Author Archives: Elizabeth

Reflections on One Year of Blogging

Blogging after 60

Reading my own blog is so surprising

Twelve months ago, Beyond 60 was born. What an interesting year it’s been.

Blogging Changes You

Who knew, that blogging changes your mind, and your life, in such subtle and delightful ways? Not me.

All small happenings and observations suddenly become potential blog posts.

A happy interlude in the garden, 10 minutes spent gazing into the cat’s luminous green eyes, frustration at the never-ending To Do list, a chance remark heard on the radio – it’s fodder.

I can while away hours composing trenchant and witty posts in my head (where, where?) – ah well, most of them don’t quite get written, but they do hang around, and gently nudge my thoughts and actions in refreshing new directions.

Getting Results

As far as numbers go, think small. A couple of posts a month. A handful of followers (not just my kith and kin). A few thrilling upward blips in the traffic stats, when a post was shared on Facebook and the hordes arrived…and left again.

It’s all good. I know that people read, because people comment. I have a feeling of an embryonic community.

Did I Really Write This?

Choosing topics has turned out to be a gut thing. On a day when there’s a chance to write, it’s whichever nebulous idea floats to the forefront that makes it to the page.

Oddly, when I look back it’s as if someone else wrote the posts. A wise person, who does interesting things and seldom upsets anyone, or herself. I’d like to be her, but it’ll take a while.

The most fun and the least predicted bit has been gravitating from pretty photos, to illustrating with a pin woman who lives in a collaged house. For someone who failed O-level Art at school, this is truly wonderful. Pin lady is out of proportion, wonky and hard to fathom, but she does the job and I just love spending time on her.

Feedback Good and Not So Good

What do people think of my blog? Immodestly, I might quote some praise (hell, why not): Love this gentle, beautiful and vivid description of your day. Thank you, kind reader.

Ruefully, let me share the views of the thumbs-downers: I don’t like this kind of thing and I probably won’t read it again. That is telling me. How about this:  It’s very ‘I-orientated’ isn’t it…?

Yes, it is. But if I can’t write as ‘I’ at 60+ then when, oh when?

My gremlins have enjoyed inflicting massive attacks of self-doubt ‘Joan Bakewell wouldn’t like your blog, it isn’t political enough. Do you know nothing of current affairs, Lightweight?’ ‘Virginia Woolf would be underwhelmed.’  ‘The woman over the road will think you’re daft.’ And so on. Fortunately, I am going deaf.

It has taken TIME in shedloads and has been a work in itself to stay clear of the ‘Should’s’ – you should post weekly, ok fortnightly, monthly, regularly. Fact is, I can’t. Posting whenever has to be good enough.

Though it hasn’t turned out like I thought, it has brought me a whole lot of satisfaction and great new people, not just those who follow Beyond 60, but those who’ve read and commented on my guest posts for Margaret Manning’s remarkable Sixty and Me.

Happy Birthday, Beyond 60!

A blog is a project, and a baby, and a creative work. It needs time, thought, polish, love. And more time.

I’m setting a few birthday desires for Year 2 of Beyond 60.

Be briefer
Be funnier
Keep on with pin lady
No self-flagellation please
Remember poet Mary Oliver’s profound advice: Things take the time they take. Don’t worry.

Don’t you just love that?

It’s in that spirit I wish my beauteous blog, Beyond 60, a very Happy Birthday, and offer it the gift of doing the best I can do to help it grow, using whatever time and energy I have available, no more, no less.

Dear blog, continue to flourish.

The Constant Round of Arrivals and Departures

One thing that seems to define this stage of life is the constant round of arrivals and departures.

Just over the last couple of days I’ve said au revoir to an offspring setting out from home for the next stage of his yoing adult life. Bid a final farewell,  at the funeral of a friend who seemed securely there on the periphery of my life, yet is suddenly gone. Begun knitting for a baby expected in my extended family.

People come and they go all the time, but somehow I didn’t notice or feel the ebb and flow so acutely before.

I’ve become much more aware of the seasons these days, both in the trees and in life.

Let the Feelings In

How to cope with the flood of emotions that arise at each greeting and each farewell? It’s always a joy when someone close comes back for a while, and a wrench when they leave. But this is life.

There is no escaping. Might as well set up home on Waterloo station.

I think the only thing to do is in embrace it. Show the love when they’re here. Have those deep conversations. Stop being afraid of saying the things that matter.

And do my best to let go of fear, that old existential gremlin who sits on my shoulder muttering :Maybe they won’t come back. Maybe this is the last time you’ll see them (insert evil cackle). 

