God Bless America

I have never been interested in politics and have been disgracefully under-informed about current events. I had a basic awareness of what was going on in the world so I wasn’t completely ignorant but, I usually tried to avoid the news because it depressed me or made me feel anxious about things over which I felt I had no control. I know a lot of people feel the same way or are just too busy working, taking care of their families, paying bills, etc., to have the time and energy to pay attention. The only time I really paid attention was during presidential elections because I am an independent voter and I always try to make an informed vote based on who I think the best person is for the job.  I  have a deep appreciation for our right to vote and for how hard so many people fought so that we – especially women and minorities – could have that right. So, as I have in the past, I started paying more attention to politics during the last few months as the presidential campaign gained momentum. This time something truly amazing has happened – I almost feel like I’m having an out-of-body experience or talking about another person – as I began to pay more attention I actually became interested in politics and world events and concerned about the direction in which my country is headed. I certainly didn’t see that coming! For the first time in my life I have a political sign on my front lawn! I feel like Rip Van Winkle – I just woke up from a long sleep, looked around, and said “What the hell is going on?”

I’m not going to share my opinions about politics or either candidate because that’s not what this is about. This is about another leg of my reinvention journey – a renewed love and appreciation for my country and the freedom I have taken for granted for most of my life. I’ve talked before about how reinvention can occur in response to small everyday things or to big life changing events – how we can consciously take action to cause or create reinvention or we can experience reinvention as a reaction to something that we experience.  I’ve noticed in the past how things can converge to create a catalyst in my life that leads me in a new direction and this recent journey is no different. One of the great things about reinvention is that I am allowing my interests and instincts to lead me and I’m as surprised as anyone by some of the directions they take me. My time is no longer consumed by projects, assignments, tasks and deadlines imposed upon me by job responsibilities or the priorities of others so I can follow whatever signs are presented to me but I want to continue to encourage everyone to think about how reinvention applies in their own lives. The opportunities to learn, change, grow and make the most of the life you have are everywhere. There are hidden depths to your own personality that you have not yet explored.

Two things converged to create my most recent catalyst  – a renewed interest in American history and my effort to inform myself about the upcoming election. The first element of my catalyst is an interesting and thought-provoking history class I have been taking, one that compares the “accepted” versions of events in history as reported by the media and our leaders to information that has been discovered by investigative journalists, historical scholars, and average people who have questioned “history”. The term “conspiracy theory” has, unfortunately, become a joke but, if you think about it, doesn’t a good investigative reporter uncover the truth by researching the “facts” of a story to see if they stand up to scrutiny? Isn’t that person looking for a conspiracy that might have been created to hide the truth? Looking back over just the past 50 years of history I think we have plenty of reasons to question information that is provided to us by the media and our government officials.

The second element of my catalyst is an effort to become better informed about current events. I decided to approach this as a “self-study” program which involves watching two news programs every night; one a “liberal” perspective and one a “conservative” perspective. For a person who typically avoided the news this has been overwhelming! I had no bias toward either perspective but I have been astonished by the amount of information that is not reported on the “liberal” program and also by the lack of real investigation of the information they do report on, especially information coming from government officials. I have come to the conclusion that it really is up to us to make an effort to educate ourselves and figure out what we want to believe. Thankfully, the Internet is still a place of free speech!

This catalyst has awakened in me a renewed sense of what a wonderful country we have and an awareness of how many of us – and I used to be in that group – take it for granted. We think it will always be there and nothing will change our basic freedoms but, that isn’t true. Recently I have been reading the Constitution of the United States of America, something I haven’t done since high school, and I have been struck by the beauty of the words and what care our Founding Fathers took with them.  I strongly encourage everyone to read it, even if you think you already know it. As Americans, two of our most important rights are freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Without free speech, you couldn’t read my words right now and then have the right to voice your opinion about them. Without freedom of religion, you would be either forced to follow one state supported religion or not be allowed to have religion at all. I have heard people make lots of stupid, offensive and obnoxious statements that angered me or that I didn’t agree with, but I will always defend their right to say them.  My recent self-study program has made me realize that our First Amendment rights are under a real threat and I, for one, will do whatever I can to protect them because once we lose them we are DONE.

