Wonderful News!

Oprah has chosen to restart her book club with Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild”!! So excited for Cheryl, couldn’t happen to a more deserving author. Many of you may have heard about this fabulous memoir here first so, yeah, I feel quite proud and vindicated.

Keep an eye on My Nightstand for future entries after I return from my Semester at Sea voyage. Meanwhile, hope you’re checking in with Marsea at Sea at http://www.marsea05.blogspot.com. The Peru post should be up soon.

Ciao from Quito, Ecuador!

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Where the Boat Leaves From

The MV Explorer (a proud ship, not a boat) leaves from Puntarenas, Costa Rica on Monday for the 2012 Short-Term voyage of Semester at Sea. Zac Brown always gets me up for the journey: “Don’t grab your coat. You won’t need it where we are going…You got worries you can drop them in the big ocean.”

I sometimes physically ache for the sea from my otherwise perfect home in Denver. I have a fabulous, small balcony on the ship where I marvel at the myriad colors and surfaces of the water, watch funny little flying fish jump away from the wake, contemplate the line where the sky meets the ocean and feel very small but enormously grateful.

The voyage will take us to Peru, Ecuador, Panama, the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, Belize and then home to Ft. Lauderdale on June 15 – old favorites (I lived one winter in Belize and fell head over heels for this amazing country) and intriguing new ports of call. I will be studying “The Social Roots of Health and Disease” with a brilliant woman who helped write the UN Millineum Development Goals and has worked for my all-time favorite global NGO, Partners in Health.

I will be posting on my travel blog so here’s the link and an old but timeless piece that fits well today: http://marsea05.blogspot.com/2010/08/thrill-of-transition.html. See you back here in late June.


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#4: Saving or Savoring?


I am trying to take small bites of Terry Tempest Williams’ exquisite new book “When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice,” but I am failing. I am devouring it with unashamed gluttony. Fortunately her words, her voice, time and again, make me pause and become mindful of her eloquence and provocative wisdom. Often what resonates for me lies in a deep place where I can’t readily give it voice. But sometimes her words evoke an accessible, familiar refrain.

Terry writes “Age has given me arias.”

I remember that I have been saving classical music for my old age, like a small treasure I might hide from myself to be discovered later, a smooth river rock in the pocket of a seldom-worn jacket. Immersing myself in that music will be a treat in a time when other pleasures may be dimmed. Failing hearing can be amplified, especially by the outrageously expensive Bose headphones I plan to buy! The question is shall I continue to wait or is that time now? I am not guaranteed even one more birthday. But I like enjoying the anticipation, the knowing that something beautiful lies waiting for me when I’m older.

Is there anything you have saved for your elder years? What treasures have already shown up in your pocket?

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#3: My Nightstand

The parade of birthdays through my life has left in its path a sprinkling of confetti-colored pairs of reading glasses. I need them readily at hand in all the places I spend time – on the coffee table near the bay window in my sun-drenched living room, on the kitchen island, on the end table beside the chair where I watch TV, and in the car. I have a pair in every purse. Well, let’s be honest, that would be in my one current purse which, much to the consternation of my more fashion forward friends and family, I persist in carrying for every occasion and through every season, often year after year. I browse airport kiosks, funky gift shops, and even Whole Foods for ever more playful frames as the magnification numbers climb steadily higher – 1.00, 1.50, 2.00 and soon 2.50. “A privilege of being on the right side of the grass” I remind myself.

The cheery frames perch on top of all sorts of reading material throughout my house: my journal, the most recent Sunday New York Times, a stack of catalogs, my grocery list, a recipe I printed out from epicurious.com, the latest edition of O Magazine, and any number of books I’m currently reading. Books are everywhere, even stuffed into my purse and the pocket behind the passenger seat of my car. The current favorites always migrate to where they’ll get my most focused attention, the place of honor, my nightstand.

These days, in addition to printed books, I also have an iPad with three different apps for reading and my iPhone with audio books from Audible.com and iTunes. I suppose most people have just one book going at any given time but that would not be me. Familiar aphorisms become popular for a reason and none is truer than “So many books, so little time.”

Whenever I’m catching up with a friend, a question I always ask is “What are you reading?” I follow lots of literary blogs and websites and am an avid reader of all manner of lists touting exciting new works of fiction and non-fiction alike. Cathy Langer, the lead book buyer extraordinaire at our local world-class indie bookstore, The Tattered Cover, has never steered me wrong. A visit with her also means we get to catch up on what’s happened in our lives since we both worked on the now sadly discontinued Rocky Mountain Book Festival. Yeah, I’m a little obsessed with what’s new and wonderful in the publishing world.

