There’s a popular writing prompt called Six-Word Memoirs that’s making the rounds on blogs and magazines. Life in the Boomer Lane, AARP, and NPR have all published pieces encouraging us to craft our own. They are clever and succinct—a story in six well-chosen, magical words. Hemingway did it first, and probably best (though the authenticity of this is in some doubt): “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
I love the idea and have attempted to conjure six word stories for years, with nothing to show for it. My trouble is that I can’t edit down to only six words. I write, I am happy, and every time, I have exceeded my word count. To play by the rules means giving up one or more of my favorites. Listen, I don’t leave food on my plate, or extra wine in my glass, and I certainly don’t leave words that I love behind. While I wish I could be disciplined, it’s just not in my nature.
So I did what any undisciplined, creative person would do… I made my own rules. One line, as many words as needed. Enough to start a story, before it’s time to stop. My memoirs, my rules.
Here are my midlife memoirs. Tell me yours in the comments section. And you have permission to use as many words as you like!
Gray hair, hiding in the browns, pretending to be a wayward blond in low light.
I think it might be too late to get a tattoo, or climb Kilimanjaro or hang at Burning Man. Then again.
I never imagined this, or you. You showed up, connected the dots, and filled in the blank spaces. What it was like for you?
Nothing bad has ever happened. At least not yet. At least not to her.
She dreams of sleeping all day, mostly when she is awake all night.
I wonder if these earrings will make my butt look smaller?
Were we ever parents of two young children? Sometimes I can barely remember that moment.
I am fifty-six. I should be able to read the words “black-tie optional” without having a panic attack.
All those possibilities and potential in one full life. It’s easier to manage the overwhelm when I realize it’s not actually about me.
I may never learn how to cook a proper roast, cast off my knitting, or use an ATM. And yet, they call me a grown up.
On the ski trip she decided that marriage was worthwhile, if only to have someone to tell you that you haven’t rubbed in the sunscreen and there’s a leftover bit in your ear.
Would it be so wrong to eat a handful of cough drops and call it dessert?
There were times when the dog loved her most. His greeting alone made it all worthwhile.
She raised them to be independent—so they made their own lives, in new places. Perhaps she overshot.
Fear is a great motivator. However, as I get older, I fear less. Once you’ve accepted elastic waistbands, humiliation doesn’t hold the same power.
Just so you know, that was a very funny story when I told it to myself. With my outside voice, not so much.
Elves and an eight-day week, he said. That’s all you need to get it done. Finally, a realistic solution to my work/life/sleep/creative crisis.
How did my mother’s hands become my own? When did that happen, and what was I so engrossed in that I didn’t notice the transformation?
I pretend like we’re in midlife. But that’s only if we live to 112. It’s 66.8%, if I am lucky, and if I were the type to count my life by numbers.
P.S. I have another set of one liners on my personal blog, Tour of No Regrets, this week. Those are a less memoir, more in-the-moment. Come visit!
We’ve been wandering around the internet, so you don’t have to. All sorts of goodness out there to explore, my friends.
Dear beauty industry, I’m not buying it Beth Berry’s take on beauty–the part we already own–is spot on.
You don’t look your age and other myths by Lorraine Ladish at Viva 50! Love this line: No matter what you’ve gone through in life, or where you stand now, dare to wear your age well–no matter whether you’re 25 or 70, with pride, joy and especially gratitude!
Of course we’re not too old for the Hipster Hobby Generator. Now to choose between the recycled typewriter museum or crocheted chalkboard placemats.
Some serious reading about Tina Fey/Liz Lemon, from Linda Mizejewski at Salon. “Liz Lemonism, I would argue, satirizes both feminist hypocrisy and postfeminist bourgeois angst.” Worth the read.
Finally, a badge of optimism to wear into the weekend. We’ll take a dozen, please. Can always use a little extra.