As frightening and confusing as world events can be, one positive thought to remember is that each of us has the power and freedom to influence the direction in which our country goes. We can voice our opinions, we can peacefully protest, we can remind our elected officials that they work for us and let them know when we don’t think they are doing a good job.  And, perhaps most importantly, we can vote them out of office!

 

Visit me at Lynda Linke Productions

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Moments of happiness and moments of sadness

Life is a treasure chest of mixed blessings

Individual moments of happiness and sadness, all strung together, are what create a life. We all have times when we experience  these feelings but, if you think about it, you don’t usually feel either of them for very long. In a heartbeat your joy can be shattered….or your sadness can be transformed. Life is a series of births and deaths, both figuratively and literally. We are always losing and gaining and learning from every one those experiences – or at least we should be!

The people I admire the most are those who find a way to adapt to the constant changes that life brings and still maintain their personal integrity. People like that are inspirational to me. According to Webster’s Dictionary integrity means (in part): honesty, completeness, soundness, adherence to a code of moral, artistic, or other values. I’d like to add one other definition – I think integrity is an internal truth that isn’t changed by external circumstances. Integrity is like an internal compass – there is always true north. I admit that I haven’t always been true to myself but, I also realize that those were the times when I made the worst mistakes in both judgment and action.

I have thought a lot about “reinvention” over the past couple of years and I have learned that reinvention isn’t always a big, life changing event. Often I am reinvented in small subtle ways that are connected to those moments of happiness and sadness I mentioned earlier. Sometimes I make a conscious decision to reinvent something about myself and sometimes a reinvention is caused by my subconscious reaction to an event that occurs in my life. Over the past year I have had some painful experiences that forced me to re-evaluate my ideas about friendship. The older I get the more value I place on integrity and the more important it is for me to be in the company of like-minded people so I believe the timing of these experiences was serendipitous.

In my book, “Try Lots of Hats”, one of the stories is titled “The Friendship Hat” and it tells my basic philosophy about friendship in very simplistic terms. It tells about the many roles that different types of friends play in our lives and the needs that we fill for each other. It recognizes that not everyone is meant to be your best friend and not everyone will be in your life until the end. It is light-hearted and doesn’t touch at all on the pain a friendship can bring when it goes wrong. This past year I experienced betrayal and character assassination from two former work place “friends” that caused the end of those relationships. I have also recently experienced the pain from the death of a friendship that lasted more than 46 years. To be honest, the 46 year old friendship had developed some cracks in its foundation that made it too weak to withstand a difficult test but, that doesn’t make it any less painful or disappointing. I understand now that these “deaths” were another part of my reinvention and, although not experiences I would have chosen, once I got past the hurt I realized it was all part of what I’m here on Earth to learn. Since leaving my job last year I have done a lot of cleaning and reorganizing in my house and, during that process, I also got rid of things that didn’t have a place in my new life. Maybe those friendships didn’t fit my reinvented life and the type of person I strive to be. After all, is it possible to be true to yourself if you are always trying to meet the expectations of others?

I’m fortunate to have some people in my life who call me “friend” but I won’t ever again bend myself into an unrecognizable shape just to maintain a relationship – with anyone – because one of the hardest lessons has been that my integrity is all I really have at the end of the day. While working my way through the painful feelings caused by those experiences, the most important thing was to be true to myself.  Did I owe anyone an apology or an explanation beyond what I had already given? Was I being uncharitable or stubborn? I meditated and searched my soul and, when I was satisfied with the way I had handled these difficult situations, I moved on. As they say in recovery programs “Let go, with love”. I  believe that, if you hold onto anger or thoughts of revenge,  you only damage yourself.

I never said reinvention was easy – moments of happiness and moments of sadness abound! Embrace them all!

I’m a writer!

