On the Road Again

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Several years ago I took a test that measured the amount of stress certain situations and events have on a person’s life.  I was instructed to check off the things I was experiencing, or had recently experienced.  They ranged from death of a loved one to loss of a job  to moving, and the list went on.  I was surprised to see that one of the items listed was, “going on vacation.” Going on vacation?  What are they kidding?  Isn’t the whole idea of vacationing to reduce stress?

After 4 years of living and working in Korea, I am leaving in a week. I’m  packing boxes filled with all the things I’ve accumulated. I’m shipping those 10 boxes home to Maine.   At the same time, I’m packing my suitcase for a four-month adventure. Sounds amazing doesn’t it?  My husband, Steve, and I have been planning this adventure for some time,  and it is now upon us! If we don’t kill each other before we leave next week it will be a minor miracle.  “Why are you taking that?” “Are you sure you need that?”, are just a few of the questions we are asking each other.  The stress is building.  Luckily, we have travelled together all over the world, and we both know that once we leave all will be grand, but until then I have to remind myself that going on vacation was on that stress scale. We aren’t just leaving for a vacation, we are leaving for good.  That means if we leave something behind, it’s forever. Yikes! I can feel the stress as I write this.

In many ways this is the dream of a lifetime.  It also means I won’t have a “home” for all this time.  I’ll be staying in hotels, inns and hostels, on boats and on a cruise ship, in Airbnb apartments and travelling by plane and train.  I’ll be meeting up with friends in a few places and walking 500 miles in Spain in 37 days.  But truth be told, I’ll be living out of a suitcase.

I’ve written in the past about my need for “home” and my ability to make wherever I am home, but never for this long and never in this many places.  I’ll bring pictures of my grandchildren to put on a night stand wherever I am.  I’ll cook meals in the apartments we stay in.  I’ll do laundry and all the mundane things of ordinary living, except I’ll be doing them in extraordinary places.

My goal on this journey is to be present and to not be distracted by the past or the future, but instead focus on what’s in front of me.  The stress scale didn’t say that the vacation itself was stressful. Rather the preparation, anticipation and anxiety of what’s to come after the vacation is what causes a person to lose sight of the moment.  It’s a challenge to stay in the moment and I don’t have any illusions that I won’t be distracted by the future and what lies ahead.  My goal is to focus on my surroundings and not miss any opportunities.

While we were packing the other day I was carrying on about not having a home, Steve just listened and smiled at me reassuringly and I realized once again that home is where I am and where we are.

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My plan is to blog a lot more during this adventure.

Stay in touch and I will too.

With love and gratitude,

Marsha

Why worry?

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When I was growing up the motto in my family was: “If you worry hard enough, bad things won’t happen.” From a very young age I took this to heart and began worrying about everything. I really believed that this worrying, my worrying, was actually having an effect on outcomes. Then I began to notice that bad things happened, in spite of my worrying. So, what does a person do? Worry harder, I thought. I spent most of my childhood worrying about everything and continuing to have no control over anything. Bad things happened, good things happened too, but that was not my concern. My worrying was purely focused on preventing bad things. We don’t need to wake up Freud here to see what happens to a child who spends most of her childhood worrying.

I’ve learned over my life that no amount of worrying has any effect on outcomes. Actions might alter a few things, but not worrying. I’ve watched and observed that I’m not alone in this process of worrying. Many people, sad to say, spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about things that they can’t control. Many of us agonize over decisions we need to make, or have made, as if our lives depended on them. Once we make a decision we worry about the outcome or the alternatives and options that we passed up. It’s an endless loop if you stay on it. If you’ve ever been in a 12-step program, you know that this concept of worrying doesn’t work, so we give it up to our higher power and do what we can and move on. Easy peasy! NOT!!!! I am a very skilled worrier. It took years of practice to perfect this skill. And yet, no matter how skilled I am, it is still ineffective. Unlearning this takes time.

