Musings on change and more change ahead…A personal post

I can never recall who said it, nor exactly how it was said, but to paraphrase: The older I grow, the one constant in my life does seem to be change.

As I get ready for some major life shifts in my personal life, I find myself reflecting on the past year and just what a journey it has been. While I shy away from the personal stuff in this space, today is a little different for me as I realize how much of the personal changes of the past year have affected me.

Thanks to Facebook’s nifty (or sometimes not so nifty) memory reminder feature, a picture from last year popped up in my feed. It was a photo that reminded me that a year ago, I was preparing for the physical separation from my life partner of 20 years, 18 of which were spent as a legally married couple. A partnership that started at 22 and ended at 42 and basically set me off on the journey to find myself at a time in life when, according to popular beliefs, you have already figured out who you are. Increasingly, though, I am starting to believe that we never truly find ourselves, instead we evolve over time and our task is to meet the changes head on. To not allow ourselves to grow stagnant, yet also to retain our central core of self.

Moving out of the family home and into a 400-square-foot apartment (which is shared my daughter) on an island at times has felt like one of the most asinine things that I could do. And at the same time, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. It has been my healing space and in the past year, I have met many good people along the way who have shown me that despite the daily reports of gloom and doom that are fed to us, good people truly do exist.

While change may be the only constant in life, the reality is that for many of us, and I include myself, change is hard.  The day-to-day of actually doing change sometimes seems to bear an uncanny resemblance to a root canal without the anesthesia. Yet there comes a point when if we keep going, the change starts to sink in and it becomes your “new normal”…it often happens when you aren’t paying attention.

If necessity is the mother of invention, I can say that the past year has forced me to seriously assess my own skills and talents as I was faced with the uncomfortable truth that while running a grassroots organization is the ultimate in doing good, rarely is it financially rewarding. Given that I don’t wish to spend my golden years eating kitty chow and living under a bridge…yet I love the work that I do…I have increased my own side work and it is slowly starting to bear fruit. Starting a side business while running an almost 50-year old grassroots organization is challenging but so far, I am keeping all the balls in the air.

This past year, I have even seen a long-held dream come true. For years I joked about wanting to give a TED Talk and on November 5, at the State Theater in Portland, Maine, I will be a speaker at TEDxDirigo (Maine’s little slice of the TEDx world).  While it is an honor to be among an amazing group of speakers, it is one of the hardest and scariest things I have ever done. The preparation for a TED/TEDx talk can only be likened to preparing for a marathon. A mental and emotional marathon, but a marathon nonetheless.

Yet the greatest changes in my life have been on a personal front, in large part as we prepare for a new addition to our family. My son and his wife are expecting their first child, who will be earthside soon. After 25 years of motherhood, I am preparing to enter grandma-hood and with each passing day, I find myself getting more and more excited. With new change comes new realities and entering the next phase of adulthood has rendered so much of what seemed important as really unimportant. This became clear to me this spring as I stood with both of my previous husbands and watched our son get married, a day that will live in my memory as long as I am in sound mind. But that day is a close second to feeling my daughter in law’s belly move as my unborn grandchild kicked.

I have had two babies; I remember their  in-utero kicks and movements but to see your own grandchild kick, to realize that your baby is an adult who is about to have his own baby, is one of the greatest joys in life. My children and soon my grandchild will be the three constants in my life, no matter what changes come my way.

Life is like a roller coaster and I am holding on tight as I ride the wave of mamahood, work, starting over, what is shaping up to be a new relationship and watching the next generation of my family take hold. What a journey it has been! 
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Settling In: A peek into midlife change and new beginnings

My day job is heading up an anti-racism organization, I write about race and I exist in a body that is called Black. Racism isn’t an intellectual activity for me; it is a lived reality that lurks on every corner once I step outside my door. If I don’t want to think about race and possibly racism, my only recourse is to not leave my house. And trust me, there are days when I am not strong enough…days when I know that if I encounter racial ignorance or outright bigotry that it might break me or cause me to break someone else. On those days, I simply don’t leave the house.

