Tomorrow, I turn 55. I can’t believe it’s been five years since I started my “50 thought on turning 50” blog post series, in which I noted that I might be 60 by the time I actually finish the list. (My Ancestry DNA test came back and said I’m a hearty mix of Irish, Italian, and Procrastinator.)
I don’t mind aging. For me, the hardest part of having a birthday: the presents.
I’ve been told I’m a hard person to buy presents for because I don’t like to get presents. I’m swimming in stuff over here and despite a lot of effort to manage the clutter, it’s a never ending battle. Giving me gifts or knickknacks or books just adds to the stress. I change my mind a lot about where I shop, eat, or get my hair done, so people often spend money on gift certificates I’ll never use.
I know, I know. I sound ungrateful, but I’m really not. I appreciate that people care about me and want to show it on my birthday. And honestly, I’m not opposed to going out to dinner or receiving small gifts of things I really need or want (although right now, I don’t need or want much of anything).
So for those who can’t resist my “please don’t give me anything” plea, here is a list of ideas of things you can do for my birthday.
As much as I hate to admit it, I like Facebook quizzes. I know they’re created so Facebook and other companies can collect information from users, but I’m still always amazed when they give me results as if they actually have tabulated my answers and analyzed them.
Theoretically, anyway. What I really did was start researching the next book idea. Research isn’t writing. As my publisher well knows.
But back to the quiz. It’s a simple quiz, just a few questions about how you respond to some general situations, like making a New Year’s resolution or dealing with expectations. When I got my results, I wasn’t surprised: I’m a Questioner.
Anyone who knows me will tell you I ask a lot of questions. (Ask my friend Laura.) I over research and over analyze. I’ll ask questions about your questions and then go research the answers. So what did surprise me was that, according to the quiz, Questioners “resist outer expectations” and “meet inner expectations”.
I often do reject other people’s expectations of me. I wouldn’t say that’s been a lifelong thing; only in the past maybe 10 or 15 years have I really been able to stand up to people who boss me around, and to stop living other people’s expectations of me and living my own.
Except that in that rejection of other people’s expectations, I haven’t really been able to hold onto my own expectations of myself. I don’t feel like I ever live up to my own expections.
I let myself down. A lot.
But then I mused a bit on the quiz’s explanation:
“Questioners question all expectations, and will meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified, so in effect, they meet only inner expectations. Once Questioners believe that a particular habit is worthwhile, they’ll stick to it—but only if they’re satisfied about the habit’s soundness and usefulness. They resist anything arbitrary or ineffective; they accept direction only from people they respect. Questioners may exhaust themselves (and other people) with their relentless questioning, and they sometimes find it hard to act without perfect information. If you’re thinking, ‘Well, right now I question the validity of the Four Tendencies framework, yep, you’re probably a Questioner!”
This is really quite accurate. I don’t just reject what other people want or expect; I do what I think is right and worthwhile and justified and respectful. As for my inner expectations? I do meet them – when I feel they’re justified.
I’m not always a slacker.
In the follow up email – because of course I signed up to get more information – I learned that Questioners are motivated by logic, fairness, and reason. They do exhaustive research and often suffer from paralysis by analysis.
And then a light bulb went off over my head: this is me, and maybe this is why I can’t finish a writing project.
It’s not that I don’t want to or that I’m not willing to do the work. It’s because, if I’m being honest, I don’t feel like anything I write has value, it doesn’t meet my own inner expectations. Outside expectations don’t matter – reader feedback or a deadline or a paycheck or even a signed book contract. What matters is what I’m thinking inside, what I’m expecting from myself: do I feel it’s quality work? Is it an idea that will bring value to other people’s lives? Is it necessary, in a world being bombarded with information, to add my creative voice to the clamor? Am I doing the best job I can do?
Which I know isn’t sound reasoning. I know some of my writing is good – no, great. So it’s not like I never like my own work. I just balance what I offer with what the world needs and often find myself wanting.
Of course, if I think about it, if I really believe that my creative work has no value, then am I questioning the integrity of the publications that pay me? These aren’t stupid people. They’re not giving me money to be charitable. I clearly write something they need. My publishers put out some quality stuff. They’re also dear, dear friends. But they’re not having me write a book to do me some kind of favor. I respect these people…don’t I? Maybe in not believing in their belief of me, I’m actually not respecting them?
