Saturday, June 25, 2011


   So like most people I grew up with, I'm a fan of "The Simpsons." I stopped keeping up with it when I went to college, but I'm still known to watch a quick episode at 6 p.m. on the CW while I make dinner. Unfortunately, it's mostly the same episodes I grew up with, but in another way, it's really comforting too.
   I love how the show has great lines that I'll always remember, but can't remember what the actual episode is about because they go all over the place. The first five minutes usually have nothing to do with the rest of the plot, but that's one of the characteristics that makes the show what it is.
   I've had a favorite line stuck in my head for the past month. Sadly, I'm paraphrasing because the internet is letting me down with finding the exact quote. But Bart/Lisa says "There's nothing you can say that would upset us, we're part of the MTV generation. We feel neither highs nor lows." Homer asks, "Really? What's it like?" and Lisa answers, "ehh."
   So tongue and cheek, and yet true to life. I feel like my generation, and the younger generations, are so dulled that we don't have genuine emotional responses, or if we do, they're so shallow. As I've stated in an early blog post, I feel like with age I've crossed a threshold for that, but in general, it makes me sad. People can be so calloused. Sometimes I just want to shake people and say, "snap out of it, this is real life!"
   I read a book this year that was really inspiring called "The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun" by Gretchin Rubin. Basically, she's a woman in her late 30s/early 40s and she realizes she isn't as happy as she should be. She doesn't really try to define happiness because when you're happy, you generally know it. If you were happy and you didn't know it, how could you actually be happy? So her goal was to take time to find what actually makes her happy (a lot of us really don't know), dedicate time to doing things that actually make her happy (versus things that we think SHOULD make us happy), and taking time to live in the moment and appreciate those things that really DO make her happy.
   I found the book really inspiring and was almost ready to start my own happiness project (she had a specific goal each month), but I didn't feel like I had the time or was ready to do that. But in the mean time, I've started one task that she did that I've got to say, is really making me happy: a gratitude journal. The idea is to write down three things every day that you are grateful for, and taking time to thank God for those things. I've tried journaling in general on and off over the years, and am always disappointed by my inability to be consistent with the journal. I always think to do it at night when I'm too tired to actually do it. So to get over this hurdle, I've started using my planner book. While this is something I don't look at on the weekend, I'm actually excited to write down my gratitude thoughts for the day, so I think I might remember to do it on the weekend. When I get a day behind, I still take the time to fill it out for the days I've missed, because I still had things to be grateful for on those days. It's been a really exciting enterprise.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sense of self

   While I may not know what I'm doing most of the time, or even what I want to do, there's one great thing that comes along with being midlife: knowing who I am.
   I'll admit though, I've been blessed with a humble (I hope) confidence throughout most of my life. I guess in elementary school I was very timid--constantly afraid of teachers and getting in trouble (I think it's a Catholic school thing, even if there weren't nuns there anymore)--but when my family moved from Baltimore City to Harford County just in time for middle school, I felt a huge relief in getting to start over in a new school and really let myself be "me."
  Middle school can be a terrible set of years, because pre-teens to early teens seem to really rip into each other during these years. I've always had an anti-popular streak in me. The popular people seemed so fake and more two-faced, so when I got to my rural middle school, I built a group of friends from scratch. I guess you could say we were the unpopular smart kids. Most of us were in band. Some of us were in girl scouts, including me, and I wasn't ashamed of it. I stuck with girl scouts through graduation, even though I was the lone senior, because I saw myself as an important mentor to the younger girls. But back to middle school me.
   So coming into a new school with no reputation or exectations of me, I got to be myself. I was ridiculously silly, a good writer, I stood up for underdogs, spoke my mind, played clarinet in band and chose the archery option as often as possible in gym class even though it was seen as the dorkiest option--simply because it meant I didn't have to throw, catch, or run from any balls.
   High school was kind of turbulent, with groups of friends shifting as our interests and alliances changed. I definitely grew more as a person during these years, but I never worried about fitting in or trying to please other people. I'll admit I was guilty of quietly standing by to things I'd say weren't my cup of tea, but I remained true to myself.
   College can be another time of immense growth for young adults, but I don't really think I've changed much from senior year of high school, when I had mellowed out, was already focused on my career choice as a journalist and was ready to go to college, get that over with and go on with life. I was ready for The Real World, and I don't mean the MTV show.
   I've long taken my strong sense of self for granted, but being around people 25 and under reminds me of how blessed I am! I don't know what advice to give those that are less blessed with confidence, all I can thing to say is that life will be much easier if you accept who you are and be that person rather than trying to figure out who other people want you to be. Plus I think you'll always be disappointed in yourself if you aren't really BEING yourself.
   Knowing who I am might mean I stick out in certain groups or social situations, and some people might think I'm rude, but the truth is, I'm just not trying to impress you. You'll either get me or you won't, and even if you don't get me, you'll probably be abe to live with me pretty easily.
   I wish other people would stop trying to impress me too. I'm not buying it. Just be your SELF.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The floodgate is broken