So, what do I do about this worrying dilemma? At 66, I know both in my head and heart that just about everything is out of my control. When I find myself in that spiral of worry, I catch myself a lot sooner, have a good laugh, remind myself that I’m not that important and try to move on. I travel a lot in my life, in fact I’m writing this blog from Myanmar. There is so much I could worry about if I wasn’t a recovering worrier. For example, I’m boarding a plane, whose name I can’t pronounce, to go to a part of this country that most tourists don’t go to, and we are the only foreigners on this flight. The things to worry about are endless. I know that once I decided to come on this trip I gave up control of all these things. So I let go, for real, and board the plane for an adventure of a lifetime, at least this year.

The older I get, the easier it is to let go. Time is limited and worrying takes up a lot of time and energy; physically, emotionally and psychically. So, I move through life as best I can without my old friend “worry” and have the experiences and surprises of life instead. In the words of one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver:

I Worried

 I worried a lot. Will the garden grow? Will the rivers flow in the right direction?

Will the earth turn as it was taught? And if not, how shall I correct it?

Was I right? Was I wrong? Will I be forgiven? Can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing? Even the sparrows can do it and I am, well, hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading, or am I just imagining it?

Am I going to get rheumatism, lockjaw, dementia?

Finally, I saw that worrying had come to nothing. And I gave it up. And took my old body and went out in the morning, and sang.

I hope your day is filled with song!

Stay in touch and I will too.

With love and gratitude,

Marsha

 

 

Make New Friends, But Keep The Old

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There was an old Girl Scout song that started with “Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.” I sang that song each year at camp without much thought. I was young and thought the friends I had would last forever. All of them! As I age I seem to have more time to reflect on those people who have come and gone from my life. Many of them were friends that I thought would be in my life forever and then one thing or another came between us and we drifted apart, sometimes never to be thought of again. Then there are those friends who stay forever.

I once told my husband that I didn’t really trust anyone who didn’t have friends from their past. Not necessarily friends you grew up with, but friends you met along the way who stayed with you, even when you lived many miles away. There are those friends who loved and supported me even when I did or said things that made them cringe. Those are the friends that I can count on. The older I get, the more comforting those friends are. We have seen each other through marriages, divorces, births, deaths, and illnesses–sometimes serious. We have laughed and cried, called in the middle of the night, or the middle of the day, and that reassuring comforting voice was on the other end of the phone line. I have taken some of these women along for the ride of, literally, a lifetime. Sometimes, I wonder if we met today, would we have anything in common since our lives have taken different paths. But that doesn’t seem to matter. What we have in common is history, long and short, and the love and support to be there for each other through everything. They all know who they are.

A few years ago I serendipitously met a women who lives in Portland, Oregon where my younger son lives. She’s actually the mother and mother-in-law of friends of mine, although she and I are closer in age. I did a house swap with her so we could each visit our sons and have a little space. As time went on I ended up staying with her and she with me even when we were home. We have become friends. One night over a glass of wine she said to me, “Marsha, you are a friend that I could call in the middle of the night.” I knew exactly what she meant, I felt privileged and the feeling is mutual. We share lots with each other, but we don’t know all the details of our pasts and it doesn’t seem to matter.

This past summer a dear friend’s son was married and my three lifelong friends, husbands in tow, were there to celebrate the next generation. We laughed and cried, danced, ate, and drank and loved being together. When the bride’s friends asked who we were and we said we were the lifelong friends of the groom’s mother and that we, the 4 of us, had known each other for more than 50 years, they looked at us with longing hoping this would be them some day. For some of them this will probably be true.

I have made new friends over the years and since my years are shorter in front of me then behind me, some of these “new” friends might be in my life until the end. One of these friends I met about 10 years ago. When we first met, I ended up staying at her house for about a week, having rented my house out without much thought of where I would stay. Her kindness and generosity gave me pause. One of the first things she shared with me was that she still sees her elementary school friends and, in fact, they still have reunions, for those who are left. That sealed the deal for me. This is a person who takes her friendships seriously. I have since stayed with her each summer for a few weeks and we stay in touch no matter where we are. She is definitely someone I could call in the middle of the night.

