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Tybee Marsh

Tybee Marsh

Getting out of town was the transition I needed into retirement, again. I’d been out for five years, accepted a job again for almost two – and now I’m “really” retiring, at least from earning a living. There are many things I want to devote time to.  But it’s always been hard for me to separate from my last job because of the effort I devote to it. It’s always consumed me, occupying most of my thoughts and energy. I’ve never been one who could do a 9-6 and consider work finished; it’s always come home with me. Leaving the area was the physical and emotional separation I knew had to be done.

BusSo we dug our motor home out of hibernation, Mr. Bus “he’s” called, and got him ready for a relatively short jaunt to Tybee Island, off the coast of Savannah, the charming historic southern town about 7-1/2 hours from home.

Tybeemarsh3Tybee has the wildness I love – vegetation is rampant and most of the island is uninhabited by people, but lush with marshland and meandering rivers throughout. And, of course, the Atlantic Ocean kisses the shores. Here zoning prohibits high-rise anything – hotels, apartment buildings, condo developments, retail establishments. Three stories high are all that’s allowed and it’s that low-density commercialism that makes the island so attractive. Homes are eclectic ranging from small ramshackle dwellings to modern and expensive abodes overlooking the ocean or the marshes and lived in by residents of equal diversity.

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TybeePorch        On morning walks with my vivacious Bella dog we discover secret “private” gardens that we explore (sshhh) and meet colorful people who live in happy, bright houses eager to swap backgrounds. As one older hippy tells me, many Tybee residents are retired professors and artists – or as he puts it

misfits who move to the island of misfits.” My kind of place!

We wander past Nancy’s house, a modest cottage in need of some TLC with impressive gardens. Tall plants of every kind populate containers peppered throughout her side yard of maybe half an acre. In the back are two greenhouses where she’s busy potting new plants. She’s been working on her yard for years, she tells me, as she names each plant she points out. Some are dripping with flowers while others tower overhead with large leaves – all plants shaded by enormous live oaks throughout. As we tour the garden she apologizes for sweating, explaining that her “prissy” sister-in-law would be mortified by the way she looks.  She loves kissing Bella and announces that her 19-year-old cat had just died, and, though the island is crawling with cats, she went to the shelter to find a new one to adopt. She invites us back later for an iced tea.

TybeePaintedHouse6Later, we wave to an older woman sitting in her moo moo sipping a beverage on the front porch of her charming purple house perched in the middle of an island of grass separating two roads. I explain to her that her house is our landmark for getting on the correct path to the campground. She’s used to that since many people driving by know her, evidently, well known home.

It is on our regular jaunt on a path through the park where we meet Jim, a man of 86 who lives in the nursing home around the corner. He was tooling through the park on his motorized scooter as he does everyday. One leg is amputated at the knee, the other leg is swollen and bruised, a byproduct of circulation problems he tells me. The twinkle in his eye tells of his joy for living – even in a nursing home. I’m curious about that life. I tell him that my father also lives in a nursing home – a beautiful, well appointed one that he hates.   He says that enjoying life was a conscious decision he made a few years ago after caring for his infirmed wife for a long time. When she died and his health declined he knew he needed to move somewhere that could take care of him. So he chose this facility on Tybee which is not as nice as my father’s yet he says it’s fine.

He moved in “with a chip on his northern shoulder” until he had an epiphany lying in bed one morning. He decided he didn’t want to be angry anymore, dissatisfied anymore, instead he wanted to enjoy the rest of his life.

 

So he decided to. And that’s when his life changed. He’s the president of his “block” and on the residents’ advocacy committee and friendly with his aides and nurses. He loves them and they love him. He talks to other disgruntled residents about how easy it is to change one’s attitude and then life can become joyful again. It requires accepting this stage of life and choosing to make the most of it. And voila, life changes. He says many residents ignore him. I wish Jim could talk to my father; maybe my father would ignore him too. I guess sometimes people don’t know how to change their attitudes.

BusDrivingTomorrow morning we head for home after a week here on Tybee. We’ve looked at houses here, for fun, to see if there’s something we would fall in love with. I have. So far, my husband hasn’t. He tells me it’s just a fantasy for me, that I’d be bored here after a while. Maybe he’s right. Maybe he’s not. I know I’d love to be friends with the eclectic people I’ve met.

