“I watch the ripples change their size
but never leave the stream
of warm impermanence
so the days float through my eyes” — David Bowie, Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes
The summer is beginning to wind down and autumn is right around the corner. I often muse about the changing seasons this time of the year and reflect on my life, time-hopping from the past to the future, then back to today. Though it’s common to look back at the preceding year on New Year’s Eve or look ahead to the coming year the next day, I usually follow the school year calendar and my annual staycation. Some habits are hard to break.
Labor Day weekend is the beginning of my annual staycation, usually 7-10 days which I take off of work and remain close to home. It sounds a little mundane, yet it serves me. The time is a vacation from my routines and allows me to practice spontaneity and rather than check off things on my to-do list — which I regularly make one for the week ahead, plus an expanded one daily — instead I make a “to-do only if I want to list,” which I add and subtract to as I wish.
The items that usually make my list are a number of movie matinees during the week instead of weekend; I visit art galleries and museums and take leisurely walks in my neighborhood, often lingering in coffee shops or restaurants, reading or writing poetry. I make dates with friends who are retired or whose schedules are more flexible than my 9-to-5. I’ll spend some time in the kitchen and prepare a family comfort food recipe that requires an afternoon of preparation then simmers filling my home with smells that evoke the past and people long gone, creating a potpourri of reminiscence.
I also have writing submissions to work on, plays, monologues, poetry, or essays with pending deadlines, plus I edit the memoir that I’ve worked on for years, Perfectly Flawed. Like my life, it’s a work in progress. This year I have plans with friends to see a performance of Death of a Salesman at American Players Theatre, attend a gathering for a close friend visiting from Florida, and a monthly visit with my father in Racine.
I usually have some kind of project that requires research, last year it was applying for Social Security, Medicare, and reviewing supplemental insurance plans. This year it’s replacing my cell phone. I have an old 2G flip phone. AT&T has informed me that it will no longer support it after December 31st. I’ve only been procrastinating about selecting a Smartphone and plan for the past five years. Oh my!
Summer in the Midwest is typically a time to relax, hang out with friends and family, enjoy cookouts, spend as much time outside as possible, walk the Farmer’s Market on weekends, attend outdoor festivals and art fairs, and travel, whether a vacation or a Sunday road trip. When summer ends, the school year begins and family routines shift. It’s typically a time when I make new commitments to community organizations, or take a class and learn something new.
This past year had its challenges, unexpected loss and changes, and required me to make decisions for the future. Beginning last year at this time, my compensation at work changed to reflect my revised job duties. I transitioned from a salaried manager to an administrative and sales support position earning an hourly wage. My compensation was suddenly reduced by almost 30%. I must acknowledge however that I’m grateful that I still have a job during this economy where wages have stagnated, been reduced and companies and have downsized.
This change required me to evaluate whether I wanted to accept the new position I was offered, seek a new job, or consider retiring since I would be turning 66 at my upcoming birthday, and able to retire collecting my full Social Security benefit. I applied for new jobs and made the short list of candidates a couple of times, yet was not offered a position. I can only guess at the reason, yet I suspect some of it was due to my age, not my experience, skills, or ability to interview successfully.
I crunched numbers, drafted budgets, considered retiring, working part-time, or accept the revised position I was offered. I did the latter, but also made additional decisions: I would begin collecting Social Security, and be covered under Medicare and supplemental insurance. I also needed to find a new, more affordable apartment. I was already feeling “rent poor” before the job downsizing, so it was time for me to begin “rightsizing.”
Shortly after my 66th birthday my mother was hospitalized for another heart event and on the day she was to be discharged her heart stopped, she was administered CPR, and admitted to the ICU and intubated with a ventilator. This was not her wish for her end-of-life. Our family converged from all over the Unites States to be at her bedside, support our father and each other, and most importantly, be her advocate and enact her wishes. She was the heart and matriarch of our family. This event instantly changed the dynamics of our family and the care shifted to our now elderly father who would be living without her and alone for the first time in his life.
Next, I began my search for a new home. I wanted to find a place where I could age in place while I was still healthy and independent. Looking at my genetic history, if I follow my mother’s medical path, soon I will be dealing with heart issues and COPD. If I was fortunate enough to inherit my father’s healthy longevity, for the exception of some arthritis, I will live a long and healthy life. I suspect I’ll fall somewhere in between if I’m vigilant with preventative care.
