Hiking Toward Home: In Which a Middle-Aged Woman Forges Her Trail

IMG_8334I have hiked five miles of the Appalachian Trail. It’s true, but I usually announce this with my eyes cast downward. Not because I think five miles is paltry; for me, it’s an accomplishment. My reticence is due to the circumstances of my achievement.

So, yes, I did cover a handful of miles of the North Carolina portion of the AT. But I did it with guides, people who walked before me as an example of where to put my feet; how to navigate a root-heavy curve; when to steady my pace. Those same people also toted my luggage from inn to inn as we spent our nights in soft beds after eating delicious meals prepared by hands other than ours. We awoke to smiling hosts and hot coffee before setting out for the day. (Over the course of the trip we logged more than five miles, only part of which was on the AT.)

Does it matter that I’ve never “roughed it” a day in my life? What if I mentioned the ice storm that cut off our power for four days, causing my parents and me to huddle in blankets around the fireplace, or reminisced about rolling out my sleeping bag onto the hard ground outside Mentone, Alabama, while at Camp DeSoto, or noted the semester I spent in Indiana living in a cold, sparsely furnished rooming house while teaching? Without wireless or cable? Without my husband?

If I were to talk about any of those experiences as real challenges, you would not reward me with your awe.

There are other things I might impress you with, like not marrying until I was forty-one and being okay with having lived alone so long. Trusting that my life has purpose, even though I never had biological children. Spending three days in the hospital with an undiagnosed infection that threatened to wipe out my white blood cells.

Still, I have not “roughed it” a day in my life. When I was single, I had good friends and encouraging role models who crafted fine lives for themselves without romantic partners. When I was diagnosed with endometriosis and told that any fleeting chance I might have had for bearing a child had passed, I did not think that meant my life had no meaning. I had not dreamed of having children, even though almost everyone around me assumed I longed for offspring. And with the hospitalization two years ago, I was lucky to have access to good healthcare, and to be blessed by a peace that passes all understanding.

In my younger days, I needed your approval. Never one to take a chance and then beg forgiveness, I sought permission even when none was required. Back then, I hungered for your acknowledgment. If you praised me, all the better.

My younger days are gone. It’s one of the joys of aging, this trusting of Self. At long last I no longer crave the noticing of the world. My own awareness is enough.

In the writing workshops I facilitate, we write in response too prompts. I wrote this after reading “The Hike,” by Genie Zeiger, as printed in The Sun Magazine. I encourage the folks gathered around my table to go where the writing takes them, without worrying if it relates directly to the prompt. So I took my own advice, and this is what I came up with on a Saturday morning in Nashville. What does the poem bring up in you? Write for twenty minutes. I’ll set the timer. Go!

https://www.thesunmagazine.org/issues/395/the-hike

 

“Ten Tiny Changes”: The Artist’s Way

 

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I’m beginning to realize that my current sensitivity around the state of the world and the state of my own emotional well-being is not just a day or two of the blues. It is a tender stage of life I must make my way through.

At fifty-six, I find myself restless, wondering if I’ve done enough and curious about what more there might be to do and what it might look like. New career? Different town? Stay the course? Get a facelift?

Some folks say I think too much, worry more than I should. Guilty as charged. But I’ve spent a lot of time trying not to be what I am: highly sensitive and hyper aware. And I’m too old for that now. Instead I choose to embrace these qualities and work with them as best I can. There are some upsides: curiosity, empathy, creativity, trustworthiness, and a willingness to hang out in the trenches with people who are hurting. Some of the challenges include: taking on problems that aren’t mine to solve; an inability to filter out what I don’t need to absorb; overreacting to perceived injustices; and accepting what’s mine to do and laying down the rest.

In order to make my way in the world without becoming completely overwhelmed, I need to get quiet and listen deeply—to myself and my Creator. One way I’m doing that right now is by working my way through The Artist’s Way Workbook. The current assignment is to list “Ten Tiny Changes” I’d like to make and then crafting goals from those. This an effective way to streamline what’s important to me. For example, from “I want to publish a book,” I get, “I will write every day.” From “I would like to teach part time,” I move to, “I will apply for the adjunct job at the university.” From “I would like to start my spiritual direction practice,” I come up with, “I will reach out to friends in the spiritual community for advice.” Wanting to lose weight morphs into, “I will walk five times a week.”