   My husband doesn't watch most of the TV shows I watch, or at least not during the season they're on, because he prefers to watch them streaming online through Netflix without any commercials once the whole season is released. But for some reason, he watched the season finale of Top Chef All-Stars with me, even though that's a show he never watches.
   Not only did he keep asking me who the contestants were, who the judges were, the rules of the contest, etc., but he kind of made fun of me for crying when Richard Blais (my favorite contestant) was proclaimed the winner. I dabbed away my tears and smiled, but inside I was thinking "what would he say if he knew I cried at the show every week?"
   Yes, I cry at most episodes of Top Chef, and not just for the person who gets kicked off and has to go home, but for the character who thought they did well and the judges told them they didn't, and maybe most of all for characters who don't think they did well but then won the challenge. That's why I loved Blais so much. He teared up a lot this season, too.
   And it's not just Top Chef, or contest-based reality shows that make me cry. Touching moments on realistic comedies (OK, maybe The Office isn't that realistic overall, but it is filled with many moments that are so true to life) make me cry, and some music makes me cry. And I'm not talking about any pulling-at-your-heart-strings country music or anything like that. A beautiful hymn can make me cry. This is why I don't wear mascara anymore.
   When I was a child and my family used to get together every Saturday night for our weekly movie-watching ritual, I used to love to look over at my mom during the sappy moments and see if she was crying, which she almost always was. The whole family loved to tease her. At least she was in her late 40s/early 50s then! Somehow I've lost my ability to hold in when I experience things that are sad, or maybe even just true. The floodgate, for my tears, is broken.
   I don't think I'm any sadder than I used to be. Depression runs in my family and I dealt with it face-on in my earlyish 20s, and I like to think I know how to keep a funk from getting out of control and turning into a full-blown bout of depression these days. I did have to give up grunge/90s alternative music though, perhaps my favorite genre, because the sadness of it all was overwhelming. Now I stick to classic rock, classic hip-hop, and plain old classic music when I'm in the car (I find it reduces my instinct to speed and see it as a little stress therapy throughout the day) because they're more uplifting.
   So while I wouldn't say that I'm sad, I'll cry at anything that gives me the instinct to cry at, and I blame this on middleage. I think my hormones must be overriding my brain, and it's kind of embarassing! When other people see you crying they assume there's something terribly wrong, or that when you're trying to repress tears, you're really trying to repress a thought or experience that is causing the tears.
   All I can offer as an explanation for my own situation is that with age I have gained an exponential ability to emphathize with others, and watching other people through dramatic highs and lows, or listening to songs expressing their hearts, I can't help but let go. I even have to avoid karaoke nights because some people put so much emotion into the songs and their song choices, the tears start coming out. Talk about embarassing!
  Luckily for me, at times I am capable of holding back an urge to cry. Or rather, I let myself tear up but swallow the rest down. But that tends to build up after a while. I find that the more I hold it back, the bigger of a way I need to release it later. My prefered method is to watch one of several movies that can always get a cry out of me, and when it comes, just really give it all I got. These aren't just chick flicks either. "Punch Drunk Love" comes to mind as one of my reliable releases.
   So I don't know if this breaking down of the emotional and tear floodgates happens to everyone with age and experience, but it's definitely something I've noticed (and disected) in my life. If you suffer from this phenomena too, I can only offer one piece of advice: buy the best tissues, the kind with lotion in them, all the time. The high quality counts when you're a frequent user.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Why "Muddling?"