Last weekend I went to a book launch party for the first time. The book, “The Method Writers” is the creation of four authors who call themselves The Rogues Gallery, one of them being Michael Ray King. Mike was the instructor of a writing class I recently attended called “How to Write a Book in 30 Days”, which he has turned into a book and webinar. When I registered for the class I didn’t really know what to expect – I thought the course name was just a catchy title but I soon found out that Mike actually expected us to write a book in 30 days, or at least to write a minimum of 1,000 words every day! He set up a Google cloud spreadsheet and told everyone in the class to post their word count every day. At first, that seemed like a daunting task but I soon got into the flow and had many days where I actually wrote more than 1,000 words. I haven’t maintained the discipline of working on my book every day since the class ended but, I’m happy to say that I am still working on it and I have also added blog posts to my writing.

The course was helpful to me in many ways but one of the most important was to break out of an old belief I had that I should write from “beginning to end”. Suddenly it became so clear to me that this belief had been getting in the way of my creativity and had actually stopped me from completing writing projects in the past. It sounds so obvious but, Mike’s words  gave me the freedom to write from my heart and about something for which I feel passionate. If I had a great idea for Chapter 8 and I was only in the beginning of the book it was OK to write Chapter 8! Actually, I even switched books halfway through the class because I had a strong desire to follow a different idea I had. I put the book I started with on the “shelf” and instead started working on a mystery that was haunting me. I’ll get back to the first book eventually but, for now, the mystery has captured my interest.

Another benefit I received from the class was an invitation to attend the bi-monthly meeting of my local branch of the Florida Writers Association. The meetings are co-facilitated by Mike and his fellow Rogues Gallery author, Jeff Swesky, and are informal, casual, fun and informative, especially for a “new” writer like me. One meeting is dedicated to providing friendly critique to anyone who submits a sample of their writing in advance, and the other is one of general interest to writers. Attending these meetings connects me with fellow writers and informs me of events and activities I might not have known about. It also makes me feel like a real writer.

Taking Mike’s class made me think about writing every day, even if I don’t actually do it. It is definitely more a part of my every day life than it was before – I even take my notebook when Stella and I go to the beach or to my favorite spot at a beautiful local park on the Intracoastal Waterway so that I don’t miss an opportunity to record my thoughts.

Waterfront Park

Stella at Waterfront Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That brings me back to the launch party. Another guest at the party asked me if I was a writer and, although I have written all my life,  wrote and illustrated a book “Try Lots of Hats”, will soon be publishing a collection of stories, and I’m currently working on two books, I actually hesitated and felt a bit shy about identifying myself as a writer! I guess I label myself as an amateur because I haven’t earned my living by writing.  I’m not on the New York Times Best Seller list but, the truth is I AM a writer and an artist and I know it is an important part of my reinvention to be able to acknowledge that and identify myself in that way. So, thanks in part to Mike King’s encouragement, I’m getting there.

Onward with reinvention! I’m a writer!

 

 

Reinvention as a “singleton”

Yes, reinvention ( “retirement” – for those who haven’t been reading all my posts! retirement is such an icky word – it sounds like you went to sleep or removed yourself from life in some way) as a single person – or a “singleton”, as Helen Fielding so sweetly calls us in her hilarious book “Bridget Jones Diary” – is very different from reinvention as a married person or as someone with a life partner.  I ought to know since I am a singleton – and not a 30-something singleton like Bridget Jones either! I am 61 years old and have been a singleton since I got divorced 30 years ago. Oh sure, there were a couple of long-term relationships but no marriage and no live-ins. Sometimes I have wondered about that, but mostly I just accept it as part of my journey and the life lessons I’m here to learn.

Reinventing your life as a singleton is also very different from being part of the working population as a singleton because going to a job every day automatically plugs you into a “social life” of sorts. You are surrounded by co-workers with whom you interact in varying degrees. Friendships, and sometimes even romances, develop more easily when you see the same people every day and can get to know them gradually over time. Once you enter reinvention as a singleton and you lose all, or most, of your workplace connections you might feel as if you’ve been cut adrift. If you are an outgoing person with many friends and activities outside of the workplace then your transition into reinvention will probably be smooth. If, like me, you are not particularly outgoing and don’t have a large number of friends and an active social life then this part of reinvention can be a challenge but, I’m going to share my thoughts and maybe they will be helpful to those of you who are more like me.