It may seem straightforward, like a “no brainer” to those who are more single minded and pragmatic, that you would list your goals and then set about tackling them. But for someone like me, who can become convinced fairly easily that I should be doing something else–or worse, that I should “be” someone else–the act of breaking my goals down into “tiny changes” is helpful. Let’s see how it goes…

Amy Lyles Wilson

P.S. How do you focus and make progress on your goals and dreams?

On Dreaming {Waking Up Worried}

dsc_0066.jpgThis morning I woke up wondering how to make amends for having offended someone. We were at a conference and I’d tried to sit next to him during the lunch break.

“You can’t sit here,” he said. “I don’t want to be around you because I saw you do something I didn’t like.”

It might be merely sad if I were worried about someone jerky enough to refuse to sit by me because of a perceived slight I might not even have been aware of making, but the thing that makes my concern even more pathetic is that it was all a dream. After dreaming about a man, someone I did not recognize from my waking life, being rude to me, my response was to blame myself and beg for forgiveness. All this before I’d even brushed my teeth.

This can’t be good, right, that I allowed a dream to make me doubt myself? That my first inclination upon waking was not, “What a beautiful morning” (which it is here in Nashville) or “Aren’t I lucky to have a husband who brings me coffee?”

Instead, I opened my eyes and thought: “I can’t believe I made this guy so angry with me. What could I have done wrong?” Blink. Blink. Blink. “What can I do to make it right? How can I make him like me?”

“That’s a stretch even for you, Babe,” said Precious when I told him I woke up worried. “Usually we make it to noon before you take to fretting.”

I think he was kidding, but he knows I’m an anxious sort, that I have the potential to assume responsibility for actions that take place five counties over. That I can imagine all manner of things to be sorry for just sitting in the den.

But I’m working on it. I’m learning the art of presence. I’m practicing being centered in today instead of borrowing trouble against tomorrow. I yearn to be respectful of, and grateful for, this very instant. This one right here. I don’t want to be the kind of old woman who wanders too far afield into the unknown of the future or stays mired in the over and done with of the past. Today, though, I feel like my dream conspired against me.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In training to be a spiritual director, we’re doing dream work, which is new to me. We’re asked to make notes of our dreams and sit with images that come up. Maybe this dream is inviting me to let go of what people think of me. Maybe this dream is reminding me that I can’t control how others react to me and that, alas, not everyone will like me. (This one still breaks my heart, that not everyone thinks I’m fabulous. And that there’s not a darn thing I can do about it.) This wouldn’t be the first time such propositions have been hurled in my direction. Maybe now I will get the message. If not, there’s always tonight, where another dream awaits.

Keeping My Balance at the Gym–And in My Life

IMG_2469An older man stops my trainer at the gym to ask if she is trying to teach me balance. I am struggling to stay upright atop what feels like to me is a mound of Jello. (It is, in reality, something called a Bosu ball.) It is so challenging for me that I must reach out for my trainer’s arms more than once to steady myself as I raise one leg, then the other, to her count.

“Yes,” she tells him. “This exercise strengthens your core and helps your balance.”

“That is good,” he says before walking away.

I talk to my trainer a lot about such issues that matter more and more as I age. I hear stories from my elderly friends about falling at the least provocation. These exercises are no guarantee, of course, that I will remain upright. But I want to do everything I can to be ready. And so it is with the rest of my life.

At 52, I find myself a bit unsteady about what to do next. Another degree? Open an arts studio? Take a part-time job? Finally see if I’ve got a novel in me? But instead of relying on my old habits of signing up for yet another workshop or scheduling an appointment with one sort of therapist or another or, my personal favorite, ordering books about living the creative/mindful/spiritual/healthy (insert your personal predilection here) life, I am trying, simply, to be. I’m resisting with all my might the desire to make sudden moves.

For most of my life I’ve felt that as long as I was moving, I must be living. (Can you say avoidance?) Now, though, I sense there is something to be gleaned from spending time with myself without an agenda, or a goal, or a to-do list. It’s harder than it sounds.

One of the best career breaks I ever got happened years ago when, although I was not happy with my employer, something told me to stay put instead of packing up my red pencils and my thesaurus and moving to another job, trying a different city. By sticking around, I enjoyed one of my most fulfilling creative assignments to date.

