Life is Messy

Keats said: “Life is divine Chaos. It’s messy, and it’s supposed to be that way.” And I get it. Yes. Life is messy. I’m not quite sure on the whole “divine” aspect, but in general, I’m on board with the whole chaos theory per Mr. Keats.

Here lately, chaos has defined my world … some bad, some good. It seems that along with being messy, Life has a sense of humor, and a twisted one at that. It sometimes gives you what you want, while also throwing obstacles — or downright tragedies, in your wake. Trials, tribulations, misfortune. Why can’t we just be allowed to enjoy the “good” without having the “bad” trail so closely behind?

After too many years of an unhappy — even, shall we say, hurtful, marriage, I began anew. It has taken adjustments, but it was necessary, and there is now a peace in my home that reigns supreme. Chalk that up to the “good” side. My kids are doing well on their respective paths to their future. Add a notch to the good column. I start a new job in a week. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m excited about this new route my own path is taking. Another mark to the good.

And then. Life, in all of its infinite wisdom said: “You know what? Things are just going a little to well for you and your family. I’m going to throw a kink into things. The mother of all kinks, in fact. Because, fuck you.”

Yeah. Life is messy all right.

My Dad, who this time last year was fine, now has Stage IV lung cancer. We know he was fine last year because for a few, non-cancer related reasons, he has scans done every year. That’s Life right there, flipping the middle finger. He’s a tough old cuss and if anyone can beat this thing, he can. But damn it, Life, get your shit together why don’t you?

 

Perchance to Dream

Many years ago, too many to count or even admit to, I used to listen to a radio show called America’s Top 40, hosted by Casey Kasem. His sign off phrase was, “Reach for the stars, but keep your feet on the ground.” This is good advice. Dream big, but stay somewhat practical.

Sadly, as children and even well into adulthood, we are often discouraged to dream at all. Sometimes we are discouraged by people who don’t support or believe in our dreams, and sometimes we’re knocked down just by pure circumstance. Perhaps, however, the reason we’re afraid to dream is because we are afraid to fail, or maybe, just maybe, we’re afraid to succeed. Whatever causes the death of our dreams, I just know it doesn’t have to be that way.

Balance is of course a healthy part of life. It’s good to be smart about life, to be grounded, and of course I always say to have a “Plan B.” And “C.” And even a “D.” Believe me, I’m not telling you to throw your life away in pursuit of foolishness. I’m not telling you to quit your job, sell your stuff, and backpack around Tibet. Unless of course, that’s something you really want to do. Then I’m all for it. Send me a postcard!

The young dream big, don’t they?  I mean, they can dream like we adults can’t even dream of dreaming. So who are we to snuff that out? Don’t we know that one of the cruelest things a person can endure is when someone they love can’t support their dreams? In a sense we’re saying we don’t believe in them. We don’t mean to. We’re just trying to protect them from the hurt we may have endured ourselves.

Plus, we think we know it all. We’re adults, right? We’re supposed to know it all. What we have to realize is that it’s better to let go and pursue our dreams rather than to always live with the ache of what could have been. I for one don’t want to be responsible for that in my life or the lives of my children.

What about us older folks? Those of middle-age and beyond. Do we think we’re too old good to dream? Our dreams are what move us to accomplish greatness and gift the universe with our brilliance… or maybe they just allow us to get through each day as we struggle with overwhelming mediocrity.  I will digress here for a moment to point out that Grandma Moses, pretty much a household name now, didn’t start painting until she was 78.  She painted right up until her death at 101. 101!  Her favorite quote, which indeed seems to tell her own personal tale, was “Life is what we make it, always has been, always will be.” Words to live by indeed.

Bram Stoker didn’t create Dracula until he was 50 (Stoker, not Dracula). I mean, seriously, where would the vampire genre be without him?