I am lucky enough to have a wonderful sister. She shares a bond with me that no one else can have. A history that we don’t have to talk about, but we know. We can call each other anytime day and night. We are lovingly and gratefully stuck with each other. Our lives have taken different paths and that has not made a difference. She has given me the gift of her wisdom and taken mine. As we have aged we have gotten closer. We have more time to spend together now that my children are grown and she has retired. We talk on the phone as often as we can and we send, sometimes, one or two word emails. We meet up in exotic and sometimes mundane parts of the world. We don’t have to say much, and we know each other’s good and bad sides, and we don’t care. We will grow old together and be there for each other until the end. This is a kind of friendship that stands separate from all the others.

For the past 3 years I have lived in Korea and the friends I have are all young enough to be my children. I often forget that age gap until I talk about something, or someone, from the 50’s to the 80’s and they look at me with the same puzzlement that I look at them when they talk about more current things, like music, which I realize, I somehow stopped listening to after 1980. These women are good friends as well. Women I could call in the middle of the night, which for me could be midnight if I go to bed at 9. They would be there at the ready to listen with love and support. There is a universality about connecting to women, regardless of age.

So what have I learned? I know that the 3 women I grew up with and my sister, know me like no one else and will be there for me, forever. In many ways they are my sister/friends. I can’t imagine anything coming between us. I also know that I have deep bonds with the women who have come into my life over the past 66 years.  When I was young my mother had women friends that she cherished, her sister at the top of the list. She modeled for me how important women were in her life and how I should cherish my women friends knowing that they will last forever. And that is true.

Jumping Off The Precipice

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Several years ago, actually more than 30 years ago, I went to see the movie “Flashdance.” If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a young woman who works as a welder by day and an exotic dancer by night. Her dream is to be accepted into a prestigious ballet school. As far reaching as that was, by the movie’s end she realizes her dream.

A few days after I saw the movie, I was driving to work and a driver on the other side of the road swerved into my lane and nearly hit me head on. I was shaken up, but I wasn’t hit and continued on to work. It was then and there that I decided to quit my job. I knew that my life was destined for more. I walked into work and resigned. A bit rash, I know, since I didn’t have any idea what I would do next. It wasn’t the first time I had left a job without a plan and it turns out it wouldn’t be my last. I have taken many giant leaps into the abyss of the unknown, describing myself as a person who leaps first and, on the way down, begins to think of what the landing will be like.

Coming to Korea knowing I would lose my job in a year and a half , based on a mandatory retirement rule, was a giant leap. I took that risk and had a ball. I was able to get another job, as an adjunct, based on my status as a wife with a spousal visa. Last semester I had a grand time teaching classes that I loved, to students who wanted to be there. I assumed that this position would last for the final 3 semesters we planned to stay until Steve would be forced to retire; an advantage of marrying someone younger than me. I returned to Korea in early September after a wonderful summer in Maine only to discover that the program I taught in is struggling to stay alive and my position was cut back to less than part-time. My first reaction was frustration that I had to, once again, figure out what to do next. Then I remembered that movie and the dreams and hopes that the young woman had. True, I’m not a young woman and, at 66, most of my career is behind me, not in front of me, but that shouldn’t stop me from having a new dream and a new direction and a new focus for the future. I’m about to jump, once again, off that precipice and I do wonder what the landing will be, but that isn’t going to stop me from jumping. It’s a choice and I plan to take that leap to find the next adventure that awaits me. I remember a friend who was dying saying to me once, “You know, I’m alive until the day I die.” We don’t know when that time will come and I know for sure that I’m not waiting around for that day. With age and experience, comes wisdom. That wisdom has taught me that every day counts and my happiness is key. There are many cute sayings about living in the moment. We hang them in our offices and in our homes and we hope to be reminded that the day we are in is all we have. I know how hard it is to live in the moment but I also know that when I focus on the day before me, it brings a smile to my face.

There are so many possibilities for the future. I may not choose the perfect one, but it surely will bring me joy and that is really important. When friends ask me when I’m going to retire, I laugh to myself knowing my life has always been a balance between work and retirement, so I imagine I won’t ever stop.