Over the years, my friends and family have lovingly tolerated my spirited and often embarrassingly lengthy touts of my latest favorite book. Some have actually sought out my recommendations. So it seems natural to let you all in on the fun and include here a list of the books I’m high on right now. We may get into sharing favorite catalogs, cookbooks and magazines later, but for now, check out the books in My Nightstand in the right-hand margin of this page. If you click on the title, you will be linked to its listing on the Tattered Cover’s online site. You can have that little gem on its way to you with just a couple more clicks.

Here are some brief enticements for you to head over there and start clicking:

“Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed – After her mother died quickly of cancer when Cheryl was only 22, all four wheels came off. Overwhelmed by her grief, she veered off into a perfect storm of bad decisions around sex, alcohol, drugs and the trajectory of her life. Without ever spending one night backpacking, she undertakes a 1,100-mile, solo hike with an 80-lb pack and boots a size too small in an attempt to take back her life. This masterful storyteller recounts her odyssey with unblinking honesty in a voice that convinces you she’s your new best friend. This is one of the hottest books out there and deservedly so – it’s going to be bigger than “Eat, Pray, Love” not only because it’s better written by several orders of magnitude but because you can feel Cheryl’s irresistible heart beating powerfully on every page.

“Contents May Have Shifted” by Pam Houston – I have been a huge fan of Pam’s since “Cowboys Are My Weakness.” I was privileged to take a workshop from her at a secluded retreat center in the Rockies many years ago and I’ve been faithfully using several of her writing techniques ever since. We are both travelers at our core and this latest book takes us along on her journeys from Texas to Tibet in 144 tiny jewels of brave, insightful, well-crafted prose. Her voice has developed a beautiful patina over time but her stories still spark with the frisson of exciting adventures and the clear ping of truth.

“When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice” by Terry Tempest Williams – This book was just published two days ago and although I don’t have it in hand yet, I can unconditionally recommend it. I have known and loved my dear friend Terry for decades and have been following this book’s journey through her Twitter feeds. Beginning with becoming the caretaker of her mother’s journals after her death, which many of you will remember from “Refuge,” Terry explores the character, power and meaning of women’s voices.  Her actual voice is so special you might want to wait until the audio book is published, which I know she has already recorded. As usual with her work, I’ll undoubtedly have it in several versions.

There are more, so many more, but now it’s your turn. What’s on your nightstand?

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#2: The Naysayer’s Family

Outing The Naysayer in my head has turned into a genealogical project. He seems to have a host of relatives who live between the ears of lots of people. Some of you have commented here and others have emailed me with stories about this sprawling family and its antics.

I am eager to explore and share some ideas about how these voices got there and how we can go about thriving in spite of their cacophony. First, however, I want to keep my promise and sit for a while with some initial questions: Who is your naysayer? Does it have a name? What does it say to you, probably over and over and over? Whose voice does it speak in? Are there predictable times when it pipes up?

I’ll jump out there and get us started. Someone asked me why The Naysayer was male and I couldn’t come up with a better answer than “he just is.” He usually uses a loud, derisive voice but sometimes he’s quiet but persistent. He begins sentences with words like “You can’t possibly,” or “You should.” Some recent themes involve change and taking risks, “Be very, very careful here. Remember last time? Don’t want to embarrass yourself again. Better just keep still and let that opportunity pass.” Or “What makes you think you are smart/talented/attractive/experienced/ brave enough to do that? I don’t think so.”

Is this voice totally foreign to any of you? Does it seem like something you used to hear but has long since grown quiet? I hope you guys are out there and look forward to what you have to say when we ask the next questions about overcoming the effects of our naysayers.

This clan of gremlins fascinates me and I’d love to learn more about them. Please introduce us to your branch of the family by commenting here. You can invent an avatar and post anonymously if that is more comfortable. You can also email me and I’ll summarize those responses. Many thanks to those of you who figured out the technology and took the risk to comment on the first post.  Whether you’re commenting or not, feel free to hit the “Follow” button on the right side so you’ll be notified when I put up a new post.

Warm thanks to you all, readers and responders alike, for giving this brand new blog a wonderful birthday!

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#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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