Die Doing What You Love

NPR shared a special story this week that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. Jane Little was a tiny 4’11” double bass player who joined the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra when she was 16. I’m sure it was great to watch the smallest person in the orchestra playing the biggest instrument. She became a Guinness world record holder in February for performing with the orchestra for 71 years, at age 87. She was set to retire next month. And she died while performing on stage this week.

She literally died doing what she loved, weeks before she was going to stop doing it. I watched that video and teared up. It seems like her life was perfect, she was so happy, and she never retired. This brings me to the question of whether people die soon after they retire because their purpose for living is gone. The Guardian published an article about this earlier this month that cited a study that found that “healthy retirees who worked a year longer (over the age of 65) had an 11% lower ‘all-cause mortality risk.'” People talk about how they can’t wait to retire, but maybe they don’t know what they’re asking for.

So, the solution? Be like Jane. Make your job something you love, and you can do it for the rest of your life. (Aside: Can I make drinking wine and riding my bike my job?)

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Thirty-Five

Definition of THIRTY-FIVE

:  being one more than 34 in number <thirty-five years>

I’m half way through my thirties this month. It’s been sinking in these last few years in undeniable ways that I’m approaching middle age. Like, I wear sensible shoes most of the time, or else I pay for it. Let’s be honest, I have to do a lot of things differently or else I pay for it, but overall life is great.

When I turned 30, I told everyone my thirties just HAD to be better than my twenties, and despite jinxing myself then, I was right. That’s not to say that there weren’t amazing things that happened in my twenties too – I lived in France, I graduated from GW, I started Murami, I got my first job as an editor, I became a cyclist and completed almost a dozen long-distance charity rides, I became an aunt 6 times – but damn … a lot of it was HARD, and a lot of it was stuff that people around me hadn’t dealt with before, the short list being an eating disorder, the fallout from receiving a false-positive HIV test result, and a really, really awful divorce.

As I approached the end of my twenties I had to find a new normal, and I latched on to a few mantras that were beacons for me:

“The only person who will never leave you is you.” — Read in a book I picked up and shuffled through in a waiting room, circa 2007

“You become what you think about.” — From Earl Nightingale, 1950s/1960s motivational speaker, via a friend, circa 2009

“Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.” — Tommy Lasorda, during an interview with Preston and Steve circa 2008

Those got me through my divorce, which was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and helped me reset. And now 35 is a really good place to be. In the last 5 years I worked hard to get where I am as a web editor in medical publishing. I have been traveling a lot and seen amazing things across the globe. I sing with a choir, I’m painting. I’ve leveled up my bike twice and was certified as a coach for Team in Training. And, I venture to say most importantly, I found a soul mate, which I didn’t believe was even a real thing until it happened. And I don’t need to pep-talk myself so much anymore with those old mantras – mostly I just ask myself, “Are you doing your best?” I know what I’m capable of, but also that I need to say no sometimes, and as long as I know I am putting my best self into what I do (work, health, relationships, learning), I’m good.

Things I miss about my twenties: a full, thick mane of hair. I think that’s it. I can live with that.

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Je Suis Écrivaine

The human experience can be pretty confusing. I’m still reeling from yesterday’s news about the attack on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo. Because I write to make sense of things, I wanted to put this together for my own good. I wanted to sort of curate a collection of the things that gave me a little hope yesterday and today in the wake of murder for the sake of silencing opinion.

Lately I find myself self-censoring when I think about writing on this blog, choosing not to write a post because I don’t know how it’ll be taken by others or if anyone even cares. Charlie Hebdo, on the other hand, has always been the brazen opposite, publishing dirty, dirty, satire that I remember rolling my eyes at when I saw the papers around the newsstands when I lived in Grenoble. But I always loved that it existed and all that French irreverence.

What the Oatmeal has to say about religion in his “How to Suck at Your Religion” cartoon today is totally on point and says so much of what I’m thinking. He also makes a funny point about Judaism that is one of the reasons I am happy to have converted.

The worst part of these attacks is the systematic fear mongering. No one knows the real answer to the question of what happens when we die, but some people are so convinced that they want to kill anyone who doesn’t agree with them, even in the small act of drawing a satirical cartoon to that effect. And it requires a lot of bravery to keep going when your life or the life of someone you love is being threatened. Jon Stewart said on the Daily Show last night that comedy should not be an act of courage, and that was true and sad (and is echoed in the Oatmeal cartoon, not to mention mirrored by the response cartoons that are flooding social media).