The internet is a wild and wonderful place, and the midlife ecosystem is full of life. A few gems for your weekend:
Happy Birthday Gloria Steinem, and thanks for the life lessons.
Fine Lines, a thoughtful and thought-provoking essay on learning to re-parent by Lisa Carpenter.
Tracy Chapman turned 50 this week. Remember the first time you heard her?
Work Stew: Because as much as we’d like to imagine it, retirement is NOT just around the corner.
Don’t dress your age. Six fabulous fashionistas say no to drab.
For the summer book list, Whatever You Are, Be a Good One by Lisa Congdon. Love Lisa’s work, and exuberant inspiration is a just right summer activity, don’t you think?
This is love, and HoneyMaid will forever be my brand of graham cracker. Have you seen their awesome response, filled with love?
Have you seen these stunning photos of twins over 50?
In the category of “wish we were there” Team Yoko shows us all how to live a little more creatively.
By Kim Tackett
To my daughters, who with their ages combined, are 46. Though not without their own brand of youthful wisdom, here are few things I’ve learned and believe to be true, at fifty and then some:
1. At fifty, you know who your friends are. I have a theory about “friends of the road and friends of the heart.” Friends of the road show up with purpose for a time and place. They are our situational friends. Friends of the heart may come and go, but they are forever friends. If you are lucky, you will have a handful of friends of the heart at the end of your journey. At fifty, you start to know who they are.
2. We live on a continuum of peace to fear. Where we sit on that scale, in each moment, defines how compassionate and loving we are able to be. Bully behavior is born of fear and represents the person who is cornered. This isn’t always about others—it’s also about myself. When I am mean-spirited, lazy, or frustrated, there is always a component of fear hiding in the shadows. Find it, tame it, and then head over to the path of peace for a little lovin’.
3. Everyone just wants to be heard. They don’t need answers, and they sure don’t need excuses. But they need to know that you care enough to listen to them, to see them. This one also works in reverse: I don’t always need you to fix me, just to hear me.
4. Disagree and commit. These three words have kept me married, employed, and connected to the passionate people, and even the places, I love. One of our clients, a Fortune 100 company (number 54, last time I looked) posts this in their conference rooms. It works in business and in personal relationships. It’s also my go-to political statement when I am upset with the way my government is behaving, but I want to commit to the greater good of our country. At home we literally declare “disagree and commit” when an argument has worn out its welcome and it’s time to move on.
5. Showing up is good enough. I have always struggled with knowing how to do the right thing, say the right words, look the right way, and be the right person. I mess up a lot. I am awkward, I spill stuff, I say things I didn’t intend to say (and forget what I was practicing). But what I have seen demonstrated over and over again, is that just being present is enough. Sure it would be great if I could show up with a perfect peach pie and wrinkle-free, but since that isn’t likely to happen, this is my awesome alternative.
6. The mistake will become irrelevant, the recovery is everything. I learned this in my business, and always appreciate it when a colleague responds quickly to a mistake. Mistakes are actually opportunities for us to learn how to work together. Recovery is the gracious gift of a do-over and it is what helps, heals, changes and inspires.
7. We are each climbing our own mountain. And everyone is pushing a big boulder. No one has it easy, even if it appears otherwise. Sometimes we believe we’re singled out and special because we have a bigger boulder and a steeper mountain than everyone else does. Some are better at hiding it, or pushing when no one is looking, but we all share the boulders and the mountains.
8. Don’t underestimate the power of practicality. In a spiffy notebook, lists are an instrument for peace rather than a force of evil (really). Don’t skimp on quality with olive oil or coffee. If in doubt, bring a cheese plate. Say yes as often as you can, but no is also a complete sentence. Don’t go without snacks. Bring a book. Take notes. Give yourself an extra ten minutes. Buy yourself flowers—weekly. Breakfast for dinner is always a good idea, especially on Thursday nights. Travel trumps almost everything. If you are stuck, go outside. If you are sad, remember your spiritual practice. And if you are feeling sorry for yourself, serve others. Let people celebrate your birthdays: you get presents and free cake. You deserve nice things. Just not things that break or stain easily. When you can’t go fast enough, go slower. And when in doubt, call your mother. You know where to find me.
