I’m not a lifer in one marriage. I could write pages and pages about why I think marriage, a solid one, has been outside my grasp. I married a man I thought was the smartest, handsomest, most entertaining person in my world at 19. At 19 one’s world is quite small. We had three wonderful daughters together. At 36 I divorced him–for many of the same reasons I’d married him.
At 44 I married again–a man who seemed the opposite of my first husband–serious, spiritual, affectionate, and a loving father to two teenaged sons. The sons lived with us. I won’t pretend I was a great stepmother. I also won’t pretend that I loved coming third in every decision. The pre-marital deal was the boys had to live on their own after college. When he said he had changed his mind after both boys/men had graduated from college, that he wanted them to live with us for as long as they wished, I left.
I married again at 59. I tell everyone Murray is my third and last husband. He has three adult children who live nearby, and four grandchildren we love. He comes from a long line of raging men. He kept that rage carefully in check when we were dating. Not so much when we began to live together. I knew, when I married him that his rage was part of the package. I also knew his children and grandchildren would be part of our circle. I wish my own children were geographically close. One of my three daughters is 20 minutes away. The other two are half a continent away as is my beloved grandson.
I’ve learned, only in the last few years, to hold my tongue rather than to respond to Murray out of hurt and defensiveness. I’ve learned, instead, to see how things develop. Holding my tongue often diverts Murray’s rage, but not always. I’ve learned to be grateful for every day and to look for beauty in each one. I try to get along instead of arguing. I’ve found this does not destroy my autonomy, but expands it. Perhaps most importantly though, when I am doing these things, I see the goodness in Murray. I see his generosity to family, mine and his. I see his loyalty, his dutifulness to those he loves, and his intention to be a man of honor.
I spent part of last week with my mother who will be 91 in three weeks. She lives in her own cottage within a retirement community on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her back porch looks out on the Tred Avon River where geese honk all night long. Mom has a theory about why the geese are so extroverted at night (they talk to keep warm, according to her).
She walks, or rather shuffles, with a cane or a walker. But this is the only sign of old age. She still gets dressed for her active and fairly formal social life every day, still gardens–though this is diminishing after two scarey falls last summer–and still enjoys her evening cocktail. She has many friends. She is active in her church and gives sage advice to her children, grandchildren and friends. Her friend Lynn calls her a “force to be reckoned with.”
Although I have not always appreciated all of my mother’s qualities–she can be demanding and petulant, although less so every year–I see her as a model of Barbara Fredrickson’s positivity ratio. My mother lives comfortably in the zone of three positive interactions and emotions for every negative one she has. She is entirely engaged with and loves life.
As I have floundered around looking for a topic to write about, it strikes me that this ratio–one that I teach about, and see so clearly in my mother–combined with the values work I wrote about previously, is the combination I’ll blog about. I’ll try in 2011 to find my own sweet spot, my own 3:1 that aligns with my values and increases my own sense of aliveness.
As part of the personal development community to which I belong (www.secondwindsf.org), I’ve begun a values clarification workshop. I didn’t expect much from it as I’ve both participated in and lead similar workshops before. Yet I was moved to begin to examine a largely unexamined life. At 67, I am tired of working all the time, but not sure what it is that I want to do instead of or in addition to work.
It has been my experience, and I know this is a blinding glimpse of the obvious, that when I am willing to step into change, the universe aligns in some new way to accommodate the possibility of whatever change I’ve chosen.
For instance, for the first year in a long time, I wrote not quite new year’s resolutions, but two lists suggested by my step-daughter Judy. The first list is a To Do List–the things I should accomplish this coming year. I’m enthusiastic about some of these, and feel obligated to perform others. The second list is my Passion List–what I really want to do this year.
Some of the things on my to do list:
1. Finish my coaching certification
2. Lose the 10 pounds I’ve put on in the last year.
3. Begin Yoga classes again.
4. Clean office
Some of the things on my passion list:
1. A writing project yet to be determined
2. Make more videos
3, Meditate daily
Funnily enough, last night at my local International Coach Federation Chapter I heard a similar message from Jeanna Gambellini http://www.masterpeacecoaching.com. Her brand is the Law of Attraction, and her message is do only what you love, find fun, and gives you energy. This message is so aligned with the facilitated material from Living Your Values, the workshop I’ve started.
Since January 1 I have started private yoga lessons, resigned from two boards, begun to weed through too much stuff in order to find which stuff I actually want, and watched the videos I’ve made for my website. I have meditated perhaps three times a week and I’m committed to finding out more about living in alignment with my values and with enjoying my family and my life much, much more.
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I’ve worked for an online university for eight years. For most of this time, I have been a part-timer. I’ve worked for many different bosses, and taught many different kinds of graduate courses. Recently I’ve been asked to create a course that I’m now teaching. Every one of my experiences with this university has been enriching in some way. I confess that I haven’t always seen the enrichment in the moment, but I have grown as a scholar, a writer, an editor, a mentor, and a colleague at this place. I’ve even done a little of what I think I do best, present positive psychology and appreciative inquiry to an audience. I haven’t done as much as I would like or as often as I’d like to do it.
Today I had a meeting by phone with two of my bosses and a finance person. The finance person asked me to justify the amount of coaching I’d written into and we were providing in a doctoral course. He asked me to do this from a learner perspective and from a financial one. I told him immediately that I couldn’t plead the financial case, but I did plead the learner case. After I had done this, the finance person asked me to create two videos for enrollment counselors to use with prospective students to encourage them to enter our program and take these courses. Yes, it was the finance person who asked me to do this marketing. He said he thought the budget would support continuation of the coaching component of my class and hoped that my videos would help enrollment counselors differentiate our program from our competitors. One of my bosses described me as a “rock star.” I described myself as a ham (being a ham is someone being funny but in a cheesy way according to one website I consulted). Being a ham is not exactly what I am being, then. Being completely alive and me is what I am in front of an audience–being my best self.
Being with an audience is what I do best. I think I knew this at a very young age, perhaps in middle school. I did lots of theater in high school and college but never wanted to be an actor. In my corporate career I had plenty of opportunities to be “on” with a group. As an online academic, there are fewer opportunities. Perhaps today’s phone call signals more of them. If you read yesterday’s post you know that my mom says I’ll be working as they lower me into the ground. My hope is that there is an enormous crowd at my interment and that I get to speak to them, to engage them, to ask them how the experience is for them, and how we can both grow from it.