So, here’s to the next jump and knowing that life really does begin at the end of my comfort zone. The precipice awaits and I’m hoping for a smooth landing.

With love and gratitude,

Marsha

The Biggest Loser

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I must admit that over the years I have watched The Biggest Loser.  I cheer for the people who lose amazing amounts of weight and inches.  I watch them work out each week, weigh in and witness their transformations.  I’ve often wondered how I’d do at those intense workouts. I’ve never been a person who’s gone to a gym and worked out. In fact, I barely stretch before or after running.  It never appealed to me.  I just lace up the sneakers, go out, run, come back, and get on with my day.  In fact, I really haven’t been able to even touch my toes in spite of years of yoga classes.

In February, I  returned to Korea after an 8 month break from teaching.  I spent most of that time travelling to places around the world.  I took a look at what eating, drinking and minimal exercise had done to my body.  It was not a pretty sight!   I must also admit that I enjoyed every bite of food, every glass of wine, and the occasional martini.  My body seemed tired and weary.  My first instinct was to say that it’s age and this is what happens to people as they get older. What’s a few pounds and several inches in the big picture of life?  I was still healthy wasn’t I?  I also know that as I have aged, taking off weight and inches and getting into shape is a major ordeal and one to be pondered carefully before embarking on that journey.  I remember when I was in my 20’s and 30’s and even my 40’s, losing weight was a breeze.  I would stop eating and drinking in quantity for a few weeks and the pounds would fall off.  Not this time!  Those pounds had settled in and had made themselves quite comfortable on my hips, stomach and just about everywhere.  The contemplation of possibly starting a new exercise and weight loss plan was taking place over a glass of wine and some cheese and crackers.  I tried convincing myself that my once a week run and swim was enough.  The rationalizing took hold and I finished my wine and cheese and committed to continue on the path I was on. 

The next morning when I got up I decided to get on the scale and see if the damage of the time away had any bearing on the pounds.  YIKES!!!  I went from the scale to the internet and quickly joined Weight Watchers, not for the first time.  In fact , I’m a lifetime member who strayed far from her goal..  This was serious, no more defending that this is what happens when you get older.  It’s never too late and I’m certainly not too old.  The very same day a friend called to say that there was an “opportunity” to join a “Boot Camp” class once a week with 2 at home workouts.   I signed up without even knowing  what that meant.  Drastic times call for drastic measures. Four women showed up for the first class.  We all know each other and that was the reassuring part.  They didn’t know anymore than I did about what we were headed for.  The other three women are in their 30’s.  Our boot camp instructor is also in her 30’s.  She was in the military and in incredible shape.  Before I had a chance to talk myself out of this we were on the ground doing sit ups and push ups and contorting our bodies into shapes I hadn’t even imagined.  After about 30 minutes of this, Jennifer,our fearless leader, told us to run a mile on a track.  It was a relief!  Finally something I can do.  We were measured and tested in that first class and told we would have another assessment at the last class, 10 weeks later.  I left that class feeling exhausted and knowing that I would hurt the next day in places I had never hurt before. But, I was also committed to come back and do this again without letting my age  or anything else get in the way.

That was 10 weeks ago and I am stronger today than I have ever been.  My stamina for running has increased.  In early April I ran a 10k race and a month later I ran another one decreasing my time by 10 minutes.  I’m still slow by anyone’s standards but 10 minutes!!!!!  It even amazes me.  My clothes all fit and I’ve lost about 20 pounds.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell because I’m not exactly a petite person, but I know the weight is gone and the inches are melting off and it’s been replaced with strength and confidence.  Jennifer is leaving Korea in a few weeks and returning to the States with her husband and children.  Her husband is still in the military and being transferred home.  We,the original 4 women, are continuing with the weekly workouts.  Jennifer will  send us 3 workouts a week.  We will meet once a week, share the facilitation and continue the two at home workouts.

This week was our final assessment and I am the Biggest Loser.  I lost the most in inches and cut 2 minutes off my mile run.  We all lost pounds and inches and increased our strength by more than I could have imagined.  We laughed as Jennifer reported how many push-ups and sit-ups we did the first week as compared to now.  For some, it went from 2 to 60.  Amazing! 