I love a good travel guide. Before I take a trip, I dream and scheme, ask friends for advice, check every website, map and book, and schedule what will we’ll see, what I will wear, and how I will source my coffee (priorities!) Of course, my experience never unfolds exactly (sometimes anything) as I imagined. But it’s what I didn’t plan that is often the highlight of the trip. I understand that guidebooks are for planning, not for deciding. But the Virgo in me likes to be ready for the possibilities ahead. While I always pack too much, and I always discover something new, I am always happy I had a guide at the beginning.
Who better to be our travel guides for the adventure of aging with intention than those who are a few steps ahead? I envy my friends who are in their sixties and seventies, living a life they crafted themselves. They have the freedom, conviction and ease I thought would show up when I hit midlife. I presumed I would become mature and settle into myself when I turned 50 (just as I did when I turned 8, 17, 35 and 45). And yes, I am still waiting on the maturity part.
I asked my friends what actions helped get them to where they are now. These women are part of my tribe, and they are part of my motivation and inspiration… and proof that there is a place called maturity (and grace, energy, contentment and independence) waiting for me. If I am lucky, it might even include an umbrella drink and a cabana boy.
From the guides, Leslye, Vonnie, Elle, Penny, Nancy, Kathleen and Dorothy:
What I wish I knew when I was fifty….
Leslye: In general, I wish I had cherished my fifties a bit more than I did. Until I approached 60, I never had an issue with any age, I loved all of them and dreaded none. But at 59, I hit a big emotional brick wall and aging with grace escaped me for a good year. Had I known I would feel that way, I might have tried to more consciously enjoy my fifties and make every minute count.
Vonnie: It’s not going to be what you think it will be. But it will be ok. Having competency in your work or marriage doesn’t mean there won’t be white water. Travel while you can; let the kids take out loans. You can help them pay them back, but use your cash earnings for active things while you both have your health.
Elle: I wish I realized how incredibly fast time goes by at this stage of life. Blink. You’re 55. Blink. You’re 60. The years are glorious and rich, but they move at the speed of light.
Nancy: Important moments are happening right now, so drink it in while you are in this moment in time. Not always easy to do, but I knew it then like I know it now—at age 67.
Dorothy: I’ve been playing my cards as they have been handed to me as long as I can remember. I do remember that my 50th year was good. In hindsight, I would have done more to secure myself financially. I wish I knew that I would be living alone, without my best friend and lover.
Penny: You may experience another dimension of love by taking care of an aging parent (once you get past the “wrongness” of the role reversal). You will be astonished by what you discover within yourself in your 50s. (For me it was compassion and patience.) Usually it’s directed outward. Try to direct some of that inward. You deserve it.
This is what surprised me about life after fifty…
Vonnie: I was able to have more fun. The concern about the children’s safety and fear of poverty were resolved.
Leslye: That it’s true what they say. I had heard all about women ‘coming into their power’ after 50 but at least half of me didn’t believe it. Then I experienced it for myself and it was SO COOL.
Penny: Once your hormones stop driving you (and stop driving you crazy), the world looks VERY different. It’s rather cool! It’s like standing on a riser a little outside the action. Whoa – perspective!
Kathleen: How much I savor things now. The tastes, the colors, the textures of the day are so lovely, so fine. I can hear the words of the music from my teens–was I not listening then? Even without weekend workshops or the innumerable self help books, come moments of bliss, of incandescent joy… totally out of the blue. Fortunately the moments pass and I get back to work, otherwise I would just pick up a hiking stick and walk into the hills. Every time this happens though, a bit of that fairy dust clings and my self-made sufferings are less. Around 50 I was pushing with intense desperation to avoid some of the consequences of life. I grip the steering wheel a little less tightly now and have a better time. I do note I have had things pretty easy, my path made smooth by those before me who fought real battles. I have also been gifted with much love in my life and I still like getting up in the morning.