I’m not writing this now to rant about terrorism, but to encourage myself and other writers to keep at it. There are too many times that silence speaks volumes – the wrong volumes. As Amy Davidson wrote yesterday in her New Yorker piece on the attack:

“There were times when the French government asked the magazine to hold back, but the magazine kept being itself, which is what one wishes for in a free press. Wednesday’s crime should not cause anyone to second-guess Charlie Hebdo’s editorial decisions. Silence is not where the answers to an incident like this lie.

 

European Vacation With a Sherpa

I can’t believe it’s actually happening. I haven’t been to Europe since celebrating New Year’s there in December/January 2001/2002, more than ten years ago. And the last visit was really an incredible blur for some scary personal reasons.

And THEN, my ex husband did not want to travel to Europe with me, because I am fluent in French and he felt he’d be lost while I was having a grand old time using my French. Or he couldn’t get off work. Or some junk like that. Everything was an excuse. So there went a bunch of years. And then I spent a few years doing the divorce thing and getting my financial feet under me.

Now excuses are a thing of the past! Sherpa and I both love to travel and we saved up and I am now counting down the hours to my first real French coffee and French baguette and French cheese (the list goes on) in ten years. It’s been an incredibly stressful few months, so much so that I have hardly remembered that I even had a blog. So I haven’t shared my excitement here yet. But maybe I’ll be able to blog while we’re traveling. We’ll see.

We are renting a car. I learned how to drive a stickshift for this purpose and I am terrified. I’ve been using http://www.livemocha.com to brush up on my French. Sherpa has been practicing with me. We’ve been going over phrases while we cook and eat dinners. I say things and he tries to translate to English.

“Je ne peux pas conduire cette voiture,” I say. (I can’t drive this car.)

When he finally figures it out, he says, “No, you just don’t WANT to drive the car!”

One more funny Sherpa story to leave you with before the journey begins: I was reminded and amused by our age difference last night as I was organizing music to bring on the trip. He says, “Make sure there’s a lot of good upbeat driving music…

[wait for it]

… like the Cranberries.”

Eh bien, on y va!

2011 Stats Make Me Want to Write More

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 3,700 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Lucky Elevens

I don’t know why, but for as long as I can remember, the time 11:11 has given me a warm fuzzy feeling. Through my childhood, I would yell, “11:11! Make a wish!” whenever I saw it. Something about it being a rare moment on the clock made it special to me. And I still get a little boost in my day when I see it as an adult. The number 11 has snaked its way into user names and email addresses I’ve had over the years. So, this day is a momentous one for me. Not again in my lifetime will I see November 11 of the 11th year of the century. I am celebrating everything eleven!

Seems that there are some nutty theories about the “11:11 Phenomenon” or some such out there, and I’m not a subscriber to those; I just find it fun to take a second to get my brain off whatever distracted path it’s on for a moment in my day.

Happy 11/11/11 at 11:11! Make a big wish. My wishes are more about goals, including the following:

1. Spend more time working on Murami.

2. Start going to the gym again. Support my own health.

3. Improve my “greenness” at home in terms of trash, recycling, and cleaning supplies. In general, support the health of the environment.

4. Make more time for friends and family.

I notice that these goals have a lot to do with time. Maybe the 11:11 Phenomenon has something to do with inserting an extra hour into my day? After all, if you just make it go to 11, you get one more…

2010, a Springboard

I like to tie things up into neat packages, and I’m trying to do that with my year. How can I describe it? Was it just a year like any other? No, definitely not – I started the year with a lot of hope and an open heart, working on my own Happiness Project, jumping in with both feet. I tried and learned new things, went new places, had a wonderful year with El Sherpa (“Aunt Jen’s New Boyfriend”), met new people, made new friends and kept the old. Was it a year of revelation? A little bit, in that I discovered what a truly healthy, adult relationship is like, but in essence – and thankfully – nothing earth-shattering happened in my life. Was it all sun and sparkles? No, I had surgery, and there were those AWFUL bits with Vladimir the roommate from Hades. And I crashed my bike. And really stressful stuff happened at work.

But when I put all this together, it feels like maybe the energy I put into focusing on good things when going got tough earlier this year finally came back to me, multiplied, by the end of the year. It feels like I jumped on a giant springboard, which sank, as they do, but then propelled me up. I have high hopes for 2011.