So, what have I learned?  So many things!  I have certainly learned that it’s never too late and I’m never too old.  Life is short and it does pass quickly.  I certainly am not stopping the great food and the great wine and martinis, but I’m doing it all with a new awareness about how I want to live the rest of my life.  I said in a past blog, that in the end, I want to come screeching in, used up and worn out.  I hadn’t imagined that that would also mean that I would be strong and fit.  The most important thing I’ve learned, again, is that you can never underestimate the power that a small group of women can have on each other.  This was all possible because Jennifer,  Michelle, Suzi and Lindsay, also chose to commit to this.  I am once again forever grateful to women in my life, these 4 women.  You are true HSBARS (Hot Shit Bad Ass Rock Stars).  My age was not a factor and never is.  I may be last when we run the mile, but all that does is allow the other 4 women to stand and cheer for me as I come racing across the finish line.  Not a bad way to end the day!

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In the World, Not of the World

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Early on in my relationship with Steve he gave me a copy of the Alan Watts book, Psychotherapy East and West.  In the book Watts talks about people who are “in the world, not of the world.” Steve thought that described me.  He was right. I have never followed the path well travelled.

Recently, I was in Mexico walking along the beach with two women I had met, one in her 70’s and the other in her 80’s.  We were talking about travelling and adventures we had had.  The woman in her 70’s turned to me and said ”You must have had parents that instilled this sense of adventure in you.”  The truth is, my parents never left the U.S.  My father died when he was 49 and my mother worked two blue collar jobs and had no time for dreaming about much more than a few minutes of relaxation and a good night’s sleep.  My mother was smart and very well read.  She knew there was more out there in the world than what she had experienced and although she never traveled anywhere, she somehow gave me the courage to have an adventurous life. 

From the time I can remember I always had an entrepreneurial spirit.  When I was young I often tried to convince my friends to go along with my “business” schemes.  I have always marched to the beat of a different drummer and somehow, I knew that I wasn’t cut out for a traditional life. In retrospect, I must have known that I was in the world, not of the world.  My grandparents, my mother’s parents, were entrepreneurs.  They came to the US in the early 1900’s to escape the threat of anti-semitism in Russia and made a life for themselves by buying a building with apartments on the upper floors and commercial businesses on the street level.  They lived in one of the apartments and operated a bar/restaurant below. They didn’t read or write English and yet, they had the courage to do this.  They never got rich but they did do it their way. 

When I got my first “real” job, I realized that the 9-5 life was not for me. That’s when I began my first real entrepreneurial adventure and started a business called WEARE (Women’s Educational and Resource Enterprise). I had a business partner and the business lasted about 5 years.  It was an amazing experience and, like my grandparents, I didn’t get rich.  I needed to make money, so I landed a corporate job that had me in the role of “intrepreneur.”  That was someone who worked for a corporation but created a kind of business within the business.  It was a great ride and I stayed for more then 10 years. During that time, I got married, had two children, and eventually gave it up, moved to Maine with my sons and my husband, and together, we started a business, The Greenshoe Group, that lasted more then 20 years.  We never got rich but we did travel all over the world and met amazing people and lived a life of dreams.  It was wonderful.

At the age of 63, I moved to Korea with Steve, and went to work for a university.  I thought my days of entrepreneurship were behind me. NOT!  I lost my job last June because of a mandatory age law and I wondered what I would do.  I need to work and although I am soon to be 66, retirement, at least full retirement, seems far away.  So what does a 65-year old expat woman in Korea do?  She starts a business!  I launched my newest venture this month called “Coaching To Go.” I’ve taken all my expertise in consulting, counselling, teaching and life experience and I’m coaching expats who want to either return home or change the current circumstances of their lives. I was interviewed by the local expat magazine and I have already gotten clients. 

