#1: Beginning

The Naysayer in my head with the bullhorn voice is a lazy lout. He takes a long time to get going in the morning and I take full advantage. Armed with a large mug of French Roast, I start my day with a view across the street of the sun glinting through the trees in what my grandchildren call “Marsea’s Park.” Before that goblin awakes, before screens deliver the overnight news and a bulging inbox, before phone calls and To Do’s insist themselves into my consciousness, I grant myself time to think and write in my journal, a period of creativity and hopefulness from which spring my best ideas and intentions for the day and for my life.

During one particularly fertile morning a few months ago, I birthed the idea for a new blog. I have authored a travel blog (http://marsea05.blogspot.com) over the past seven years that shares insights and stories from my adventures as I sailed a number of times with Semester at Sea. This shipboard study abroad program has become my passion and the main focus of my time, energy and resources, outside of my family that is. But I have had many thoughts and questions during my landlocked days that I wanted to write my way into that don’t fit the travel category. The concept of a new blog that would make room for these musings bubbled up into the sunlight, expanded and morphed into a substantive plan.

As I thought back over the topics that had occupied my recent musings, the theme was undeniable. Maybe it was my 65th birthday—today!—on the near horizon or maybe it was the particular developmental stage I find myself in, but the persistent leitmotif was aging. The Naysayer roused himself a little and took a few sleepy potshots: too negative, too boring, so clichéd and overdone. My morning-fresh optimism countered: not MY blog about aging. Mine will be fresh and hopeful but also honest and unflinching.

I was born two years after my father returned from World War II (why two years and not one is a story for another time) and I have always been aware of the position I have on the leading edge of the Baby Boom. As my age-mates and I enter into this last major era of our lives, maybe we have something to offer—questions not answers—which will inform and enrich the experience for us and for those who will follow us. It’s always easier for me to write once I have a metaphor or structure to write inside of and the American Cancer Society’s ad proclaiming itself the proponent of birthdays had recently resonated. And so was born “Lots of Birthdays: A fresh look at aging from the leading edge of the Baby Boom.”

The intervening months have brought flurries of topic ideas, a luminous masthead photo by Laura Chifiriuc via Flickr, a rich stew of input from writers who nourish me, and the predictable slings and arrows of doubt and anxiety lobbed at me by The Naysayer. One of my kids—okay an accomplished adult with an impressive advanced degree but my kid forever and always—suggested that the blog should be sure to have lots of humor, not too heavy or pedantic. That caution nagged at me, an undigested bit that lingered after my frequent feasts at the excitement buffet of my new project. No one would include a sense of humor in any top ten lists of my natural gifts. Then I read an interview in “The Days of Yore” with one of my contemporary writer heroes Mary Karr (http://www.thedaysofyore.com/mary-karr/). She tells a story about Hemingway interviewing a famous bullfighter.  He asks, “What exercises do you do for strength?” The bullfighter says, “The bull weighs two tons. Am I going to be stronger than the bull?” Karr reminds us that “you’ve got to figure out what you have to fight with, what you bring to the party, and try to compete in that arena. Not in the arena that perhaps seems fashionable at the time, or perhaps seems enviable in other people, but the arena that’s really, as Faulkner says, your postage stamp of reality.” After letting the wisdom of those three literary powerhouses wash through my anxiety, I felt much calmer.

As I’ve thought and planned and endured periods of angst, other writers have also nudged me back into my authentic lane on this road through the blogosphere. Kathryn Shultz first showed up on my radar via a TED Talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/kathryn_schulz_on_being_wrong.html). I immediately downloaded the electronic version of her bestseller Being Wrong then quickly bought a stack of paper copies. I gave them as Christmas gifts and pushed them on anyone I talked to about anything remotely related to being right and wrong, which was pretty much everyone. Interestingly, both she and another favorite writer I heard speak recently, Andre Dubus III, referenced an important concept from Keats, an idea that more than many others will guide how this blog unfolds.