On to more retirement living ….

 

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English: Scanned image of author's US Social S...

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Next month my husband turns 65, an age that used to feel ancient to me.  That’s when people officially retire because they’ve reached old age, get their Medicare card to help with health care costs  and join the senior citizens’ club.  In fact, he became one of the 10,000 people each day who sign up to receive Social Security and Medicare.   Wow – think we’re experiencing a national entitlement crisis?

Meanwhile, where did all the years go?  He was 38 when we got married and somehow he’s still 38 to me.  He pretty much does everything now that he did then.  Come to think of it, I still feel 33, maybe 36, but certainly in my mid 30s even though the calendar year insists I’m 57.  57!

My mother always told me this would happen, that I’d feel like the same person inside regardless of the calendar year. Not everything’s the same though.  Back during my original 30s I worked constantly, spent a lot of down time shopping and enjoyed participating in the night scene.  These days I have very little interest in shopping and my drive to succeed has waned, making space for new interests to develop.

Sometimes I think I enjoy my life more now than back then, I feel more peaceful and comfortable with myself.  The thrilling highs come from different things now.  And I’m not talking drugs – then or now.  I’m talking about events that inspire euphoria.

Today’s baby boomers are yesterday’s hippy generation.  We’re still rebellious, forging new paths.  We don’t feel old at age 50.  We feel adventurous and highly conscious of good health.

Television shows don’t target the over 55 age group, but they’re behind the times.  We’re the demographic with the most expendable dollars and the adventurous spirit to try new things and go new places.  Travel companies are now recognizing that, so are magazines and beauty products.  Pay attention to greenways and notice the 50+ crowd on bicycles, roller blades, running and walking.  Advertisers are picking up on the trend and it’s high time.  Research finds that we’re exercising twice as much as earlier generations.

I’ve accepted that I’m getting older and the reality doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the anticipation did.  It’s still a little freaky that my husband will soon be 65, just like every one of his other age milestones stabbed me…. 50, 60, because he always hits the big number before I do, his age becomes my crisis.  So when it’s my turn, it’s no big deal.  Sort of like a dry run.

Here’s what we know… somebody turns 50 every 8 seconds.  People age 65 and older now exceed 35 million and growing.  Last January introduced the first of some 77 million baby boomers surging toward retirement.

America is growing older.

How do you feel about aging?

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A comment by Annie Liebowitz has really gained a foot hold in my psyche, naming the amorphous ramblings in my brain about what might be next for me.  She has a new photography book out called “Pilgrimage” and she was recently interviewed about it by Dominique Browning in the Times.  She wrote it to “save myself,” she told Browning, “to remind myself of what I like to do, what I can do.”

She was looking for a way to nurture her creativity in a new raw, rather primal testament to where she stands in her life now – and she photographed objects instead of people.

For some reason the thought of Annie Liebowitz experiencing a creative crisis is anathema to me.  She’s certainly among the most well-known photographers of this era, amassing a healthy livelihood along the way.  And yet she reached a point in her life where she questioned, what’s next?

Her talent is photography; more importantly, she’s able to communicate a mood, attitude of a subject that transcends the page and penetrates our soul.

What is this nebulous noun, talent, and how is it recognized and, ultimately, grown?  According to Liebowitz it can disappear.  “It needs to be nurtured, taken care of.”  And that’s why she’s forging experimental terrain with her “Pilgrimage” subject matter.

Winfrey on the first national broadcast of The...

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Oprah’s talent is communication and empathy.

Steve Jobs shows off iPhone 4 at the 2010 Worl...

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Steve Jobs married intuition with innovation to realize his blazing talent.

Thomas Friedman, American journalist, columnis...

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Thomas Friedman blends the gift of writing with insight and intellect to manifest his talent.

What about the rest of us?  How do we grow our talent, help it to blossom and bear fruit?

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It’s autumn here in East Tennessee and it’s shouted its arrival in a big way.  I’m talking colors here.  Big, bold, vibrant, HELLO LOOK AT ME!  colors that stop you dead in your tracks to gawk at the amazement of Mother Nature.  And today was the perfect day to enjoy the full show in the Smoky Mountains.