I think it’s what Rubin means when she writes in the more detailed tendency report:
“Questioners are motivated by sound reasons—or at least what they believe to be sound reasons. In fact, to others, Questioners can sometimes seem like crackpots, because they may reject expert opinion in favor of their own conclusions.”
All of this shouldn’t surprise you. The fact that I’ve done an entire blog post based on a few lines of feedback from a Facebook quiz should give you all the proof you need that I’m a crackpot.
So what do I need to do? Stop questioning myself. Or should I? Isn’t research good? Isn’t learning more better than not know learning more?
What I really need to do is get the book and see what Rubin suggests for breaking bad habits and starting good ones. You know, do more research.
This post is part of my series, “50 thoughts on turning 50″. It won’t surprise you that it’s been two years since I started this project and I’m just a little more than halfway. I told you when I first posted it might take me until I’m 60 to finish. Now I know why. You can read more posts here.
I warned you that doing a list of 50 things I’ve learned about turning 50 might take 10 years to finish. It’s a year and a half after my big day, and here we are, at #31. Hey, I’m farther along than I thought I’d be. I’m not as big a slacker as I thought! That makes it a fitting time to share a video I saw back in 2010 that resonated with me: Ben Stein, talking about forgiveness.
“You’ll be amazed at how much sunnier and roomier it is in your head and in your heart if you just get rid of everything’s that’s blocking the light,” he says.
He’s right. I remember a Bible study leader talking once about how in Greek word pictures the word forgiveness is an image of the person wronged carrying on their back the person who wronged them. Unforgiveness is futile, and we’re only hurting ourselves. Or maybe a better illustration is a quote that’s been attributed to everyone from Buddha to Anne Lamott: ““Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
As we end 2015 and head into another year, maybe it’s time to clean out our hearts of resentments and anger, and start 2016 with a fresh attitude towards other people. As Stein adds, “I like doing it, and it’s really a gift for me.” And, like Stein, I think it’s time to forgive ourselves – for past sins, for not being kind to ourselves, for not being perfect humans, for shortcomings big or small … like not keeping up with writing projects …
My social media news feeds have been filled lately with rants and lectures and quips and tirades on myriad hot button social and political topics.
I’m all for supporting causes we believe in, but I’m often left wondering how often we hit “share” or “like” on social media and feel like we’ve done some great service to social justice, when in reality all we’ve done is hit “share” or “like” on social media.
I’ve been trying to sort through my thoughts on this when I saw this week’s episode of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee”, and was struck by something guest comedian Trevor Noah said:
“People are now able to protest in their underwear. And that almost defies what protesting should be about. The whole point of a protest is to get up out of your bed, put your clothes on, walk out in to the cold and say, ‘I stand for this. I march for this.’ And now you really don’t have to have that conviction, ‘cuz you’re on the couch, in your underwear, you’re going, ‘You know what? I don’t like it, either.’ Punch in a few characters, and you’re ‘Yeah, yeah, I fought for the cause.’ No. You didn’t.”
For years I’ve struggled with this topic when it comes to church. We talk a lot about loving our neighbor, and we give to charities, and we support missionaries. But until we stand in the streets and publicly speak our mind, or get our hands dirty doing actual work, or sit down face to face with people on the other side of issues and actually inhale each other’s words in conversation, we really can’t say we’ve taken a stand, or fought for a cause, or had a discussion.
It’s easy to hide behind 140 characters and a photoshopped profile photo, easy to take a stand and argue back online when you don’t have to look someone in the eye, hear the quiver in his voice, feel the tension in the air, and be accountable for the words leaving your lips.
The other thing that struck me about this episode was Noah talking about apartheid in South Africa, and what it means to be black, white and colored (yes, those three are all different in South Africa), and growing up with parents who were illegally married (yes, in the 1980s), and what it means to live in a country where free speech was outlawed until the mid 1990s.
Really, watch the entire episode. It’ll give you something to think about.
I was contacted recently by a new Christian music magazine about maybe doing some writing for them. I admit I was tempted enough to ask for more information. I miss my artist friends. I miss my publicist friends. I miss my fellow music writing friends. I need the money.