It’s obvious that living in the present moment as much as possible is the only way to manage this. Watching the seasons up close is a good way in.

I’m going down the garden right now to have a closer look at those berries that are starting to flush red, the big brown spiders that have shown up early this year, the leaves that are just starting to tinge yellow. They are trying to tell me something.

Stand there and breathe. Say hi. Say bye. Love it all, just the way it damn well is. 

New Ways To Keep A Diary At 60+

Since teenagerdom I’ve been accumulating an enormous pile of books filled with agonisings, musings and outpourings about my life.

They inhabit the carrier bags of doom, stuffed in the back of a dark cupboard, cowering as the great de-clutter moves ever nearer.

All that scribbling has served me well over the years. The solitary pleasure of sitting up in bed writing frantically, getting it all out of my head and on to the page, has helped stop the merry-go-round of obsessive thoughts and even prompted the occasional decision.

What’s It For?

This year though, the cerise felt-covered book has lost its allure. What is the purpose of all this navel-gazing? Is there a better way to spend my time than writing it all down?

Lately I’ve realised that one reason I write is to put the brakes on time, to preserve experiences by writing them down, and keep them so my life won’t disappear behind me like a vapour trail. It doesn’t really work. Like old photo albums, diaries of the past can only represent a one-dimensional portrait of a moment long-gone.

I might be a lot better off putting my focus on the present moment.

Who Am I Writing For?

Sometimes I do want to look back, and sometimes it’s valuable. Other times it’s sad, like picking at an old wound. And often I end up berating myself, ‘…you really didn’t have a clue in those days, did you…’. Not kind, nor helpful.

I do sometimes imagine Older Me, arriving at a time when nothing new and noteworthy is happening in her life, so she actually wants to curl up with a pile of old diaries and leaf through – ‘Hmm, so I made a beef stew when Jenny and Sean came round in 1978 – no idea who they were…’

Maybe I’m writing them for my children.  Ah yes, the heritage. But a lot of it is such cringeworthy stuff, I’d far rather they burned the lot unopened. They might enjoy the childhood memories, such gems as my daughter’s comment, aged 2, hearing noises off in the supermarket loo saying loudly, ‘I think someone just done a big crap in there…’ – (where did she learn such vulgar language?).

But no. The diaries are crammed with the stuff of a life, large and small, and of interest only to me. And a lot of it not even that interesting.

Different Ways to Keep a Diary

Despite this, I still feel an urge to keep a lighter record, so  I’ve been trying a few things instead of the screed.

  • Draw rather than write. I like stick people and speech balloons.
  • Note one thing heard during the day that was funny, smart, or touching.
  • Sum the day up in one word
  • Pick a random word from a book and use it to spark a quick poem – write for 3 minutes

These are fun, quick and say a lot without the need for three pages of handwriting. If you’re an inveterate diarist, give them a go yourself.

Do you keep a diary? What is its underlying purpose – or does it even need one? Have you tried other ways of recording events in your life? Please share your thoughts below.

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Why play a musical instrument? Because it feels so good…

 

I’m not going to tell you that I play the flute to stave off dementia, keep my brain cells alive, or because I was inspired by some internet list of Things to do when you’re over 60 which always seem to feature ’Play a musical instrument’.

No, I choose to grapple with a 2-foot long tube of metal equipped with a lot of holes and a mouthpiece so badly designed it takes a week before a beginner can get a single note out of it, because of the amazing feelings I get from playing it.

There’s a delicious excitement, which starts in the pit of the stomach, and tingles down the spine. It’s usually momentary, and doesn’t happen that often, but it is just delightful. I call it ‘that feeling’ to myself, and I’m always hoping for it in any rehearsal. It’s most likely to hit me when I’m playing in an orchestra for a bar or two everything comes together and my puny effort becomes part of something much, much bigger. That’s making music.

Then there’s the adrenalin-boosting thrill where I actually feel my heart beating faster in a section where I’m waiting to put in a flutey ‘peep’, off the beat, one note repeated, getting louder and louder as the orchestra build up to some kind of orgasm underneath me – whoa, steady on, but it really does have that quality of growing excitement, being swept along and just having to do that peep, peep, peep in the right place, with more and more urgency…

Add to this the sense of disbelieving satisfaction that I can actually DO IT. On the odd occasions when a swift string of notes comes out at the right speed, in the right order, and with my fingers apparently acting independently from the rest of my body, just instinctively knowing what to do. If only I could apply that in other areas of life!