Fall seems like such an oxymoron.  Trees pop with color in such a vivacious tribute to life and yet the glorious show is a prelude to death.  After a couple of weeks the leaves shrivel and drop to the ground into brittle debris, ultimately becoming fertilizer to new life.

This bold season feels like a metaphor for mid-life.  These are the years when many of us leave our professions behind to re-invent new lives.  To discover new passions, friends, experiences.  And in many ways I feel more alive now than the days I was engrossed in my paid working hours.

Work life was thrilling for me yet was surprisingly predictable in its unpredictability.  Make sense?  Every day we had a new show to produce or stories to write or projects to continue with the same constraints to face and paradigm to follow.  Every morning I knew what my office hours were likely to be.

Now each day offers a blank canvas to paint whatever picture comes to mind (metaphorically speaking since I don’t paint).  And I can invent what my next years may look like.  I’ve grown my hair longer, dropped a few pounds and have become quite active through bicycling, horseback riding, hiking and attending more yoga classes.  I feel like I’m on the cusp of something new.

Is autumn to winter as mid-life is to old age?  Could this time period be our final hurrah?

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Last week’s exercises in my non-fiction creative writing class were interesting ones.  We were asked to list obsessions and strong memories, then expound on them.  A collective sigh came from the four of us until the juices started flowing inspiring each of us to become absorbed in our unique internal lives.

Early on it became clear that this assignment would offer each other glimpses into who we are.  We met as strangers from different parts of the area and today we’d share intimacies – because of a writing exercise.

A single woman in her early 30s struggles with a driving desire to find herself, to one-day have the courage to leave her job of 12 years and follow her dream.  Trouble is, she can’t identify that dream.  Maybe this writing class will coax that passion to the surface.  Or maybe writing will help her understand why each new relationship ends up falling apart as she wonders on paper whether this current beau will stand the test of time.  She’s plagued by the need to compare herself to peers with husbands and children which feeds a certain panic in her soul.  Now we understand her a bit better.

The woman to my right obsesses about her weight and writing and, hopefully, earning money from her prose.  She used to be a teacher and grew very frustrated with the politics of education and students’ lack of interest.  She yearns for the day when the solitary hours spent putting thoughts on paper will be validated with a check in the mail.  She and her husband are retired and she struggles with the balance of taking care of him and the urge to spill herself into her fingers on a keyboard.

Then there’s the woman whose childhood trauma sparked a love for poetry.  Pouring her tortured heart onto paper somehow eased the pain of losing her mother when she was nine years old.  A drunk driver slammed head on into the family car while her mother was at the wheel.  While this girl waited outside the car for an ambulance to arrive she remembers hearing her mother gurgling, still trapped behind the steering wheel.  Those injuries proved fatal.  The father spent days in the ICU recovering from his physical injuries, though his heart never healed.  So that nine-year old girl and her siblings were shipped out to be cared for by others. Today this now grown woman has a deep story to tell and skimmed the shallow surface with us.

As for me, I wouldn’t say I have obsessions, per se, what I have are driving passions, one of them is horses.  Though I’ve never owned a horse, I usually find a way to be around them; lately it’s volunteering at a horse rescue where we rehabilitate neglected and abused horses.  This past week I also attended horse camp where we brushed up on our riding skills mounted on Paso Finos and Tennessee Walking Horses.  Their strides are smooth as velvet and much easier on the legs and back.

Eye of a Horse (Andalusian)

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They say that horses are windows into your soul and maybe that’s why I’m filled with emotion when grooming them.  Watching their powerful, graceful bodies prance around a pasture fills me with awe.

There are a lot more stories inside us waiting to be coaxed to the surface.  We humans are fascinating creatures – each with a unique story to tell to the right listener who extends a sincere invitation.

What are some of your stories?

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Sheet music to "Give My Regards"

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Lately I’ve started writing much more than years past (have you noticed this blog?) It feels like the right creative outlet especially as I explore this new period in my life, Act Three.