Is TobyMac singing about the Illuminati? Who knows. Who cares. Do you like his music? Then listen. If not, then don’t. If listening to a song that may or may not be about the Illuminati is dangerous to your faith, then the problem isn’t TobyMac. The problem is that your beliefs are so shaky that they can be wavered by a guy wearing a t-shirt with an eyeball on it.
I wrote the following post back in 2009 for a website called Wrecked For The Ordinary. I share it as part of my 50 Thoughts On Turning 50 series because I learned a lot of lessons in my years covering Christian music. Mostly that there’s no such thing as Christian music, because music can’t be Christian. It’s music.
Or maybe I’m just an idiot. I certainly heard that often enough.
But what I learned, at least by the time I got to writing the essay that follows, is that my faith is not a commercial product, and when you strip away all of the extraneous bullshit, you get … well, God. Faith. The wonder of Creation. No Jesus fish stickers required.
In the end, I didn’t pursue the offer to write for this new magazine, in no small part because every time I asked what the assignment paid, they avoided the question. That’s because in the Christian genre, writers are often expected to write for free, because, you know, it’s about Jesus and all, and you should just do it for the Lord.
(7/5/15: I honestly don’t remember what this video was, but it’s obviously been taken down. I guess there is some ability to retract what you put out online. Who knew?
It seems like the subject of nakedness keeps baring itself in the news. A few weeks ago I wrote about a contestant on a reality show called “Dating Naked” who was suing the producers and cable channel because an image of her naked crotch was aired without being blurred out.
This post originally appeared in 2013 on my Heavenly Creatures blog at Patheos.com. I generally write about animals and faith and God on that blog, but when offered the opportunity to read and write about this book for a Patheos roundtable, I jumped at the chance. Turns out it wasn’t only a good read; it profoundly changed the way I view myself, making it a must to include in my “5o thoughts on turning 50”.
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I’m an introvert. When I said it to friends a few times over the last couple of weeks, I’ve gotten responses like, “You? You’re so talkative” or “I remember you as so outgoing” but almost always, “You’re not an introvert.”
Really? How would you know?
You probably base your idea of who I am on what you see on the outside, without knowing what’s going on inside of me most of the time. Sure, I can put together a party and play the happy hostess. But inside, I’m usually freaking out, because I have a difficult time talking to lots of people at once. You see me as talkative because I try to go out into social situations only when I’ve built up enough social energy to carry on a conversation; you don’t see me in my alone times, just me and the dogs, walking in the cemetery and recharging my batteries.
I can talk at length, and even in front of a crowd, about a topic dear to my heart. But it’s impossible for me to speak when I don’t believe what I’m saying. Want to talk about human trafficking or positive dog training methods? I’m all about it. Which girl should get a rose on “The Bachelor”? I’m out – or rather, I end up musing about why women would value themselves so little that they’d compete for some guy on a game show and throw their emotions around so trivially; usually everyone else wants to talk about which girl is the biggest bitch.
I’m always asking questions to strangers, like “why do you believe that” and “how did that make you feel”, surrounding myself with gads of acquaintances but few real friends, avoiding conflict and loud noises (and people who wear copious amounts of perfume or cologne), always aware that there is a social line that, once crossed, can throw me into panic or drain me to the point of physical exhaustion.
I get it. I sound cuckoo. In fact, for years (and years) I thought there was something wrong with me. Let’s face it. In our culture, we revere the outgoing, bold, confident risk takers, those who set goals and go after them with wild abandon. Those of us who spend a lot of time thinking and wondering but not always doing are viewed as weak.
That’s why I was so relieved to read Susan Cain’s “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” The book could have been subtitled “Joanne: An Owner’s Manual.”
For the first time, someone has taken the side of the introvert and shown how important they (we) are in an American culture, dispelling the myth that all introverts are recluses who avoid human interaction or that extrovertism is the ideal. And she uses neuroscience and research to back it all up.
For most of my life, I’ve been consumed with finding my purpose in life. I believe that I’m here for a reason – that God created me for something and that I’m not here by accident. And yet I’ve never really felt like I could put my finger on what that reason and purpose was.
Then a few years ago, I stumbled on a quote by Cardinal John Henry Newman, which reads in part:
“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.”
Religion, faith and spirituality have played a large part in my life – both good and bad. So it only makes sense that I address the issues as I muse on 50 years. There’s no way I can tackle them all in one post so I’ll break them up.
