If you want to be listened to, you should put in time listening. When I was in my twenties I belonged to a writers group. We would meet every other Wednesday and share our short stories, plays, mysteries and memoirs. Needless to say we did a lot of talking and listening. As with any group of women, our conversations ranged from what our children were doing to what was going on in the White House.
Every word spoken was important to us. One day, the conversation centered on their litany of complaints over getting older. One woman described her hot flashes in great detail and told us how in the middle of night she got out of bed and took a cold shower to calm her night sweats.
I was a new mother and all I could think about was how many dirty diapers I had changed and was suffering from all those sleepless nights. Needless to say, I remained silent, while sipping a cup of tea as the rest of the women shared their complaints about aging. I started to wonder if I was in a writers group or having lunch with my mother and her girlfriends.
Finally the group returned to the business at hand which was to decide if we should start to critique each others writings. A few of us decided that it would be helpful to have someone critique our latest writings. After that there were frequent red marks all over our pages. To make the process easier to take, we started each critique with what was good about the piece. Then with the writer basking in the glow of hearing how skillful her writing was, the not so positive stuff could be discussed. Many of the women went on to become succesful published authors.
The good stuff doesn’t just apply to critiquing writers it also applies to aging. Now many years later most of my friends are helping take care of their parents. They are dealing with problems about aging, fading memories, fatal illnesses, scams to cheat the trusting. At times they become overwhelmed.
It’s time to start thinking about what we gain from getting older, not what we lose. When we start to appreciate all the good stuff that we have and can do, we become happier people. Like a new sense of time. Like times when we were perusing an education or a career or raising our kids, we always looked ahead to each new stage.
It may have been when our babies would crawl, talk, walk, feed themselves, get out of diapers, get into school. Maybe it was when you finished collage and received your collage degree or when you were in pursuit of fulfilling your career goals.
All of those situations require looking ahead to the good stuff. Getting older doesn’t have to mean that you can’t look forward to having good stuff in your life. It means you have to think out of the box and move out of a few comfort zones. You can do it!
Now we know how fast the chipmunk-cheeked face of the nursing baby sharpens into the schoolgirls’ studious look. Don’t we? And we realize that, with each change, how special our time is and how fast it all disappears, too. Writing, like life, is not a goal but a process. And, as in life, it is easy to give up.
The excuses are legion. It’s too difficult to write; the storyline isn’t working; I don’t know where it’s taking me. But if we don’t trust the possibility that it will all work out, we’ll never get it written. And if those who read our work don’t look for possibilities, their doubts can discourage us from finishing it. So, we look for the possibilities of each idea, each piece of work.
Growing older in our society isn’t easy. The emphasis on staying young no matter what it takes or costs is strong. It’s sometimes hard to find the up side of getting old. But as mature women we have endless possibilities, from the sublime to the silly: never wearing panty hose again; wearing big, dangling rhinestone earings with jeans; eating dessert first or eating dessert only; going back to graduate school for the sheer joy of learning; taking up glass blowing or skydiving.
We can do what we want. It’s all possible. The process of writing is like aging they are both full of possibilities. The longer we live, the more we know about hurts and sadness in our own lives and in the world. But we know more too, with a recounting of what went right in our lives. As we have aged we have learned that each time we leave those we care about, we can leave them a positive word, a gift of good stuff, until we see them again. Life and writing are full of possibilities aren’t they?