When I reflect back on my fifties, I wish I had …
Vonnie: Traveled on my own.
Elle: I wish I had learned earlier on that it’s okay to end relationships that are not serving me. I have a bad habit of holding on to people long after the symbiosis is gone, and the result is a lot of angst. The freedom I feel from walking away is profound.
Leslye: Put more urgency on earning and financial planning.
Dorothy: Bought more San Francisco property and Apple!
Penny: If there is anything I wish I’d done differently, it is this: If you stumble in your career or have a turndown in your finances, adjust immediately. Entrepreneurial people tend to be optimistic about their ability to pick up and make money again. It would be wrong to lose that optimism, but it would be right to “right size” your lifestyle immediately. Accumulating debt in your 50s is not wise; you will regret it more than any other stupid thing you said or did.
And when I reflect back, I know I did this exactly right…
Vonnie: Gone to graduate school and got the MFA, a useless degree but I learned how to read.
Elle: Married for the second time. For me, there is nothing—nothing!—like having the right partner.
Leslye: Moving across the country at 48 and basically spending my fifties making new friends, discovering new geography, doing new work, pursuing new interests.
Nancy: The week before I turned 50, I was diagnosed with an ovarian tumor, with one week from initial diagnosis to surgery. There was no way to know if I had cancer prior to surgery, only a guess at the odds based on ultrasound and physical exams and the odds were scary. If they discovered the tumor was cancer during surgery it would mean my life was going to be ending in a few years. That was one of the most important weeks of my life. It was also the best year of my life. Everything of value became crystal clear and my priorities adjusted to match. I felt myself more present and therefore connected to the people near me and to the people I loved. I felt fully alive, as I was fully aware of my mortality. I did not have cancer, but I try to hold onto that awareness and clarity. It is not an easy thing to always do and it helps to revisit that experience to re-center myself.
If I could give my fifty-year-old self three tips to prepare for where I am now, they would be…
Nancy: Stay present so you make choices that are true to who you are. If you do that you will end up in a place you want to be. Balance work and down time. Play more.
Vonnie: Work out/keep moving. Lose weight now because after menopause it is really, really hard. Don’t own other’s success more than they do.
- Don’t be frightened, but your perspective is going to shift when you realize that the bulk of your life is behind you, not in front of you. Try to be ready for this, but don’t let it stop you from looking forward…always.
- Healthy eating and lots of exercise really are critically important. Keep it up, because that kind of lifestyle is going to keep you as young as you possibly can be.
- Make more contributions to your IRA!
- Get in shape and stay in shape. The post-50-year-old body does not respond to crash exercise or fits and starts. You can avoid many aches and pains if you keep your activity level steadily moderate-to-high. Find something you love to do and do it often.
- Explore and exploit the career mastery you’ve reached. You are probably at the top of your game–seek out ways to use all your gifts and prolong this phase as long as possible, both for financial and psychological/spiritual reasons.
- Make a plan to see geographically dispersed family often, especially grandchildren.
Now that I am past fifty, I am looking forward to…
Nancy: Playing more and enjoying what comes with that. I am officially semi-retired and see this as another beginning in my life. I believe adventures just don’t happen, you have to make them.
Vonnie: Being able to say NO.
Leslye: Understanding and valuing my experience and wisdom, and finding ways to use it to help others.
Dorothy: I am pretty independent, and have been all my life. So I plan my day as I please with my friends, family or alone. I know I am very fortunate with what I have done, where I have gone, with whom I did it, and my family. I have loved with passion and lived with adventure…lots of adventure. I look forward also to doing more of the things that bring me joy—learning everything I can, sharing what I know, and traveling.