Keats talked about “negative capability,” the ability to stay in a state of uncertainty, what I take to mean as sitting with the questions and not scampering off like an eager puppy after every possible answer. It feels like my earlier writing came from a longing to publish some proud insight I had discovered, wrapped in as attractive a literary package as I could create. My intention for this blog is to do something different, something rare for me and maybe for some of my peers, proud as we are of our hard won “wisdom.” Decades of therapy have enriched and supported my life in innumerable ways but the primary lesson I have learned is to be curious about my self and my behavior, to be willing to take a step back and say “Hmm, I wonder what’s going on here.” As I age, I hope to bring that central question to the topics I explore in this blog.

I’ll end this inaugural post with a request. A blog, unlike a published essay, can be a dialogue. I want to invite you to join in here. Comment on my post or the comments of others. Tell us about the questions in your life as you age, which in fact we all do every day if we’re lucky enough to be on the right side of the grass. Given the previous discussion of gifts brought to the party, any humorous bits will be especially welcome. The hope of this blog as a conversation is my primary motivation for “Lots of Birthdays.” Otherwise I’d be content to keep sitting in the morning sunshine, sipping coffee and filling up journals.

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23 Responses to #1: Beginning

  1. Great post! If a sense of humor isn’t one of your hallmarks (I’m just quoting you, not necessarily persuaded, because you do at least have “good humor”), you will surely follow another of Mary Karr’s dictums, which is to write with love. Looking forward to more.

  2. maggie thomas says:

    I have enjoyed reading this Marjorie! As someone who celebrated her 65th birthday 14 years ago (yes I try to keep that secret!) one of your observations that I identify with is the question I often ask myself, about myself, ‘What is going on here?’. When I feel hurt, angry, embarrassed or simply happy and content, I try to look at my mood and ask ‘why? why now?’. Between that constant questioning and the personal ‘exposure’ of being a faculty wife on Semester at Sea three times in three years, I am getting to know myself pretty well… not always being happy about what I learn!. Then I must remind myself that I’m human, that many of my dreams will not come true but that in the meantime I’m so fortunate and blessed….I should perhaps just count those blessings daily. I believe I have become more assertive, less passive, more questioning, certainly more compassionate and understanding.
    I sometimes, like most people of my age, feel I have lived more than one life. I was born in India, grew up in Zanzibar, South Africa and Scotland. I have been married twice, divorced once, a single mum, hovered on the brink of life after surgery some years ago, watched my daughters’ marriages break up and then with great relief witnessed their ‘second chance’ happiness. I have been a registered nurse, travelled, emigrated, been an actor…often rejected!…a wife and mother and a sexual assault counsellor….the last one of my most intense learning experiences. And I have experienced Semester at Sea….one of the most exciting and fulfilling experiences of my life. But perhaps the loveliest feeling of all is being loved, and loving, as a grandmother…you know that!
    Growing older isn’t always easy but there is gained wisdom with the pain! Or should be!!
    I wish you an adventurous life for the next many years, full of love, laughter and happiness.

    • Thanks so much, Maggie, for your thoughtful comment. You have lived an incredible life and I’m so fortunate that our paths crossed. I treasure friends just a little further along the way chronologically than I am and look forward to your continued participation in this conversation. I expect we’ll all learn a lot from you!
      Thanks so much for your good wishes and best to you and George.

  3. birdwannawhistle says:

    Happy birthday, Marsea! I’m so excited for your new endeavor and look forward to reading your questions and observations. I have no doubt that you’ll bring your beautiful and unique combination of gifts to this party.

    • Hey everybody, this awesomely talented and huge-hearted woman has a blog that is mega-fabulous! Her photography is stop-you-in-your-tracks beautiful and the words she shares are just as stunning. Can I link birdwannawhistle here, my friend?

  4. Susan Beaird says:

    Happy Real-day Birthday my Baj! This first piece is worthy of your best work, I have ever read. I do look forward into your VERY brave foray into “later life”. I am so glad to have your wisdom to follow and your questions to add to mine! You have always been my older sister in many non linear ways😌

    • Sharing questions and exploring around for the answers is what we’re up to here so many thanks for joining in – you have so much expertise and life experience to offer. And again, deep thanks for all that you did to make my birthday so very special. Love you!

