever in retirement.

Still, Bob had a point.  Retirement is often a process:  binge-watching Netflix shows until you feel ready to move on to something else.

Ironically now, I remember what a drag having a job was when I was a teenager in the 60’s and 70’s.  Maynard G. Krebs, the deadbeat beatnik on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis show expressed the sentiment of me and my peers on the topic of work.  Whenever Maynard heard the word, “work,” he repeated it with a shout, like he had Tourettes and work was a dirty word.  Then there’s the Civil War era poet, Walt Whitman, for whom having a job was—a distraction.  Whitman’s family lamented his “laziness,” but Whitman didn’t want regular employment with its “usual rewards.”  He preferred instead, to wander the beaches of Long Island and create great masterpieces of poetry like his collection, Leaves of Grass.

For many years, my job meant a lot to me.  I liked the routine, the money, and the title: Dr. Hooley. 

But when I retired, the veneer of self-importance fell away, and I was left with just me.  Not the professor, or coach, or director, or committee member.  Just me.  And for most of us, that’s not such a bad thing.  Retirement means we finally have the time to consider what we want to do, instead of what we have to do.  And honestly, being a kindergarten teacher in Hammett, Idaho was never high on my list.

 

 

Image Credit:  Hammett sign    Image Credit: The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis        Image Credit:  Walt Whitman