Creative expression has always been a driving force for me. When I was a kid I dreamed of singing and dancing on Broadway – heck, I’ll say it, I wanted to be a star.  My mother schlepped me to auditions all the time, each with the same heartbreaking result – CHORUS! Evidently my voice sounded great to me and had I been the casting director I’d have won the lead hands down.  But – c’est la vie.  As each heartbreak gave way to the next bout of courage and the next resounding NO THANKS I finally figured it out.  My future wasn’t going to be on stage.  Time to move on … and then I discovered… back stage!

Voila!  Back stage became the perfect fit — stage manager, show producer – change to radio producer, on to TV producer, then into management, and on to departmental leadership.  Once I set my new sights I started hearing yes yes yes yes, which is a lot more fun than a childhood filled with no’s.

A passion was ignited and my drive was born.  I couldn’t get enough of work – it’s all I wanted and the only thing I did.  Weekdays consisted of a minimum of 12 hour days and weekends were spent perusing magazines, newspapers, books or watching TV – all in search of the next great idea for a show or a promotion or a special or a series.  And I never got tired of it until … I did.   More than 30 years later.

Shockingly my drive has let me go.  It no longer consumes my waking hours, nor does it deprive me of sleep.  I’m blissfully free of its grasp.  And I don’t miss nor mourn it.  I’m enjoying the sense of freedom from the need to keep pushing.

Equally surprising is that my interest in making a creative contribution hasn’t waned.  In fact it’s starting to blossom again.  But it’s not associated with need to do.  It’s more like inspired to do.

Is it possible that I’ve actually kissed my drive goodbye?  I guess time will tell.

How about you?  What drives you?

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So far, my 50s are the best decade yet.  For a long time I’d been in denial of getting older.  Age 50 seemed light years away with plenty of living and achieving to accomplish before reaching that dreaded decade of my parents. My mother always told me that one day I’d get there and the only way I’d know would be to look in the mirror.  In other words, I’d feel exactly the same inside, just the outside would change with the years.  And you know what?  She was right on both counts.  Now that I’m facing the waning years of my 50s I still feel like 30 something, only happier and more at peace.  Recognize this age-old adage by George Bernard Shaw?

Anglo-Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw

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“Youth is wasted on the young.”        Now that I understand what it means, I couldn’t agree more!

When I was a kid, 50s was considered old age.  And old people didn’t care about experimenting with life anymore.  Their kids were grown, they’d become grandparents and life was spent in front of the TV or on the proverbial front porch swing.

That’s not even close to today’s reality.  What is true is that traditional advertisers don’t think we count anymore after age 54.  The sweet spot for TV advertisers is the demo 25 – 54.  After that they think we don’t buy as much and when we do we gravitate toward the same habitual brands.  Like kids do, they think we no longer experiment with life and products.  Well, in truth, many of those media buyers are kids themselves – of course those are their prevailing viewpoints!

What IS reality is a renewed vibrance for life.  And that includes experimentation of all kinds:  hair, clothes, weight, adventure, relationships, jobs, hobbies, houses – you name it, we’re open to it.  In most cases the kids are grown and have moved on with their own lives; we women are now free to rediscover ourselves.  In my case there were no kids, just a life consuming career that involved moving around the country and growing in new jobs.

Now with no job that demands my attention, each day offers new discoveries.  The stress has been lifted creating more room for free thinking and exploration.  I’m happier, calmer, feel more love and offer it more generously.  And the surprise is my new-found attitude that what people think about me doesn’t matter like it did during the first bout with my 30s.  I’m now healthier and more physically fit, read whatever I want and become ensconced in activities that appeal to me.  And I still feel sexy.  Plus I’m wiser and smarter than I was 20 years ago.  You know — “if I knew then what I know now…” kind of thing.

Most other women in their 50s feel the same way!  Many of us have disposable income regardless  of  what those young media buyers think.  And the smart advertisers are figuring it out.  Why there are now websites dedicated to boomers and they’re filled with ads.  Imagine that.  We’re actually avid internet users!

I love my 50s and embrace the peeking onset of the next decade.  Who knows – by then I may want to live in a green and purple house or maybe add some purple to my hair!  Love that color!

How do you feel about this so-called middle period of life?  Do share!

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