Yet my life is more than race and racism. It is also joy and it is sorrow and, right now, it’s so much change that I often feel like Neo in “The Matrix” as I contort myself to dodge the barrage of emotional and logistical ammunition that is headed in my direction. Last night, I found myself on a three-plus hour call catching up with one of my sisters in storytelling. As I shared what’s really been going on in my life, she asked me, “Why aren’t you writing these stories?” I realized over the course of that call that while writing about racism and oppression is often what brings people to this site, I am a writer who needs to write and that also means telling the stories that contribute to my own humanity and help define and frame it. So today I share a peek into my life at midlife as I navigate what increasingly feels like a brave new world.

I have spent the majority of my adult life being a wife and a mother. I have grown into adulthood while navigating rearing children and being a partner. Even attending college and later graduate school was done while juggling kids, partner, an ailing mother and later grieving the loss of that mother. It’s meant that I have spent very little time actually living on my own. It’s also meant that navigating life in my 40s after the collapse of my almost 20-year marriage at times feels like a comedy routine or a tragedy depending on the day.

I have no regrets about my marriage coming to an end, my now co-parent (rather than husband or even “husbfriend” as I was calling him for a while) remains my closest friend and trusted confidante. Our romantic journey together came to the end of its natural lifecycle and I think that as a society that is hung up on romance and fairytale endings, we rarely provide the space to admit that things end. Not all endings must be nasty and contentious nor must they be emotional affairs that gut us, but endings are change and change even when we need it and welcome it can be a sticky affair.

For me, navigating the reality of not living with another adult is what has been the unexpected thing. Realizing that logic models come far easier to me than remembering what day the trash pick-up is…hell, trying to figure out what size garbage bags to buy nearly sent me into a panic as I stood trying to explain to the clerk that I haven’t bought garbage bags myself in damn near 20 years.

After years of serving as a de-facto short order cook to a family that includes a staunch vegetarian, one meat-only kid, and one eat-anything adult, I realize that I have no idea how to cook in small portions but surprisingly I am learning that left to my own devices, I actually don’t like cooking (other than baking which, according to my waistline, I should do very little of).  I especially don’t like cooking now that I have to cook and wash the dishes after years of having a live-in dishwasher.

Yet the biggest adjustment to me is how I interact with the world and how it interacts with me as a middle-aged woman sans a life partner. Leaving a partner is not just leaving a partner but it’s also leaving a way of life. It’s leaving the land of twos and navigating as a one, it’s realizing that friends and acquaintances often feel worse than you do and just when you need them, they are nowhere to be found. It was waking up alone on my 43rd birthday and feeling adrift and then having to cancel my plans because almost everyone canceled on me yet feeling grateful for the friend who did show up.

Hands down, the feeling of being alone has been the hardest to navigate especially because 20-plus years ago, friendships and connections were not merely a series of Facebook status updates with carefully curated snapshots of the chipper side of our lives. In midlife, our schedules are full and we are stretched and creating time for friends is not always a priority when we are juggling jobs, partners, aging parents and our kids’ schedules which are often as full as our own.  There is also the reality that midlife breakups are different than earlier splits. Midlife is already a time for reflection and sometimes correction. When you have spent a deacde or two or more with another human being and you leave, whether it’s contentious or amicable, it’s a shift in your personal world and adds roadblocks and course corrections into a life already increasingly filled with them.

So, I am working to settle into being alone. I am also trying to wrap my head around being a woman who still has needs *ahem* and how the heck does one get such needs met in a Tinder kind of world? That’s a book waiting to be written and definitely not for this space!  I am working to have greater compassion when people don’t show up when I need them and making more space for the unexpected people who have shown up for the much-needed call, drink and space-holding session. The past several months have knocked me on my ass as I have juggled so many balls that eventually they started falling and smacking me in my face. Still I have also found my safe space; turns out that island living, though logistically a nightmare at times (Island in Maine to Boston days are a blast and a half!), is what I needed. So yeah, I am doing good, been through the desert on a horse with no name and it felt good to be out of the rain.
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On words and celebrations, reflections from the past week

Some weeks just gut you and leave you raw and exposed to the elements. This has been that type of week for me. I have been laid up battling ick since last Friday; so much ick that I actually refrained from going to my office all week for fear that I might pass out in the middle of Boston and no one would give a damn.