Today? The Bible. Or more specifically, reading the Bible.
A few years ago, author John Marks interviewed me for his book, “Reasons To Believe“. He had introduced himself to me as a former evangelical and he was writing a book about religion and faith. I can’t remember a lot of the questions he asked, because years later I still dwell on the first one: “Do you believe everything in the Bible is true?”
Of course, I told him, but as the words came out of my mouth I felt this check in my gut. Wait, I said. I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it like that.
Turns out that a lot of my answers to his questions were “I don’t know” or “I hadn’t really thought about it.” How he managed to actually find enough to use for the book is amazing.
I met John in 2005; over the next year or so we talked many times but his questions challenged me. So I set out to read the entire Bible, cover to cover, to find out if, in fact, I believed everything in it was true.
I have a friend who insists that she can’t nap. No matter how hard she tries, she says she just can’t relax enough to curl up on the couch, close her eyes and catch a few minutes of shut eye during the day.
I think there’s something seriously wrong with her.
I love taking a nap but I’ve always felt like a lazy slug for lying around in the middle of the afternoon while the rest of the world is slaving away. Then a few years ago, my doctor told me that it’s good to take a nap during the day. Not a big, deep sleep. Just a short, 15 or 20 minute snooze to clear away the cobwebs and recharge your batteries.
As someone who loves taking a nap as much as I like drinking tea, you can be sure I’ve followed her advice as often as I can. In fact, I’m off to take a nap right now.
Today’s lesson? Napping like a dog is a lot better for your life than working like one.
Two summers ago, in 2012, my high school class held its 30 year reunion. I had followed the planning on Facebook for the better part of a year. Although it didn’t matter.
I wasn’t going.
I don’t have fond memories of high school, the way some of my friends do. It was a stressful time. I was insecure and dorky and generally felt like I was just taking up space on earth someone else could better use. So the thought of meandering down that memory lane with what were essentially a bunch of total strangers didn’t appeal to me in any way. (You can read my post about why I wasn’t going in this post.)
At the last minute, I went.
I can’t explain why. It was just this little feeling in the back of my brain that said, “Go.” So about 48 hours before the event, I called Anne, the girl organizing the reunion. I asked if I could still come and if she needed help.
The answer to both was “Yes!”
I suggested to Anne that maybe I could collect information from everyone, like current contact information, where they work, where they live, how many kids they have, stuff like that. She said yes, that she would use it to help give away door prizes (like who traveled the farthest to get there; the winner of that one: from Africa).
Once upon a time, I thought that the best way to handle a disagreement with someone was to argue my side of the issue. Prove my point. Give the facts. Share my opinion. Make my case.
Over the years, I’ve learned that there is a difference between an intelligent discussion and arguing with idiots. The first leaves you both a bit more enlightened about the other’s views; the latter just leaves you exhausted.
Arguing with people who like to argue only leads to one thing: an argument. And it’s one you can never win, because there are some people who make it their mission in life to argue, regardless of the issue or even if they have an opinion on the issue. They ignore the facts, they disregard the truth, they change their stance in order to continue the argument. They just want to engage in verbal combat, whether it’s politics, religion or the proper way to inflate the tires on your car.
It’s easy to get sucked in, to get frustrated, and to feed the conflict. Instead, I’ve mastered the art of disengaging. I smile, take a deep breath, and walk away. Even when I know I’m right. Even when I have the facts on my side. Even if walking away means I may look weak for not making my case.
Because I’ve learned this important truth: in the end, the idiot will always be revealed as the idiot he is, and it’s better not to even be on that stage when the curtain rises.
(This column originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of Refreshed Magazine.)
By the time you read this column, I’ll have reached one of life’s many milestones: the 20th anniversary of my 30th birthday.
Or, to be more specific, I turn 350 in dog years.
I’d love to share some words of wisdom about turning 49+1, but publishing deadlines being what they are, as I sit down to write this column I’m still a few weeks shy of the actual Big Day. All I have as a prediction of the coming decade is my past experience. My 40s were significantly better than my 30s, which were much better than my 20s. Each decade has brought with it increasing wisdom and maturity, allowing me to both apologize to and forgive myself for the previous decade.
If that trend continues, I’ll be eligible for membership in Mensa. Or sainthood.
