Thursday, August 27, 2015

What We Keep

Since “almost” retiring 18 months ago, I’ve done a lot of what my mom jokingly called, “squozzing down.”
I’ve packed and given away boxes of hardly used dishware, knick-knacks, and holiday decorations, a book-case worth of books. With minimal hand-wringing, I’ve donated thousands of dollars’ worth of suites and other “work” clothes.  
So, why are the shrunken t-shirt Jim bought me on our first date and my threadbare Margate circa mid-1970 cut-offs still in the drawer? Why do these relics—that no longer fit me—never make the donate-or-toss-it cut?
When my mom died several years ago, my siblings and I went through the ritual disbursing of her stuff. I carefully choose what to keep—the Hummel I bought her when I back-packed through Europe, a chipped vase from my childhood, a mama and baby snowman from her holiday collection, the library desk where I spent hours as a teen talking on the phone. I kept her red polo shirt with blue flowers on the collar—not because I’ll ever wear it—it just looks so much like her. Beyond that short list and some family pictures, there was a lifetime of her stuff I was able to let go.
And yet.
When I came across a tattered envelope with, “Cindy’s Wedding,” scrawled across the front in my mother’s handwriting, I could not bring myself to toss it.  Something about her handwriting as familiar to me as her smile and her voice, just like that red polo, felt too personal to let go.
I can’t explain it. Maybe that’s because there isn’t a rational explanation for what we keep.
What do you think? When you sort through your stuff, do you know why you keep what you keep and why you let other stuff go?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Anyone Else Need Remedial Letting Go?

If you have followed my emotional tug-of-war this past year, you know my feelings have boomeranged from denial, fear and projection to fragile acceptance and hope.

Habits learned over years in a 12 Step program—one day at a time, letting go, acceptance, courage, first things first—became life lines, put to a new kind of test. Even after years of “12 step practice” there have been days I needed to repeat the Serenity Prayer so many times, I nearly wore it out.
So I was intrigued recently when I heard someone talk about letting go as if it’s a one-time event. Like, it’s an on/off switch or sports shoe slogan. Just do it. You let go and presto. Fear and projection and worry are done.
If only.
I’ve worked on letting go for most of my adult life. No doubt my over-developed sense of responsibility and amped-up impulse to control spur my Groundhog Day approach to letting go—put it down, pick it up, give it over, take it back.
I’ve been known to ceremonially let go by writing down my worry, stuffing the paper into a jar, and tightly sealing the top. Often that works. Sometimes, no lid is secure enough to guarantee I won’t take the worry back.
Life would be simpler if I could learn to let things go once and be able to move on. It’s just never been that way for me.
Does it work that way for you?
And, if it does, can you share your secrets to letting go?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Art of Slowing Down

I feel humbled and grateful every time someone asks if I’m writing a sequel to CAPE MAYBE or PEACE BY PIECE, or hopefully inquires if I’ve started another book.
So why do I also feel guilty each time I admit I’m not?
It’s not that I’m not writing—a blog post here, an article there.
When I was still working in my day job, I faithfully wrote at least eight or ten new pages a week. For several years, I belonged to a small writing critique group with a few retired men. Week after week, I’d bring a new chapter to the group. The retired guys might have a few new pages. I didn’t get it and once said something like, “I work 50+ hours a week and commute 100 miles a day and still find time to write. You have all day. How do I always find more time to write than you?”
In a voice that felt like a pat on the head, one of them said, “Time is different when you’re retired, you’ll see.”
I love writing and always envisioned that when I retired, I’d write full-time. The thing is; loving writing doesn’t change the fact that writing is hard work. I’ve worked a lot in my life. Is more hard work the best use of my retirement time?
When I first retired, slowing down was harder than I expected. I couldn’t imagine how I’d fill my days. Now that I’m getting the hang of it, I am surprised to find how much I enjoy life without appointments and deadlines—how much I relish quiet time with Jim, and just doing one thing at a time.
Waiting for hummingbirds to flint by my office window, or dolphins to break the water’s surface, is a pretty amazing gig.
Am I rationalizing and being lazy, or is my job right now to learn and embrace the art of slowing down?