Another feeling to treasure is the sound a flute makes, the way it resonates right through my body, when all I did was put my lips together… There’s a deep, woody, richly vibrating tone that the flute can make in its lower register. It’s gorgeous. And amazingly, I can produce that sound.

Those are the feelings I get from the playing of the instrument, but along with those are the fun of mixing with other amateur musicians. The laughter – I have been doubled over and speechless with mirth because my duet pal and I were playing so magnificently, appallingly badly! And there’s also the shared endeavour, the sense that ‘we will get this right, if it kills us!’ Working together, trying to play a tricky passage, taking it over and over again until suddenly, Hey – we did it!

There’s a meditative benefit from flute-playing as well. On my own, when I’m a bit tired, or bored, or sad, I can take the flute out of its box and give it a polish, and tootle through some simple little tunes and magically remove myself from the here and now and give my brain a place to rest and concentrate which doesn’t allow for anxieties or sorrows.

Yes, all of that is why I play the flute. I don’t do it because it’s good for me, I do it because I love it, and even when it’s been so hard to master that I could have cried or snapped it in two across my knee, I still have never wanted to give up.

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Project Finished! New Creativity After 60

Look at this amazing purple beast! The final result from my beginner’s stab at upholstery.

 

Here’s the shabby, dishevelled item it used to be – some transformation, eh!

A chair in need of re-upholstery

Before, it was hidden away under a blanket, too tatty to see the light of day. Now, I drag people off the street to admire it, and every morning take my lovely new velvet brush and perform the satisfying ritual of pile-alignment .

My only problem is that people, and cats, are drawn to it like a magnet – they want to sit on it, for heaven’s sake!

Happy with my creative project, I did learn that I am not a born upholsterer. Tools and I don’t really get on. Tacks and nails fall out or go in on the wonk. I’m too scared to cut. The best bits  were anything to do with fabric, smoothing on wadding, stitching a horsehair lumbar support with string.

None of that mattered though, because I was so well taught by Libby at Bungay upholsterers Perkins & Gibbs.  That woman has the glorious knack of the born teacher of enthusing, demonstrating  and quietly helping (a lot!) so that any hapless student who has bitten off far more than she can chew still ends up full of a sense of achievement.

The real joy, has been in working with others around, all of them are grappling with their own projects.

Even more fun than the process of bringing my weary old chair back to life has been the pleasure of being in the studio amid the quiet buzz of talk and banter, with the interesting people who go there, the dogs who wander in and out, the swags of fabric hanging up, the air of creativity, the sense of connection that Libby and Tam create.

That studio’s a life-enhancing place and I quite fancy upholstering my entire house now, just so I can go back there every couple of weeks for another dose.

It’s great to take on long-neglected creative projects now that there’s a bit more time in life, and some can even be tackled alone. But what I learned this time round is how much more enjoyable it is to go and share the whole thing with a bunch of people who, just at the moments when I was thinking anxiously, this is very purple, had a knack of saying – gorgeous colour.

Do you get a tingle of desire at the thought of making something? Got a project you want to start? Where does the joy lie in creativity for you? Do comment in the box below. And if you enjoy exploring the ins and outs of life beyond 60 with us, enter your email in the box up at the top of the page and you won’t miss a thing. 

Create Some Space at 60+

 

Clear a bit of room, physical and mental, and see what flows in. After all, if you can’t take a bit of time out once you’ve hit 60, then when will you ever, this side of the grave?

Choose a day when you can be alone, plan nothing, and let the events of that day unfold.

I tried it on a showery Friday. At first, it was pleasant. Waking luxuriously, without any alarms. Turning off laptop and phone Take that! We’ll have no more from you for a while.

A gentle meditation. A slow breakfast of oats, coconut milk and fresh raspberries, savouring the mix of texture and flavour.

A walk around the garden in a light rain, something which I would never usually do, preferring to glance at the garden through a window rather than get up close.

Looking back, this was the highlight. Seeing the plants up close, touching cool leaves, soft petals, catching wafts of sweetness from the rambling roses, seeing the glisten of raindrops on leaves and watching tiny insects scurrying about their business.

Without expecting it I dropped into the zone, only noticing where I’d been as I stepped back into the house. What a restful and restorative place the zone is, and available right there, any time. That was worth learning.

And so the morning continued. Picking and arranging a few flowers. Communing with the cat. Quietly tidying and cleaning the bedroom. Experiencing the zen of polishing. At this rate I could become a domestic goddess without even trying.