All this to say that life is filled with surprises, adventures and risk.   I probably won’t get rich in this business either, but I will have fun and isn’t that what life is all about?  I learned a long time ago that security is overrated and trying to predict and plan for everything in the future is futile.  Jumping out there and doing what I love is more important than knowing what tomorrow will bring.  I do plan and I’m not cavalier, however life happens and I don’t want to miss it. I sometimes find myself worrying about the future, and as I like to say, the committee in my head is often working overtime, but mostly I go with the excitement of what each day will bring.  Getting older does bring new challenges both physically and emotionally. I try to keep in shape and keep up with the young friends I have in Korea.  They keep me young in so many ways.  I realized that’s one of the secrets of staying young: being around young people and learning from them and absorbing the hopefulness of their lives and their futures.  It’s easy to forget your aches and pains when you’re around people who are focusing on the joys of the day. 

I don’t know how my business will go, or even how long I’ll stay in Korea, but I do know that as long as I’m here, I’ll have some fun and let the next adventure unfold as it will.  Being in the world, but not of the world, has its advantages.

Stay in touch and I will too.

With love and gratitude,

Marsha

Unplugged and Uninformed: A possible state of bliss

IMG_1542When Steve and I were first married, we each travelled abroad for business. In those days, the 80’s and early 90’s, technology was in its infancy stages. When we traveled we would communicate with each other through hand written faxes that, at the time, was really high tech. I still have every one of those faxes that we shared. There were very few phone calls, the cost was prohibitive, and email was unpredictable. We managed, and I remember waiting with great anticipation for those hand written “letters” to arrive. We couldn’t keep each other informed with phone calls twice a day or emails recounting the days activities as they happened. Things have changed and now we have email, SKYPE, Facetime, Facebook and IM. We can contact each other at any moment. Until now! Ubud simply is not plugged in. Although there is Internet access at my cottage it hardly comes in and I realize that I’m used to instant gratification of staying connected with the outside world. That includes reading and seeing the news around the world as it‘s happening which, these days, can only bring stress and sadness. The absence of that stress and sadness might account for some of the joy these people seem to have. I had a friend who once said she doesn’t read or listen to the news. I asked her how she stays connected and informed; she responded that if there was something she really needed to know she would hear about it. I thought that was a rather unsophisticated way to exist but now I’m not so sure. I haven’t read a paper or seen the news in more then two weeks and I still know about the tragic shooting of a 12-year-old black boy in the US. and some of what’s going on in Ferguson. In one of Andrew Weill’s books he recommends, I’m sure to western audiences, not watching any news for one day a week. He espouses that this small change can bring more peace to us. I guess he thought that asking us to stop watching the news, even for a week, would throw most people off.

Is my experience diminished by this lack of connection? At first I was so frustrated, being so used to instant gratification of high speed Internet. But now after a few weeks I have settled into a wonderful routine of self-reflection and self-reliance. I send emails when I can and SKYPING is a rare and wonderful moment for Steve and me to share an experience long after it’s happened. Has technology enhanced our lives? I know on so many levels that it has. I love the idea that in the midst of a conversation with someone if we are unsure about a fact or a name we “Google” it. I know that I can talk to friends and family and see them even when I’m 1000s of miles away. I wouldn’t want a world without it. It has made the world smaller and so much more convenient. What price have we paid for this? I walk by cafes and restaurants all over the world and I see the same thing; people on their cell phones, computers, iPads and whatever devices they have, people sitting with friends, no one making eye contact or talking, just checking email and who knows what else?

Once I return to the high speed, high tech world of South Korea, I wonder if I’ll be right back at it- maybe not with the same need I had before I left. Each experience brings a new awareness and the lessons come faster as my time on earth diminishes. I simply can’t put anything off.

IMG_1536Each morning, the elderly man who owns Sama cottages, now run by his son, comes by my cottage with a burlap bag and picks up all the flowers that fell to the ground the night before. These flowers are then placed around each cottage when the rooms are cleaned. I doubt that he races back to his cottage to plug in to technology. He smiles and greets me every morning and I am humbled by his “work.” I head back to Korea in a few days and I hope the lessons come with me.

Stay in touch and I will too.

With love and gratitude,

Marsha