The voice that said “stay” was not loud or threatening. It did not belong to a friend, or, dare I say, even a divine entity. It was my own, and I’m just hoping I can recognize it now.

Here’s Hoping Fifty Really Is Nifty…

From Her NashvilleAugust 2011

This month I turn 50. As in, half a century. As in, at least half of my life is gone. It sounds depressing, and in some ways I guess it is. But for the most part, it feels like a gift.

Earlier this year, I vowed to become as healthy as I could before my momentous birthday. I increased my visits to the shrink, started getting acupuncture, hired a personal trainer, scheduled facials on a regular basis, tried to give up carbs, and took up yoga. I had hoped the big day would approach and find me 30 pounds lighter and boasting a low cholesterol number. Alas, those things did not happen. What I can celebrate, though, is feeling more like myself than ever.

Read more here…

Spiritual Housekeeping: In Which a Middle-Aged Goober Bares All

Before I married my husband, there were two things I was hesitant to tell him. I didn’t see the need to mention that my collection of childhood stuffed animals would be accompanying us to our new home, or that I’d been known to waste more than one perfectly good Saturday watching Murder, She Wrote reruns. Those idiosyncrasies I assumed he could handle, even if he didn’t share my affection for teddy bears or Angela Lansbury. Read more here…

What’s a Middle-Aged Goober Doing at Blissdom?

I don’t really know from blogging. As a professional writer and editor who has worked in the publishing world for 25 years, I know about words. As a woman nearing fifty, I know about marrying late, burying my father (the first love of my life), caring for my elderly mother, and wondering if I’ll get it all done before my time is up. As a retreat leader and workshop facilitator, I know it’s the sharing of our stories that saves us. And here I’m talking about the tough stories, the ones about loss, and grief, and regrets, and dreams denied that all too often our society/family/religion/ego wants us to keep to ourselves.

But this whole blogging thing has me a bit stymied: Do I need a catchy theme, with a title that enhances SEO? (I do actually know what that stands for, thanks to Randy Elrod.) Do I have to be a “mommy blogger”? If so, I’m screwed, because I blog under my own name and I do not have children. So where does that leave me, a middle-aged goober who encourages women to write their hearts out?

For starters, it leaves me looking for all the guidance I can lap up. So last week I headed out to Gaylord Opryland Hotel and attended the Blissdom Conference. (I was miffed last year when I heard about it after the fact, and couldn’t believe I was so out of the loop in my own town.)

I walked in knowing I would see at least one familiar face, because we’d promised one another we’d take turns rescuing whichever one of us was feeling more vulnerable, as we were both stepping outside our comfort zone. I ended up knowing several folks, and even ran across a co-worker from Her Nashville. But mostly I interacted with women I had never met or even heard of.

And here’s what I learned:
There are women—women just like you and me—doing amazing things online: advocating for charitable causes, exposing issues surrounding small farms and raw foods, inspiring better parenting, making all sorts of crafty items, cooking healthy food, finding their way through addiction. The list goes on, and that list can be both freeing, “there’s room for everyone,” and intimidating, “who do I think I am.” What the Blissdom panelists and speakers modeled for me is that there is still plenty of room, and that if I think I’m the one to tell a certain story in a certain way, then I am. Funny, that’s exactly how I advise the women in my writing workshops: you’re the only one who can tell your story and yes, the world has room for it. Let’s write it, and then we’ll worry about what to do with it.

But there was more: conversations with women from all over the country that I never would have met otherwise; time for socializing in an environment free from competition for who has the most Twitter followers (not me); great swag, really, the best conference happies ever; delicious food; and the playing of “Party in America,” “Party in the USA,” which made the menopausal me burst into tears (in a good way). On top of all that, I heard Brene Brown, whose book The Gifts of Imperfection is already informing my work; and Scott Stratten, on whom I think I have developed a crush. (Please don’t tell Precious.) I think I even made a few new friends.

In the end, there were women there who’ve been blogging longer than I have, and women who have just started; women who have confidence in themselves, and their words, and women who wonder if they’ll ever bring themselves to hit “publish”; women who are younger and thinner, and women who share my creaky knees and desire to lose weight. But our common denominator remains: we all have stories worth telling.