Elle: Discovering the person I’m going to become when I am officially old. I’m curious about her, although I’m quite terrified to become her. Will I be vital? Funny? Inspirational? Comfortable in my baggy skin? A pleasure to be around? Or will I be a crank, wretched because every semblance of my youth is gone? I’d love to turn into one of those outrageously elegant older women with a mine-all-mine style…someone to whom younger women are drawn because she clearly has wisdom to impart.
And so the skirmish began. There I was, heckling myself on the way to the bathroom at three a.m., groggy, feeling like I was on the front line without any weapons. It was two weeks before Christmas and I was headlong into the food and drink revelry. Chips and queso! Wine and cheese! French fries! Candies and desserts! I just kept saying yes to all the decadence. It was heavenly until I spontaneously touched my belly in the middle of the night and realized that I’d have to wear yoga pants until I shed enough layers to button my jeans again. In years past, that realization would’ve sent me on a bonafide hunger strike. Today, however, I simply thrash myself with contempt and disgust. In some twisted way, I consider that an improvement.
I suppose just being aware of the mental guerilla warfare is progress, because for most of my 52 years I’ve lived with intense self-censure. And it’s not just food-related. I can berate myself for being human—things like letting someone down, saying something stupid, or being imperfect in the slightest way. I’ve spent massive amounts of energy judging and censoring myself, and it’s finally dawning on me how incredibly poisonous that shit is.
A couple of weeks ago, I had an idea for a personal psychological experiment: “What if I gave up self-criticism and self-judgment for one week? What if I accepted myself unconditionally, regardless of my performance or appearance?”
I know, it sounds far-fetched. But I made a halfhearted commitment to try it. What would happen if I told myself that it was okay that I’m in a career transition again in my early fifties, that I’m not a failure because I haven’t had the steady, one-track 30-year career that others have had (and are getting ready to retire from)? What if I didn’t judge my workout at the gym as “lame” and instead told myself that I was pretty bitchin’ for even showing up? What if I let myself off the hook for the food I had to throw out of my refrigerator last week, or my failure to adequately communicate with a group of people I’m supposedly leading?
Though I’m only 31 months in to my fifties, I’m realizing that one of the biggest benefits of this decade is that I’m less inclined to take peoples’ crap and more likely to let the small stuff go. Great. Now I just need to learn how to quit taking my own crap. On any given day, at any given time, regardless of how I look on the outside, there’s a good chance I’m saying to myself, “Go to jail! Go directly to jail! Do not pass Go; do not collect $200.” I need to remember to stash some of those yellow “get out of jail free” cards next time I play Monopoly. That way I could walk to the mirror and hold one up when I’m hating on myself. (You think I’m kidding, don’t you?)
In my twenties and thirties I thought I had all the time in the world, and I was fixated on doing things “right.” In my forties I started accepting that I wasn’t going to live forever. And now that I’m in my fifties, I want to stretch out in my own skin more than ever, and embrace what I think I was put here to do. But one glance at the clock confirms that I’d better get busy. I’ve buried my grandmother, my mother, and my ex-husband. I’m getting membership offers from AARP. My oldest granddaughter just lost her first tooth. Clearly, I don’t have as much time as I thought I did.
It’s said that the forties are the old age of youth, and the fifties are the youth of old age. Being on the whippersnapper end of the senior spectrum means that most of us are still young and healthy enough to be solidly in the game.
And that, for me, is the $64k question: what does it mean to be in the game, and what am I waiting for? My circumstances are probably never going to be more ideal to do what’s in my heart to do.
So where to begin?
Somehow I think that my self-compassion experiment is a good first step. I can temporarily stop bullying myself, knowing that I can always go back to it if I decide that charity isn’t working for me.
So here’s to lightening our loads and flying higher while we still can. Here’s to discovering—as my yoga teacher would say—the balance between effort and ease, an equilibrium that empowers us to give up on the life we thought we were supposed to live, and zealously living the one that’s right in front of us.
Screw caution and fear. I’m ready to do this.