  5. Susan Beaird says:

    I took myself off the follow up by mistake, hopefully this puts me back on.

  6. Very cool. I love that you are starting to new blog based on a seasoned perspective. You have a lot to share and I while you’ve been on many external journeys (via the MV and otherwise), this will be an awesome INNER journey too. Thanks for keeping it fresh and honest!

    • Thanks so much, Rocky, you TED star you! Can’t wait until the video is up – I’ll be recommending it far and wide. You are a brilliant communicator with a vitally important message and perfect for TED. Hope you and Shawn are doing well and that amazing Ryder, aka Archbishop Tutu’s best buddy, is thriving.

  7. Jb Beaird says:

    Just one question from Baby Bro: Why is the dreaded Naysayer male?
    Enjoyed being with you in Denver and Good Luck with this work.

    • Thanks, Baby Bro. It was fabulous having you guys here and thanks again for dinner Thursday night. As to your question, which a couple of other people have asked as well, my best answer right now is I’m not sure, he just is. I guess this is an example of negative capability, sitting with the question. I’ll let you know if an answer shows up.

  8. Suzanne Lagomarcino says:

    I enjoyed reading your interesting and perceptive words and will look forward to future missives. This will give me a wonderful opportunity to get to know you better after such a short time on the MV in Fall 2010 and learn something about my self at the same time!

  9. Nicole Seawell says:

    I love to read anything that makes me pause, think, rethink, and yes, laugh. You accomplished the first three handily and JB’s post the fourth. My question is for any age, any stage – how to keep positive each day as life twists and turns? For those that know me, know this is not a personal struggle, but it is one I want to congnizant of in raising children. Is it hard wired? environmental? Wishing you all the luck in this new endeavor, new stage and we loved celebrating you this weekend. Cheers!!

    • Great question, Nicole. I’ve got a list going that is already substantial but I’m excited about exploring them all. Stay tuned! And thanks again for all the love from you and your precious family this weekend!

  10. Linda Hunter says:

    Marjorie,
    Since I’m going to be 65 in a couple of months, I understand your need to reflect on where we’ve been and what lies ahead. Since we can’t change the past, I’m interested in what the future will bring and how much I can affect it. It does seem that at this age, I am trying to live more in the moment and be more grateful for all the blessings I have; mainly my health and a life filled with loved ones. I do feel like I have dodged more than a few snowballs in my life. I’ve been referred to as a cat on more than one occasion.
    I love having the time to reflect back on my memories and, of course, I always say that SAS Spring ’05 was the best 100 days of my life and you were such an important part of that. What fun we had (and a “little” drama)! Tom and I both treasured your company on that voyage.
    Your writing has only gotten more wonderful and I so look forward to accompanying you on you “Lots of Birthday” journey.
    Hug,
    Linda Hunter

    • Sounds like we have many of the same questions rolling around in our heads, Linda. Mindfulness and gratitude, huge! So great of you to drop by; please do so again soon. Hugs to you and Tom.

  11. Hi Marjorie
    What a delightful blog! It incorporates so much of what makes you special. I have subscribed and if I ever feel wise enough, I’ll add something. I’m careening into my 65th year as well. Keep posting.
    Elizabeth

  12. fseawell says:

    Hi Marjorie, I’m enjoying your posts and happy that I came and clicked the follow button. I know the naysayer voice, but she, in my case, is usually drowned out by the male taskmaster, whip cracking voice that is no lazy lout and is usually up before I am with a long list of all the things I must accomplish — which seems to conspire at times with the naysayer voice. In other words, I’m at the stage of life where I actively try to slow down, take a deep breath, and smell the roses while in the midst of working, child rearing, parent assisting, car pooling and volunteering. Your blog will be a time of smelling roses for me. I love the question “What is going on here?” I find it is a very important question which helps me reflect and gain a little perspective in my day-to-day rush.
    Thanks for your gift of love, wisdom and good questions, Scottie

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