THE NEW 60?

On a recent milestone birthday I called  75 “the new 60.” That may have been a slight exaggeration. But it was how I felt, or desperately wanted to feel.

Some think me young—especially those older than I. On hearing my age, people in their eighties and nineties look at me with amused forbearance, calling me “just a kid.” Is it because I relate well to tots and teens?  I still make up my eyes as I did at 16 when sex-kitten Brigitte Bardot rocked the silver screen with her bouncy breasts, white lipstick and smoldering gaze (although my breasts bounce differently, now). Am quick to dance to a hot tune. Laugh loudly. Walk short dogs up tall hills.

I embrace intellect, fresh ideas. Write books. And, with a nonchalant grin or occasional grimace, heft a 40-pound Western saddle onto the back of my 16-hand horse, Brad, and ride him several days a week.

Youngers consider me old. My skin sags and wrinkles where once it was taut. My muscles, weaker now and slower to recover from stress as they did—even at 60—are quick to slack from underuse. Arthritis gnaws my fingers, knees and hips. It makes me slow to rise, and more mindful doing everyday tasks. Such physical changes feed my genetic tendency toward fleeting depression. I can’t do some things I once took for granted—what differently abled  people never could do, or do with difficulty.Let’s not even talk about my mind, as known names and memories sometimes dodder.

And yet. Folks in their sixties or younger say they hope they’ll be blessed with spunk like mine when they’re old, that they’ll enjoy a “get on with it” attitude. Ouch! There’s a compliment with teeth. OK. Whatever. I’ll take it. It’s what I admired about Marjorie Lewis, a 100-year-old friend. Certainly age depression and mourning the loss of abilities and loved ones, shadowed Marjorie. And yet…

At 75, face it: I am indeed aged. I was born before World War II ended. Years of experience might gild this truth. A wish to keep going  allows me to cling to illusion. But numbers don’t lie. So why do I skip or amble along in apparent denial, swept up helplessly but mostly happily in benign, unfurling time?

Call it faith. Inborn will. And a commitment to being meaner than whatever is chasing me, as my book heroine Pepper Kane would say, “down the tunnels of decrepitude.” Chasing me toward an ending—though I see death as a transition to a another dimension neither understandable nor sought. I grin, read, sip coffee. Watch the TV morning show. Tussle with dogs. Endure the sad fact of our aging and eventual demise. Look for signs and answers. Lunch with friends, attend church, deeply inhale fresh air and silence. And welcome blessings and endure curses as I find them.

Our subconscious, our spirits, see this, and know. They come to know graceful ageing is an act of will, or of NO will. Ultimately we are asked to love, forgive, accept what is, and feel what is. Look at plain truths, even if discomfiting. Just not for too long, nor too publicly. That does no one any good.

“Just do it,” I remind myself sternly or gently. I ask, “What’s next on my calendar?” I stay engaged.

As long as I have life, I must live it and try to love it. Warts and all. Nothing lasts forever in the same form. But one’s individual energy, wisdom and style endure in footprints and soul prints left on the Earth and other beings.

Breathe. Love. Cry. But most of all, smile. In my experience, even those precious aware souls who seem to have lost all, can still convey a smile, if only in their eyes. Show acceptance. Hope. Love.

And that, to me, is the ultimate triumph of mind over matter. Even when mind no longer matters.

SHOW YOURSELF!

Can authors have it both ways? Create books that earn honors, tick bestseller boxes and align with a strong author brand while laying bare our hidden secrets, shames, fears and dreams? I’m beginning to believe so, thanks to recent nudges from Creator. I touched on inner concerns—or wrote around the edges—in my first books. Used social issues as metaphor, or offered guarded glimpses into my/my heroine’s flaws and vulnerabilites. It was my unbiased reporter’s way. But now I’m ready to show myself more clearly through characters and story, to be not only brave and positive, but also as sometimes clueless and vulnerable as anyone else.

In her seminar here in Grants Pass last week, literary strategist Anna Weber said that an author’s writing her own deep, scary but authentic truths in her book speaks to READERS’ deepest needs, desires and truths. Which we must do to be successful. This is a big reason why we read book, crave story. Weber’s seminar resonated powerfully with me. That’s one reason I want to read. That, and to be entertained.

The next day came my author friend Susan Clayton-Goldner’s newsletter, “Writing the Life.” She said that sharing in book form (“Missing Pieces,” the achingly dark tale of her late father and her relationship) not only helped heal her, but also to reveal her strength. All of which we as readers also look for. Don’t we all want to be healed and strengthened? Susan says showing one’s weakness without fear, not hiding behind words or an image, is the real strength.