I’m an only child and I don’t have a close extended family, in fact, the only family I have is my mother and my son, who lives 1,500 miles away, so I can’t rely upon the “built-in” companionship of family. Also, the way things have turned out, the friends with whom I have the closest emotional bonds happen to be the friends who live the furthest away. I have a few good friends nearby and lots of nice acquaintances and I spend a lot of time alone but, the good news is, I NEED a lot of time alone and I have been able to find a balance that works for me. Partly from being an only child and partly from my own natural inclinations, I enjoy my own company and I know how to entertain myself. A lot has been written about introverts and extroverts and I am definitely an introvert but, this is no longer something I criticize about myself. I recognize and accept this as a part of who I am but, at the same time, I also understand that it is something I have to be aware of in working to achieve balance in my life. I know it is important for me to put myself in situations where I can meet and interact with people or I could easily become a hermit and that is not a balanced, healthy life!

I think the word balance is the key to everything in life, no matter who you are or what your age, but it’s especially important when you’re about to embark on a big reinvention.  For me, balance is not something that stays in a state of permanence. It is more of an ebb and flow, a constant striving to achieve balance in body-mind-spirit that changes from day-to-day, sometimes hour to hour. I admire and envy anyone who says they have achieved a balance of those three things but, I also feel skeptical about that claim because our human experience here on planet Earth seems to constantly interfere with perfect harmony. I am forever re-adjusting, re-focusing, re-viewing and re-inventing and sometimes I do achieve a feeling of perfect balance for a while but, its like when you stand at the edge of the ocean and you never know when a wave is going to shift the sand under your feet. In every way, including achieving balance in my life, I consider myself to be a work in progress.

So, fellow introverts, here are some of my thoughts about achieving balance as a reinvented introverted singleton. First, relationships. As a younger singleton I was always on the look out for a male companion, hopefully, one who would be my “soul mate”. I was still under the false illusion that I was only “half” a person if I didn’t have a partner in my life or, worse yet, that there was something wrong with me. Thankfully, I came to value myself and to appreciate the positives of the singleton lifestyle and I am no longer searching desperately for a soul mate. As Gloria Steinem once said “Some of us are becoming the men we wanted to marry”. This is not to say that you should close your heart and mind to the idea of a loving friend and companion – it just shouldn’t be the driving force behind everything you do.

Second, follow your passions and interests –  no matter what anyone says. Now that you are reinventing your life you can spend your time doing whatever you are physically and financially able to do and one of the joys of being a singleton is that you don’t have to check in with anyone to see if it’s OK with them! For me, an important part of reinvention is having the time to reconnect with drawing and writing – two old friends – and to be able to offer my creations and words through the Internet. Years ago it wouldn’t have been possible for me to reach so many people but now people all over the world visit my website, Lynda Linke Productions, and purchase my greeting cards and books – what a thrill that is for me.

Blatant self-promotion!

Third – and very important for the introverted singleton – find ways to get out among people and give yourself the opportunity to make new friends. I enjoy learning so one of the best ways for me to get out among people is to take classes. It is a win-win because I get to learn about a subject in which I am interested and I am putting myself among people who have the same interest as me. I also do some volunteer work with my local Humane Society and a non-profit that helps people in my community, Christmas Come True. Volunteering is always a win-win, as long as you make sure that you are involving yourself with something you truly care about, because you are doing something good for someone else and are meeting like-minded people at the same time.

Fourth, if you feel that the spirit in your body-mind-spirit  balance is lacking, reinvention is a great time to reconnect with the church you used to attend or to find new ways to discover your own spirituality and connection with a Higher Power. Religion is not a part of my life but spirituality and feeling connected to my Higher Power definitely is. Every morning I read some kind of inspirational writing, I meditate and I enjoy the beauty and awesomeness of nature. Every day I remind myself of all I have to be grateful for. As I have mentioned in other postings, Dr. Wayne Dyer has been a great inspiration to me and I have read and re-read many of his books – now I am reading “Wishes Fulfilled” after seeing his program of the same name on PBS.  Find the thing that resonates with your spirit and follow it.