Donald Ray Pollock received quite a bit of attention for his debut novel, The Devil All the Time, but did you know that he dropped out of high school to work at a meatpacking plant for many years before moving on to a paper mill where he worked for 32 years as a laborer and truck driver?  The same year he turned 55, he took the leap and published a book of short stories – just a year before graduating Ohio University by the way.  Three years later, in 2011, along came The Devil All the Time which won him the Guggenheim Fellowship.  Talk about following a dream.

To digress even further (thanks for your patience!), Laura Ingalls Wilder… well, there’s another one. Even though she was a columnist at the age of 44 and doing fairly well, her Little House books made her a household name, and she didn’t publish those until she was the ripe age of 64.

After the death of her second husband, Mary Delany began creating amazingly intricate paper cut-outs of flowers to help her deal with her grief. She was 68. She created more than 1,700 pieces of this unique form of art and continued with her artwork until she was 88. Her pieces were so delicate and so incredibly beautiful that they now reside in the British Museum’s collection.

My point is, dreams shouldn’t be snuffed out… not in children, and certainly not just because a person has mastered the aging process. If anything, aging gives our dreams greater meaning. Life may throw us curve-balls or set us on a different path than we ever expected to be on, but dreams…dreams can set us free and put a new life in motion.

Don’t Stop Believin’ – Or Achievin’

Is dreaming just for the young? How about following your dreams? Can we rebuild our lives – or build a new life –even when we are most definitely smack in the throes of middle age or…ahem…leaning towards the outer edges of it?

When I was younger, I had no qualms about trying something new, going on an adventure – whether that was a career, a move to a new home, a new town, an experience, what have you.

But now…

Whether it was growing up (ahhh…adulthood, not all it’s cracked up to be, I must say), growing old, or simply being stuck for years with someone else’s criticisms eating away at my brain, my heart, and my self-esteem that did me in, I have found myself more timid – quite indecisive actually – when it comes to making decisions that would take me out of my comfort zone, even when it would be in my best interest.

Recently I have been catching sight of that person that I used to be, that plucky, spirited individual willing to take risks, lurking around corners, trying to come out from the shadows (Hello there! Long time no see!) – and now I’m pondering – is dreaming just for the young?  Can older lives be torn down and rebuilt the way we want them to be?  Or do dreams have a shelf life?

I have dreams just like anyone else and I want to make those happen.  Sometimes I think it’s just too late. I’m just too old. The world is obsessed with youth. Everything – advertising, TV shows, movies – even news – all seem aimed at teenagers and twenty-somethings…thirty-somethings at the outside.

Is it any wonder that middle-aged folks might think that their best years have passed them by…that if they were going to achieve their dreams, whatever they may be, they’d have done it already? We’ve been indoctrinated to think so.

But then I think, surely I don’t have to be stuck here, in this part of my life, if I don’t want to be. If I can oust this echoing voice in my head…the one I’ve been listening to for too many years…the one that makes me doubt myself…then certainly I can do something with my life, to make my dreams a reality.  Something that’s meant for me.

Historically speaking, it’s not unheard of – this rethinking of one’s life at middle age or beyond.  Grandma Moses comes to mind. She was 78 when she started painting – 78! Prior to that she’d spent decades embroidering, but when arthritis made that too painful, she took up painting, and within a couple of years became a household name.

Or how about Julia Child? She was 40 years old when she started to learn French cooking, and 50 years old when she started her cooking show!

Ever hear of Phyllis Diller? She was 37 years old when she became a stand-up comedian.

Then there’s an author named Elizabeth Jolley. One year she got 39 rejection slips! How many people give up their attempt to write after that first awful rejection – and she kept going and going and going until finally, at the age of 56, her first novel was published. The rest is history.

If they can do it, so can I.  So can anyone.  Right?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking to become a household name.  I want freedom, not fame.

The world cannot be just for the young. It simply cannot work that way. I’ve had dreams sitting on a shelf for some time, and it’s high time I started looking forward, not back.  At this point, there’s nothing holding me back but me.