For example, I might write deeper into my longtime fear of not being chosen (for a team, friendship, prize) despite hard work and commitment. Or, my often-fulfilled situation of forming a group, or hosting a party for friends and loved ones, and then having the committed guests cancel. Fifteen minutes before the event. When the standing rib roast is coming out of the oven. Knowing how such betrayal crushes me, I try to respond to invites and requests in a timely, truthful way, and fulfill commitments even if “something came up.”

God! The pain of promised success–whether in friendship, finance or romance–that is inexplicably yanked away. I’m sure the lesson here is to stay loose, and flexible. But it’s still hard.

I’ve occasionally faced having to eat a beautiful dinner alone or semi alone. I accept that I’ll never understand the whys. But at such times I’ve somehow pulled myself together and asked someone else to come on the spur-of-the-moment, and had them come! I’ve also driven the meal to people who haven’t eaten yet, and will appreciate having dinner delivered. And had a blast!

To be successful, authors must come up with relatable characters, engaging plots, and fascinating twists and turns. We want to immerse readers in story and action. To do so, it turns out, we must also show ourselves/our characters as realistic, relatable, engaging, with fascinating twists, turns—including darkness and vulnerabilities. Maybe even celebrating same.

We don’t have to go overboard. Don’t have to devolve into melodrama. Who wants to come to that party? But we as authors can think more about our book characters, show their fears and weaknesses and, by proxy, some of our own. Which goes a long way forward making them “true.”As a matter of fact, I have begun to do exactly this in “Shadow on the River,” my current Work in Progress. It is Pepper Kane Mystery #5. It may be my strongest yet.

RUNNING THE BULLS

The Oregon sky arcs grey and wide over Red Horse and me as we leave the barn for a relaxing ride at Saddle Mountain Cattle Company. Cold, wet weather has kept us in the covered arena. We need to expand our horizons. But where to go? Down by the whispering Applegate River, to wade ankle-deep into that flashing water? Across the grasslands to where 80 Black Angus cows hang out below the ranch-house? Or to a field by the trees where three bulls graze?

I point my pony past the long arms of the Rainbird sprinklers. Put the sprinkler line between us and the bulls, who seem unconcerned with our presence. They’re 200 feet away. We’ve ridden near them before. No cows in sight, nothing to ruffle their calm. We start jogging large circles. Then small circles, figure eights, serpentines. Move to lope circles, each way. I like to revisit our horse-show moves, not let the training slide. It makes me feel we could compete again if we chose.

A crow flaps by overhead. A dog yelps somewhere on that forest ridge above the pastures. But not an anxious yelp, a bored, lazy one. Is that an eagle’s scree I hear?

Hoofbeats pound softly on cropped grass. I finger the reins to adjust speed and body angles. I rock and sway gracefully. A wonderful ride! Bliss. Like when a novel-writing session goes well. 

Until it doesn’t. The bull start to stir. Suddenly the largest one, a heavy-shouldered beast, lowers his head, strides toward the middle sized bull and rams his face into that of the other who pushes back. They stand locked forehead to forehead. They circle around joined heads that are capped by bony ridges minus horns. Around and around they go, the smallest bull watching.

The oldest bull pushes his opponent backward again and again, their hind ends tracing a larger circle. Then the smaller bull peels off, walks away. But the big bull follows, increasing his pace while the third bull trails these two.

Slowly the group arcs around. They are headed our way! Unnerved, unsure what that they will do, whether they are targeting me, I turn Red Horse toward the barn and start walking there. Safety is a good quarter-mile away. Don’t want to run; that may excite them more.

But they definitely are coming my way. Still targeting each other, or focused on me? I take no chances. I urge Red Horse into a jog. I look back over my shoulder. Still the black bulls come. I halt and turn to have a good look.  They’re coming even faster!  Who knows their intent? My heart races, my mouth goes dry. We trot forward faster.

We reach the barn doors a few dozen feet ahead of the running bulls. I pile off, lead Red Horse inside, and drag shut the heavy door as the bulls stampede by, headed to the cows by the house in the south.

Big exhale. Tragedy averted. But I’m shaken. It’s probable I wasn’t in danger at all. The bulls may have been focused only on themselves. But, better safe than sorry, yes? Corrective action taken in a timely fashion, ahead of the disaster, saves the day.

Note to self: If you THINK you’re in trouble, you probably are. Or at least headed for it. Therefore — as with a rogue, runaway novel in progress — take immediate action. Do not tarry, or be lulled or distracted by pretty scenes and phrases By past success.

Change course. Set your sights on a reachable, reasonable goal and head there. With dispatch. Go. Ride on, write on!