   So I had a hard time coming up with a name for my blog, but I knew I wanted the focus to be on midlife, and after poring through the dictionary, I came to the conclusion there aren't that many verbs that start with "m." "Mastering" was another option, but I don't want to come across as cocky. Especially when I feel like I don't know what I'm doing 60 percent of the time.
   No, "muddling" felt right. It kind of feels like a synonym for "putzing," or "wandering." Plus it is a verb you use to describe crushing the mint and sugar, with a wooden muddler, while making a mojito.
   I actually own a muddler and have tried it out--you slowly grind the the sugar crystals against the mint, which gets bruised and releases the mint oils. You use slow motions and it takes a long time and I keep taking breaks, looking at the bottom of the bowl or glass and wondering "am I getting anywhere with this?"
   My husband Josh and I went to Puerto Rico once and our hotel had a rooftop mojito party our first night there. I watched as the woman made a giant batch of mojitos, enough to keep a dozen hotel guests fueled for the next three hours, and I was extremely interested in seeing how she would muddle so much mint since it takes so long for me just to make enough for two drinks at a time. And I discovered her secret: patience.
   I thought all of this applied quite well to midlife, with my six years of experience in it thus far. An older friend described it to me when I was 25, having what pop culture calls the quarter-life crisis, as an adjustment of life pace that happens after college. The first 22 years of your life have such rapid growth and clearly defined goals and accomplishments, like moving up a grade each year, graduating from each level of education, getting your driver's license, gaining the ability to vote, the ability to buy alcohol--there's something to celebrate every year. Plus you get summer vacations!
   Then as an adult, you start your career and if you're lucky, you have job security at a good place and you stay there. And while there may be projects that you start and finish, for the most part, it all still feels like work. The accomplishments and accolades severely slow down from the pace that we are used to receiving. And worst of all, you don't get three months off to recuperate each year, unless you are a teacher.
   So then it can feel like time stands still. Or that it is zooming past you while you stand still. Funny how that works.
   I'm not saying this because I hate my job--I think I'm on that sinusoidal wave of satisfaction and unsatisfaction with my job that most adults go through. I'm a journalist at a daily county newspaper and I've covered the same beat for 9 years. While the daily grind can get to me, and the stress of deadlines, the truth is my job gives me so much freedom to pursue subjects that interest me, to take part in experiences I would never otherwise have the opportunity to do, and learn about an extremely wide range of topics from first hand sources. Not to mention I live a mile from my office, am granted a certain amount of liberty to work from home, and have been senior reporter for the past six years. But sometimes those years feel very, very long.
   Of course not everyone out there chooses to stay at the first job they get out of college. Or the second. Or the third. A lot of people choose to go back to school. I don't know what that path feels like. But I think that part of that continuous mobility stems from the same things that I'm talking about--that little urge that wonders "what's next?"
   And that's why I started writing on this topic. In my list of goals that I developed as a result of turning 31 this year, I decided it was time to pursue some of those "what's next" goals. Stay tuned for more.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Am I just morbid?

   So as I said in my bio, I think you should consider yourself middle aged at 25. A little web research on this shows that the U.S. Census considers middle aged to be between 35 to 50, and dictionaries often say between 40 and 65, but I think that's way too optimistic.
   The life expectancy is 73 for people born in 1980, (which I think is the awesomest year because since the year 2000, you can always figure out my age by adding the first two digits of the year to the second two: 2011 is 20+11=31 -- how cool is that?).
   They say life expectancy has been going up, so that children born now should live to 78, on average, but I'm not buying it. How many people do you know with cancer, or who have died from cancer? And these aren't just people in their 70s or 80s, there are children dying from cancer and brain tumors, people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s... does anybody make it over 75 these days? How can that still be the average? I just don't believe it. Or rather, I'm not counting on it. As I've said before, I won't be surprised if I get cancer, it almost seems a given for my generation; the surprise will be in which body part turned against me.
   But on to lighter thoughts, I don't know why people have such a negative association with being middle aged. It's as if there is only "youth" and "old age," and middle aged must be under "old age" because it certainly isn't under "youth." That's why I'm promoting people to embrace a defined midlife stage. I know, it's difficult. We know what youth was like, and we have an idea, or at least a dream, of what old age will be like (I'm guessing any retirement scenario, particularly one that includes relocating to somewhere warm in the winter, has to be classified as a dream these days), but the goals and expectations for that middle part of life aren't so well defined.
   After some serious reflection in the past year, I've decided to make a greater effort to set goals, and reflect on my progress, during midlife. This blog is one of my first steps! I hope you enjoy reading about my journey and learn from my experiences. Hollah if you're over 25!