My criteria were pretty simple. I wanted to live in a walkable neighborhood, in a building with an elevator and underground parking, a washer and dryer in my unit, a balcony, sufficient windows to keep my home light-filled and individually-controlled heating and central air. My comfort zone is pretty narrow, and I wanted to ensure I could maintain it. Most important it needed to be affordable, which in Madison like many other cities rents have increased dramatically as vacancies and availability have decreased. My months of research paid off and I moved back to the Atwood neighborhood where I had lived for over 15 years.
The downsizing/rightsizing continued. Late spring and early summer was characterized by packing, moving, unpacking and settling in my new home. As I’ve written before, moving is a physical, emotional, and spiritual experience. By mid July I was out of my previous apartment and settled into my new home.
Next up in the downsizing/rightsizing track was to research and choose a new car. My work lease, since I work for a luxury car dealership, enabled me to drive a Mercedes-Benz C-Class because of manufacturer contributions and employee programs. I became very spoiled. I was able to drive a car I would normally not be able to afford. I had the option to lease another Mercedes-Benz, but it would require me to continue working the duration of the lease to qualify for the incentives and I also wanted to reduce my monthly car expense.
Just this past week, I signed a lease on a 2016 Mazda CX-3 subcompact crossover SUV. It has all-wheel drive and many of the features that I like in a more affordable package. Before my Mercedes-Benz, I drove a Mazda, so I returned to a brand I enjoyed driving and owning.
My downsizing/rightsizing checklist: Reduced healthcare costs (Medicare and supplemental insurance compared to my employee insurance premiums), reduced monthly rent, and reduced lease payment from a Mercedes-Benz to a Mazda. When I moved, I negotiated with my cable provider. I receive more services at a cost less than before because I pleaded my case as a loyal customer. Next up, get a Smartphone (a one-time increased cost) and reduce my monthly service charges while increasing data and gaining features I currently don’t have.
Now the adventure really begins. The decisions I’ve recently made were essentially preparation for the journey ahead. As a baby boomer, like many others of my generation — we’ve been accused —or more kindly described — as navel-gazers, looking inward and reflecting on our lives. I’ve certainly done that and I consider it a positive process. For my blog and in my journals, I’ve written a lot about entering this last chapter, or third act of my life.
I need to prepare legal documents beginning with a will and power of medical attorney. Since I’m single and childless, I’ve named my sister Tami as my executor. I need to begin having conversations with her about my wishes for end of life. These tasks and conversations don’t necessarily need to be as serious and maudlin as they may sound. I’ve been fortunate to witness family members who in their old age, late 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, seemed to make a conscious decision when they were ready to let go and die with grace while retaining their dignity as they were able to say their good-byes. If I’m lucky enough to not die from an accident or unexpected health crisis, I hope I can follow a similar path.
During my recovery from alcohol and codependent relationships, I’ve learned the power of amends-making and taking a daily inventory. I’m not always perfect, yet I’ve been fortunate to experience the benefits of being responsible and accountable for my actions. I’m committed to ensuring that the relationships in my life are free from held resentments or emotional cut-offs. I know this is an overused phrase, but life really is too short. In addition to my emotional and spiritual life — though probably a little late to the game — I need to take better care of my physical self getting the preventive care and exercise I need.
Now that the business of my third act is outlined and my “to-do because I need to list” prepared, I look ahead to the creative opportunity as my vocational life shifts to my avocational life. Since I don’t have children and I’ve winnowed down my material life to the essentials, what will I leave behind? I’ve given a lot of thought to my legacy, and what in the end will give my life meaning. I hope my words, those committed to the page and shared in tender, sometimes difficult moments with family and loved ones, will hold value and infuse memories with the essence of who I was and how I lived my life. Like the title of my memoir, I’m Perfectly Flawed. Besides my loved ones I want to contribute to a larger community as an activist as long as I’m able.
At the end of the day, and at the end of my life, I want to enjoy the simple wonder and beauty of nature, the love and affection of the people in my life, of music and art, witness the curiosity of children as they experience things for the first time, and share with my peers the wisdom, lessons, and even the regrets we’ve encountered and gained on our journeys. Yes, in the end, I will most likely cherish the mundane gifts of everyday life.
It’s simple. I’m grateful. It bears repeating — I’m grateful today. I’m also lucky. As I’ve said before, I may not have received everything I’ve wanted, I’ve always received everything I needed. I’m a work in progress, still learning moment-by-moment, living in the moment, being in the now. It’s still a challenge for me. Like the slogan from 12-step programs I need to remember, “progress not perfection.” Most of all this last chapter of my life, this third act I strive to be a “human being, not a human doing.”
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