Since I have nothing to offer yet on what it means to join the Over The Hill Gang, I turned to my friend Lynda for some thoughts on what to expect. Her birthday was just a few days ago, so the big event is still fresh in her mind. She had a weekend-long celebration that included a night out with the girls, dinner with family, and a lot of pictures on Facebook showing that she’s barely aged since high school.
When I asked her how it felt to turn 10×5, she mused about a little arthritis in her knees, along with the requisite hot flashes and slightly higher blood pressure. You know, the things people tell me that “women your age” deal with, along with resistant gray hair, memory loss, and those few extra pounds that won’t go away no matter how much you diet or exercise.
Fair warning. The next person who says “women your age” to me will find out that women my age can still give you black eye.
But back to Lynda. She isn’t letting a milestone birthday get her down. She has a lot to celebrate this year. She and her husband will be married for 25 years. Their daughter turns 21 and their son starts high school. “I have a job I love, which I work part time, so low stress,” she told me by email. “Two great kids, an awesome husband, a lovable dog, a roof over our heads, living in San Diego, and just came back from the beach, where my son’s swim team was taking their team photos.”
With characteristic optimism, she added, “We survived the millennium, so it’s all bonus years from here on out!”
Maybe she’s so upbeat because the birthday cake sugar hasn’t cleared her system yet, or she’s high on all of that California sun and surf so absent here in Western New York, where I live and write (and shovel snow in May). I needed feedback from someone in my own climate.
My friend Lisa celebrated The Big One last December, during a blizzard. There was a surprise party, although she didn’t feel much like celebrating. And it wasn’t just the weather. “I’m not where I thought I’d be at this point in my life,” she admitted over lunch recently. I understand what she means. I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up, while people I went to high school with are retiring from jobs they’ve held for 25 or 30 years.
Mickey has a few years on me and Lisa, and she added this perspective: “When I do realize how old I’ll be it amazes me. I’m not where I thought I’d be but it’s been a pretty good trip to where I am.”
That explains Yvonne’s thoughts. She said that as they years have passed, “I gained confidence. I gained experience. I gained knowledge. I gained self-esteem.” This birthday is when she bloomed. “I moved forward and I’ve never looked back.”
Sounds like the key to aging is to enjoy the journey and not focus on the destination. Good. That means I can throw away all of those mailers from the cemetery offering to help me preplan my funeral.
Today turns into tomorrow, this year turns into the next, and life keeps happening, regardless of how many candles are on your birthday cake. While I haven’t made a big deal about my impending leap into old age, it would be nice if everyone else stopped counting. Yesterday the mailman delivered my membership application for AARP.
That led to maybe the best feedback I’ve gotten so far about turning … gulp … 50: “Enjoy it,” said my Aunt Mary Ellen. “You’ll never be any younger.”
This one harkens back to one of my first posts, “We’re just frosting on the cake“, where I talked about the vastness of the universe and the impossibility of man to know what’s beyond our own universe, making the case for God.
I’ve learned over the years that questioning other life in space is just part of believing in an infinite eternity. If you can believe a Supreme Being – God – spoke the world into being, then it only makes sense that there’s more out there than we can observe or even contemplate. Life on other planets? Why not? Maybe, as someone once said to me, there’s a planet where they got this whole thing right.
If you’re like me, cooking and other things that happen in a kitchen often turn into material for blog posts. And not in a good way. So when I find something that works, I like to share it.
Case in point? Storing your celery.
I can’t tell you how many times I’m making chicken salad or some other quick meal and I reach into the fridge for some celery, and all I find are soft, rubbery stalks of blech.
I could have bought celery when I was just at the store, but I knew I had just bought celery the week before and only used one stalk. Theoretically, I should have lots of fresh celery in the fridge. But no. So now I can have chicken salad with either no celery or rubber celery. Neither are very appetizing.
Happened to you? Well, I have a solution: aluminum foil.
Yup. Just wrap the celery in aluminum foil. Get it all closed in, ends and all, and it’ll stay fresh in the fridge for … well, a really long time. Long enough that someone like me, who is useless in the kitchen and uses celery really quite sparingly, always has fresh, crunchy celery on hand.
What, you thought that everything I was going to share in my “50 thoughts on turning 50” was going to be deep and philosophical?