Fifth, and this is a drum that you hear somebody banging on everywhere you turn but it bears repeating – especially to singletons because we have no one to take care of us when we get sick but ourselves! Take good care of your body. Feed it a good, fresh, healthy diet and give it some regular exercise. Get plenty of sleep. This isn’t for everyone but, for me, becoming a vegetarian 16+ years ago was the right thing to do. I never used to be disciplined about exercise but, for the past 6 years I have been walking 3-5 times per week and I lift weights for arm strength every other day. I also have been getting a massage once a month for years and this is something that is beneficial in so many ways but, for me, it especially helps with back and hip pain. Try to take care of your body in as natural and simple a way as possible and avoid prescription medications (or even over the counter stuff) if you can. Obviously, if you have chronic or serious health issues you may not be able to do that. If you are suffering from stress, depression or anxiety first try exercise, counseling, and diet changes before you go to the doctor for an anti-depressant. I firmly believe that a lot of our problems are brought on by our own thoughts and behavior and can be cured by changing those two things.

Here’s my final and perhaps most important thought – keep an open mind. Keep learning, dreaming, reaching and exploring because it is amazing how one thing leads to another when you do.

Happy reinventing!

Stella knows how to enjoy life!

 

What I learned from adopting an old dog

Diane and me

In the summer of 2009 my dearest and closest friend, Diane, who had also been my right hand person at work for the previous 12 years, moved 1,000 miles away to live close to her three sisters and their families. Although I certainly understood the strong emotional pull that led to her decision, I was heartbroken. In many ways we are closer than a lot of sisters and have shared so much – both laughter and tears – that I knew when she moved there would be a void in my life. I had already begun laying the groundwork to retire in 2012 but, after she left, I decided to ramp up my plan and try to retire even sooner. I had already lost much of my enthusiasm for my job and without Diane it wasn’t even fun anymore!

I had a loneliness and a void in my life and, as I have so many times in the past, I turned to helping others as a way to help myself. This time I decided to help my four-legged friends and I began volunteering for my local Humane Society as a dog walker. I have always loved dogs and, as an only child, they were my special companions and I had a longing to be around them again. I had two wonderful cats as pets for many years but hadn’t owned a dog in a long time. I didn’t feel that I was ready to adopt a dog yet but I thought walking the shelter dogs would give me some “dog time” and also an opportunity to do something good for dogs that were waiting for a home. I was nervous at first because I thought I wouldn’t be able to stand seeing the dogs in kennels and would want to adopt all of them but I found, to my surprise, that I was able to focus on the happiness of the dogs when they got out of the kennel and could spend some time outdoors.  At that time I was reading Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now” and working hard to apply his teachings to my life so I appreciated how dogs live in the “now”. They helped me a lot because, when I was walking them, I was also in the “now”. I enjoyed the sunshine, the smells and sights, the quiet companionship of the dogs as we walked together, the simple pleasure they took from some affection and a treat.

I walked dogs every Saturday morning for almost three months and met lots of nice dogs but then, one morning, I met Stella. I think there was something magical about how I met her because, if just one thing had gone differently, I wouldn’t have met her at all. I always started on one side of the kennels and worked my way forward but, that morning, there was a new volunteer who had started walking the dogs on that side before I got there so I went to the opposite side. In the first kennel were three dogs and one of them was the dog I ended up adopting and naming Stella. She was sitting quietly in the corner as the other two smaller dogs excitedly yapped and jumped up on me. She looked scared and sad and her eyes just melted my heart. I was used to excited dogs practically dragging me out the door and across the grounds but Stella walked like a dream – no pulling at all, in fact, it didn’t even feel like there was a dog on the other end of the leash. When I put her back in the kennel I felt sad about leaving her – her card said she had been turned in by a citizen who found her near a busy road with no ID so there was no information about her. The Humane Society vet who checked her guessed her age to be 8 and had determined her to be a “Beagle mix” (hence the soulful eyes!). She had a big lipoma (fatty tumor) on her side, a funny walk that indicated either an old injury or arthritis (or a combination of both) and she was overweight but, I was touched by how sweet and gentle she was.