But then, like water seeping out from beneath a leaking washing machine, desire started to creep into awareness. I’d just like to send my daughter a photo of the polished wood…ring that friend I’m thinking about…go to John Lewis and look for some shoes to wear to a wedding…

As the weather brightened, so did the mood, from inward-looking and contemplative to ‘ooh, let’s go out!’ At 2pm I declared the spacious day done and went out, though the phone stayed off until evening.

The feelings, though – they’ve lingered. The sense of having infinite time, the stepping away from the ‘to-do’s’ into the ‘to be’s’, those were refreshing and brought a sense of possibility and calm. And oddly, since taking that time out, I seem to have found a bit more time, to work on projects that were stuck.

Try it. Even for an hour. Simply sit, or walk. Breathe. Notice. See what happens. Let us know!

Turn it off! Phone management at 60+

‘Doctor, Doctor, I’m addicted.’
‘You are?’
‘Yes, to this little white device that fits in my pocket…’

It’s true. I frown on those who text at the dinner table or gaze at the little screen as they would into their lover’s eyes, but it’s no secret that I belong to the clan.

It’s a weakness

How to wean myself off?

I’ve tried setting targets:  no emailing before breakfast, silencing text alerts, ignoring the ‘Ooh, I’ll just look that up…’ impulse.

Nothing works. Ah, I am weak, where my phone is concerned. Its pull is irresistible.

Put a chocolate bar in my cupboard and three weeks later it’ll still be there, unnibbled. Offer me a glass of wine before 6pm – alright, 5pm – and I can say ‘No’. Honestly, I can.

But ping me a text and I have the devil’s own job not to read it instantly.

Is it about wanting to feel loved and needed? A desperate desire for connection?

I don’t really care why I do it. I just know I want to do it rather less.

How much time?

I thought I’d keep a little log of how much time I spend fiddling about on the net. 

And then I’d ask myself a burning question, like might I not develop my blog mightily, or write a play, or learn to play a piano sonata, or make a velvet cushion, or all the above, in the time that I currently spend tinkering with my phone?

I learned quite a bit from that exercise. First, it’s impossible to chart accurately how many hours disappear down the Internet plug hole because it’s happening constantly, in fragments.

Second, I am more than a little terrified of that blog-development idea. Having far too little time lets me off the hook nicely.

Take a risk

Have a think. What are you not risking, in all that time you’re spending on your phone?

As for how to loosen the grip, try this, I dare you.  Turn off the phone – there’s a button for that, you know. Open a drawer. Drop phone in drawer. Close drawer. Lock, if possible. Go do something exciting or lovely for a while, and forget all about phones.

Let me know what happens. Meanwhile, I’m off to read up on WordPress. Over and out.

Reflections on Henry Marsh’s Buttocks

Reading a review of Admissions, a new book by celebrated brain surgeon Henry Marsh, author of the remarkable Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery, I’m surprised by his admissions about his own ageing.

His retirement…the sight of his elderly sagging buttocks…have made him more fearful. The sudden proximity of death and the disabilities that old age brings….

Blimey. Henry Marsh must be older than I thought. But no. Turns out, H Marsh is only 3 years older than I am.

I drop the review on the duvet.

Elderly sagging buttocks? This is upsetting.

I get out of bed and go to the mirror. Hmm, not too bad – though I haven’t got my specs on.

Nonetheless, I am quite shaken up. Buttocks notwithstanding, I must be getting old too. These ailments of decline that he talks about, they’re round the corner for me too.

If Henry Marsh is feeling the draught and was born in the same decade that I was, then how can I go on pretending that I’m somehow immune from ageing?

Is there a point?

If death is suddenly proximate, and with it the ‘disabilities that old age brings’, is there any point in say, writing a blog. Or buying a bike? Or planting a tree?

Perhaps there’s more point, rather than none. But I still can’t quite shake off the fear.

Over breakfast, the feelings start to drift, but they leave a certain undertone to the morning, which isn’t dispersed by a walk, particularly under a grey sky.

Later, a sausage roll from the nice baker brings some solace and a sense, renewed yet again, of ‘just effing do it’, whatever it is.

This is how it is, I think, beyond 60. We start to see the end of the road in sight. Maybe it’s still a fair way off, maybe not. Most of us don’t know. Can’t know.

Now and then, Henry Marsh’s buttocks or something like them, force us to face up to our mortality. But we can’t hold that feeling for long, or we prefer not too.

By the end of the day, Henry and his sagging bum have receded. But they’ve made an impression.

Onwards, that’s the only answer.

How to tame travel fears over 60

Ah! My old friend, Travel Angst!

A few days before any trip I get a familiar frisson in my gut, and my mind starts working overtime.