My first illness post-separation has been a real adventure. Thankfully, the estranged spouse has been as supportive as ever which while great also brought home a painful reality: that in the event of a true emergency in this new life, who would I call? My aging dad doesn’t have the ability to get to me, my son is off on the road more days than not and even my brother is often in transit. My closest and oldest friend in the world lives up in Minnesota and is currently working 40+ hours a week while raising a family. Even my old backup support, the woman known as my first mother-in-law, has recently relocated out of New England is currently probably wondering why the snow keeps following her in her new state.

I spent one very scary night alone in my tiny abode on the island with a racing heart, soupy head, fever and barely able to shuffle off to the bathroom. The next morning, I managed to pull it together long enough to give a sermon on Black Humanity before the ex picked me up and brought me back to the old family abode and took care of both our daughter and me.

It’s a week later and I am on the other side of this brutal bug with the realization that after a year of going nonstop, I was going to collapse from sheer exhaustion (as my healthcare provider warned me several months ago).  Lesson learned, but a lesson that in the midst of great change has opened me up to more reflections.

Tomorrow is my birthday, and birthdays have always been very touchy for me because of my upbringing. The cliff notes version is that for the bulk of my childhood, birthdays weren’t days of celebrations in my household. It’s admittedly a sore point for me and one that I still struggle with, but my own views on birthdays shifted after my marriage when my then husband made a point of always celebrating the day and making me feel special.  Of course in the post-separation world, there is a huge void in that category and one of the many ways that I am learning life shifts and it leaves you feeling frankly like a throwaway human being.

So I made the decision many weeks ago that I would celebrate myself and make my own plan for the day much like I decided on my 40th birthday to create my own special day and, frankly, invite any and all to share in the day with me.  Now, I wouldn’t have thought much about sharing any of this in this space but a reader left a comment on this post that frankly hurt me.

Years ago I would have done anything to avoid admitting to being in a vulnerable and emotionally tenderized state but I am old enough now where I can admit to not having any shame in being open with both myself and even strangers.

Increasingly, my views and my words have made me a target in online spaces where spineless cowards feel emboldened to do an emotional drive by with words. I know…haters gonna hate; ignore them. In the end, I suppose that is my best course of action but these words struck a note with me: You were born?! Wow. So were billions of other humans. It seems so childish, a middle-aged woman making a fuss over her “born day.”

Frankly as a collective, we don’t celebrate people enough. We are never too old to feel appreciated and valued regardless of how old we are. A few weeks ago here in Maine, there was this sad story of a lady found dead in her home after her neighbors not noticing her missing for two years. How do you live in a small town and no one notices that you just vanished? That means for two birthdays and other holidays, no one noticed that this woman who had been, by all accounts, a gifted musical teacher before her retirement…was just gone.

I don’t want that to be my fate, I don’t want that to be anyone’s fate. Yet in this hyperconnected world sometimes it feels like we are moving further apart instead of closer and the new reality of not having a built-in mate has brought that home to me in a very painful way. When we strive to be authentic, it seems there are those who rejoice in cutting us down, never realizing that words can be weapons. Yet, as a writer I take those words, catch them in my hand and turn them into something that can be hopefully used for good.

So on this weekend, I celebrate another year of life because I know all too well that the next day is never promised. I strive to find some joy in each and every day and trust me the other day, breathing freely from both nostrils was quite joyous. More importantly as I enter my 43rd year of life, I hope to find joy in the presence of others because this new stage of life is teaching me to value human connections far more than I ever have. After 20 years of companionship, sometimes the silence of this new life, while healing in many ways, is also the loneliest feeling ever.
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