It’s been a year this month that I left my job. One revolution of the earth around the sun, endless summer giving way to seemingly endless winter. And now, spring and another season of beginnings.
I had hoped that, at the end of this year of change, I would emerge with a deeper sense of self, firmly pointed in the “right” direction. And while that is true, it is the “soft outcomes” that have been startling, frustrating and surprisingly uplifting.
For example, this morning, on a rainy day drive to school, I introduced my daughter to Petula Clark ‘s “Downtown”. It happened by accident, the result of a new Bluetooth connection and an old playlist. We sang the chorus at the top of our lungs, until, in front of the school, she turned and whispered “please, don’t sing”, hyper aware of other 13 year olds leaving other mother’s cars. The fear of embarrassment looms large in Grade 8.
And at midlife.
I’ve gone from a successful career woman, partner, “how does she do it!” Mom to something less easily defined.
It’s been tough when people ask, “What do you do?” At first I would stammer my way through something about writing and self-discovery. It’s getting better, but slowly. Unlike Grade 8, I rarely care what people think anymore. I’ve already created two quick business cards (thank you Vistaprint) in an effort to better answer the question, or give me a sense of legitimacy. Physical proof that I am going somewhere, or at least on the right path.
That’s been the biggest thing, the cliché realization that it really IS a journey. This is not a route that’s been well maintained. It’s new ground, searching for spiritual breadcrumbs buried amidst boxes or journals or lists of long ago digitized CDs.
There has been unpacking and repacking and creating of space: my Room of One’s own. (A small desk and a chair where the old couch used to be). This newly minted office keeps me rooted in writing and (bonus!) is deductible.
The cleaning and sorting has taken me places I hadn’t expected, like Saskatoon, to clear out my Grandmother’s house. There my recently retired brother and I shifted through a lifetime of possessions sticky with memory. What to keep and what to sell? At first I’d wanted to bring everything, hauling dressers and dishes across the prairie, Eaton’s catalogue evidence of the Baba my daughter never knew. What we settled on instead, were 6 carefully packed boxes of photos, stumbled upon in an ancient chest at the bottom of the stairs.
That’s where I found my Grade 8 school portrait, full colour confirmation I had once been the same age as my daughter. “Wow, you were having a bad day Mom”, my 13 year old says, studying my unkempt 70s shag and free-range teeth.
I see a me focused on fitting in, flying below the radar. The beginnings of a lifetime dedicated to… not peaking too early.
I’ve joked about it hundreds of times, written it in high school yearbooks with a hand drawn happy face: “don’t peak too early!
This just in: Popularity in Grade 8 does not necessarily translate into a life of happiness and fulfillment. Go slowly, Think before you speak.
A sensible worldview for a 13 year old, but well past it’s best before date at 50. At a certain point, the question becomes, if not now, when?
On the back of the first business card I printed this year it says, “What would you do if you were not afraid?” It was a mantra the last year at my old company, underscoring the realization I had done as much as I could do there. It was time to move on.
The “not afraid” question continues to propel me forward. I signed up for singing lessons with a voice teacher so good she takes my breath away (literally). She pushes me, not in an unkind way, but rather, truthfully. I’m singing in Italian, my dependable alto risking and reaching up to the cheap seats. She scares me. On discovering I had once been a very good accordion player, she asks if I could learn THIS music, and passes me pages both familiar and slightly frightening. A dusty drawer of possibility opens. She wants me to practice with her tango music trio. They are desperate for an accordion player. I balk, pure panic. It’s been years since I played seriously, giving it up in Grade 8 in an attempt to stay under that radar. You think singing in the car with your Mom is embarrassing? Try having a glorious Mother of Pearl and Gold keyed Titano accordion strapped to your chest. I looked like the front end of a shiny 57 Cadillac. Trust me, accordion has only recently become cool.
The powerful re connection with my musical self has been underscored by the blue-toothed recovery of the soundtrack of my life. Queen and Elton John, the Bee Gees and Blondie. Petula Clark’s reassuring “everything’s waiting for you…”
And the truth is she’s right, everything is waiting. And if not now, when?
So, on the anniversary of my new life, I renew my vow to keep on moving forward, doing what scares me. (still on the fence about the tango thing). And rather than peaking too early, I will not peak too late.
Deep Deep Breaths: Sounds easy but takes practice. Try about a minute at a time. Once a day is OK too!
-stand with your feet slightly apart, if possible facing a mirror. Put your hands on your ribcage and see if you can feel the area expand as you breathe.
-with your mouth slightly open, take a deep breath, imagine you are pulling the air in as if sipping through a straw. Take as deep a breath as you can.
-exhale, making an “ahhhh” noise as you do. It can be melodic, or just a release. Watch yourself, and try to make those breaths come deeper…for example your shoulders and chest should seem to be “inflating”. This is all from the belly!
-repeat for about one minute, focusing on breathing in, then letting out.
You should feel more grounded…maybe even more connected. (Now you’re breathing, put on your favourite music and sing along).
Warning: often singing will lead to dancing. Just saying.