I couldn’t get her out of my mind for the next couple of days and, when I checked back, I learned that she had been moved to a foster home to care for an upper respiratory infection. I went to visit her at the foster home and had another magical moment. The foster “Mom” told me how sweet and well-behaved Stella was and how she even asked for permission to get up on the sofa. As we sat on the large L shaped sectional, she did just that and then walked all the way around and flopped down right up against me and put her head on my leg.  “Does she do this to everyone?” I asked. “Well, I’ve never seen her do that before but she is friendly with everyone who comes in here and with all the other dogs.” She had won my heart but I had one more problem to overcome – my two 14 1/2  year old indoor cats! Before I could commit to adopting Stella I had to be sure she would accept my cats so I took her to my house to see what would happen. At first, I thought she didn’t notice them but then I realized she was just ignoring them. After she had lived with me for a few days, I decided she was afraid of them because I saw that she would go to great lengths to stay out of their way! Anyway, everything worked out because the cats began to realize she wasn’t a threat to them and they all adjusted to living together.

Almost immediately Stella’s health issues began to emerge. First, it was a skin condition that caused itching, hair loss and a bad smell. She also had recurring ear and foot infections. After experimenting with her diet, it was determined that she had “environmental” allergies and an expensive medication was prescribed which cleared up her problems. During this time she was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and a medication was prescribed for that. Last year she was diagnosed with a heart murmur and degenerative valve disease (Rx’s for that) and, this year, she was diagnosed with chronic allergic bronchitis and a medication was prescribed for that. She was recently tested for food allergies and it was determined that she is allergic to chicken, soy, corn and wheat so she is on a special (and expensive!) diet. She is on 6 medications that she will have to take for the rest of her life and she has two legs that cause problems due to arthritis. They are “weak” areas that are prone to injury and she has had some difficult and painful episodes with each of them this year.

In spite of all her health problems, Stella continues to be a sweet and gentle old girl. She has played an important role in the ongoing reinvention of my life. She volunteers with me for the Humane Society’s Ambassador Dogs by participating in PAWS to Read at the library, Bite-Free educational presentations, and other events as requested.

Stella with some friends at PAWS to Read

She joined me when I presented my “Confidence Clinics”, providing a friendly ice breaker for people who might have been nervous about attending.  On our walks she greets everyone – kids, adults and other dogs alike – in a friendly manner. I’m not always an outgoing person so her presence has engaged me in many interactions with people I wouldn’t otherwise have experienced. She loves to ride in the car and she has been on trips to the Gulf Coast and the mountains of Georgia and North Carolina, where she is always quiet and well-behaved. She is a delightful travel companion!

So, you may be wondering, what have I learned from adopting an old dog? I knew I didn’t want to adopt a puppy but I wasn’t planning on adopting a senior dog either. There is a whole set of special circumstances when you adopt an old dog but I felt such a strong connection with Stella right from the beginning and I instinctively knew there was a reason for that. As a result, I have been given unconditional love, quiet companionship and a different kind of “best friend”. I have been shown how to persevere through illness and pain and still enjoy the small things in life. I have been shown how to be kind to others, even if I’m having a bad day and don’t feel that great. I have gained some understanding about old age and how to be more patient with the challenges it presents. I have been given a deeper appreciation and gratitude for simple things like a roof over my head, a comfortable bed, a full belly, and genuine affection. I am an impatient person, always in a hurry to “get” somewhere, and Stella has forced me to walk slower and be in the moment.

In spite of all her health problems and the expense connected to her care, I am forever grateful for all the things I continue to learn from her presence in my life.

Stella and me