‘Something could go wrong,’ it tells me. ‘You might miss the flight/lose your luggage/get blown up by terrorists/die of food poisoning’… on and on it goes. Sometimes my mind shouts so loud, I can’t hear myself thinking!

Why this fear? It’s not based on reason, or fact. And therein lies the key to wrestling myself out of its tentacles.

Familiar Patterns

Help is at hand when I start to notice what’s going on. I’m simply caught up in thoughts, fears and feelings, totally enmeshed as if they were reality, when in fact they’re simply the product of my mind, and I can watch them wander in, and and float away again, as long as I’m aware of what’s going on.

One way to tame the travel terrors, is to welcome them in. Yes – open your arms as if to an old friend. ‘Hello Travel Angst. Fancy seeing you again! Come on in, settle down and let’s have a good old chat about all the dastardly things that might happen when I leave home.’

As soon as I take that approach, the fears shrink. They don’t like being under the spotlight, because they’re quickly shown up for what they are – just thoughts, nothing more.

Taming Your Mind

Try this approach with anything that scares you. Keep a watch on your thoughts, and when they start to shriek their way to a climax, call them out. Say to yourself: ‘Just thoughts’. Name them: ‘I’m having thoughts about fear.’ Open up to them by stopping what you’re doing and taking a few deep breaths. Make space for them, and see if they don’t start to evaporate.

Give this fear-taming technique a try, and let me know how you get on. You can leave a comment below. 

BRING MORE GRATITUDE INTO YOUR LIFE AT 60+

I never used to think about gratitude, but now, Beyond 60, I find it comes more and more to the front of my mind.

Big gratitudes, for simply being alive, and well, and warm. For living in a country that isn’t threatened by war or famine.

And smaller, more personal gratitudes, for the little pleasures that enrich every day life.

It’s good to notice these. Right now, the flame-orange of parrot tulips in the garden, the unfurling of fresh green leaves, the black furry aura of my cat’s sweetly curved haunch as she nestles down beside me.

I’m grateful for these, and when I notice myself noticing them, it enhances the feeling.

Keep a Visible Gratitude Record

Maybe you’ve tried keeping a gratitude journal? It’s something that happiness gurus often suggest. And it’s not without worth. I have a little notebook tucked away with sporadic entries.

But keeping it in a drawer means I forget about it for months at a time. So I decided to make something that I can see, to remind me of how much there is to be grateful for, and how powerful it is to mark that gratitude.

Above, you can see my Joy Jar. How corny, eh?

But I don’t care. I love my Gratitude Boot, and it stands on the shelf I see when I open my eyes every morning.

It’s made in a beer glass which I stole from my daughter’s room – apparently her mates pinched it from a bar in Portugal. You could make one in any container that takes your fancy.

I love cutting up images and using them, in the way that some people love to draw or paint. Snipping and shaping and sorting and choosing puts me in the zone, and that’s a good place to be.

I hoard cards I’ve been sent, fragments of coloured paper, and other bits and pieces. When a gratitude moment comes upon me I cut bits out and write my gratitude message on the back, and drop them into the jar.

Every so often, I give it a shake to rearrange it. When I see it, I remember just how many things there are to be grateful for.

Looking for Light in a World that’s often Dark

Maybe it’s cheesy, or trite. Or maybe that’s my self-judgement gremlin at work. All I know is,  when life takes a bleak turn, if I’ve had sad or bad news, or an overdose of harrowing stories via internet or TV bulletins and am left anxious, helpless or even despairing of the darkness of the world, I can turn to my little collection of joyful moments and find a spark of hope.

 

Just dipping in, and pulling out a few is enough. Now and then I even tip the whole lot out and read them. Where is gratitude to be found?

The memories fill me with warmth and pleasure all over again. I can travel back through time just by reading them: ‘ping pong with Clara’…’gorgeous spring sunshine’…’a day with Louise’…’looking forward to meeting J for dinner tonight’…’Sangha’…’Blogging Excitement!’…’photos sent by G’…’talking at the table with N until late’…’builder fixed the broken door’…’at least I didn’t break my right hand’…’Laughing with BB cos she overheard someone describe her as a lively-minded old bird’…’snow’…’beach walk’…’a warm cheese scone eaten outdoors’.

Tiny pleasures, and significant. They signal the joys of connecting with others, of love, of nature, of engagement with life. Good things to remember.

These are the fabric of which life is made. It’s good to see how many gratitude moments arise in any day, and it’s fun and rewarding to keep them in my jar of joy.

How do you remember moments that you’re grateful for? Please share your thoughts below.