Finding the words

The older I get, the more I lack a simple skill called "word-finding." As a medical transcriptionist, I know that that phrase is used in cases where someone has had a stroke or has other debilitating brain conditions such as dementia. It's not that serious for me, but it's something I have noticed lately.

It's not so much that I can't think of someone's name (although that happens), or that I cannot identify a pencil in my hand (thank God, that has never happened). I simply do not have an adequate vocabulary to describe my feelings - about myself, my loved ones, my life, my joys, my disappointments, regrets, and worries. The older I get, the less I think with the brain and the more I think with the heart.

Our language has its deficiencies, for one thing. We seem to lack the language nuances that other cultures possess. Ed tells me that groups such as the Eskimos have hundreds of words just to describe "snow" - because snow is very much an important part of their lives. We basically have wet snow and powder snow.

But even with the expanse of English vocabulary at my fingertips, I cannot settle on an acceptable way to describe something. As a nondrinker, I get tickled when I read descriptions of wine, for instance. How do they come up with that? Here are some description samples taken off one wine web site: "Ruby red color and aromatic. The wine has a pleasant nose of mint, blackberry and hazelnut." "The wine has an elegant and complex nose, with ripe red berry fruits and lush aromas of spice, tobacco, and vanilla." "Mid-palate is very well fleshed with ripe fruit and cherry flavours in a smoothly-knit structure."

They are just as wordy with perfume reviews.
"Today I am trying Calycanthus, which Acca Kappa describes as a "fresh, floral scent created with the unique essence of the Calycanthus flower blended with notes of Jasmin, Orange blossom honey and Musk."

This starts sweet and sharp. I am guessing there is some honeysuckle in the top notes, and possibly a touch of citrus. The dry down is a really pretty, spring-like floral, with slight green notes. There is a lovely spicy kick that I assume comes from the calycanthus — there are several varieties of this shrub, which are variously known as sweetbush, western spicebush, and Carolina allspice.

It has a sparkling quality, and manages to capture the aroma of honey without being overly sweet. (This review is from this site.)

Well, more power to them. I don't have enough taste or odor sensitivity to be able to distinguish all those individual contributions, and even if I did, I lack the vocabulary to voice my opinion in such a creative, exact manner.

With taste or smell, all I can say is: Either I like it or I don't, and maybe I can denote degrees to those feelings.

I have always loved words; that is one reason I enjoy medical transcription, grammar, spelling, and the like. I love obscure words, strange words, unpronounceable words - all of it. I love certain words for the sound of their syllables, others for how they look when they are written out. Yet, the longer I live, the more words fail me.

How can I find words to tell my family and friends how much I love them? To tell Ed how thankful I am to be married to him? To tell all my relatives how much happiness and laughter they have brought to my life? To explain how wonderful being a grandmother makes me feel? How do I tell people the release I feel when they have forgiven me? How do I explain how it feels to have had so many teachers (educators and life teachers as well) invest their time in me? How can I explain to someone the euphoria that overwhelms me when I hear Beethoven or Mozart? How can I describe the gut-wrenching worry I feel when my children are out driving in bad weather or the pit in my stomach every time I leave my 83-year-old mother in Memphis, knowing I might never see her again?

At some point, language fails. That cliche "Words cannot express...." is true. "A picture is worth a thousand words" - also true. "Actions speak louder than words" - true again.

Or course, I still try. But if, in the ensuing years, you think I'm a little quieter, slightly more pensive, somewhat more introspective, I might just be at a loss for words. But my heart will be talking a mile a minute.

Geography 101

After I found my long-lost friend Annie, I made arrangements to give her a phone call. She lives in Michigan and I live in Maine, and I wasn't sure of the time difference. Heck, I wasn't even sure where Michigan was! I was floored when I was told that Michigan was in the Eastern time zone along with us!

Well, that did it. I have known for many years that I am no good at geography. USA geography or world geography - it doesn't matter. I can identify some states - for instance, states adjacent to Tennessee, my home state - and some of the coastal or odd-shaped states (Texas, California, Florida, etc.). But for the majority of states, they are all jumbled up in my head.

The kicker to this is that apparently I could name and identify a significant number of states when I was 3. That fact of trivia even makes me feel more inadequate. And with Caroline well on her way to being able to identify every state in the union, I have decided to drill into my head - accurately and permanently - the exact location of every US state on a map. For this purpose, I downloaded some free maps off the Internet and printed them. Some have state capitals on them, some major cities, and some are simply blank - for me to fill in once I learn them.

I am in competition with myself every day at work. I compete against myself just like an athlete does. An athlete might try to shave some time off a race, whereas I try to increase my line count production from the day, week, month before. This map project should prove interesting, because in essence I am competing against my 3-year-old self. Mind you, this will only depress me if I fail to achieve my objective, for then I will have lost against my 3-year-old self, and that would be mightly pitiful indeed.

So here I go, into the world of state recognition. Considering I once neglected to see the entire state of Virginia when giving map directions to Ed on a family vacation (which ended up with our pulling into a motel in Kentucky at 3 a.m. instead of 8 p.m. the night before), I think this will prove be a challenging experiment.

My country, 'tis of thee,
I knew when I was three
Most of your states.
Now I am fifty-one,
Before I'm dead and done,
I'd like to point out Washington.
Hold those Pearly Gates!


Yay, I found my Annie! I knew my research skills would come in handy one of these days!

Up and Down and Round and Round

There comes a time when you may have a subject or project or life stress/change that seems to take over your whole existence. For some, it may be a medical diagnosis. For others, it could be a major lifestyle change. For Rachel and Chris, their world revolves around Charlotte's sleep habits. For us, of course, it's selling this house.

I am well aware that people are sick and tired of hearing us whine about our house. In all frankness, I'm tired of it, too. A co-worker who doesn't work in my office begins each phone conversation with the "Have you sold your house yet?" question. I finally told her that she would know exactly when we sold our house, because we would hire balloons to fly all over Ellsworth, and we would be in one, yelling and screaming the news with delirious abandon. So now, she starts her phone conversations with the statement, "Well, I haven't seen any balloons lately..." Of course, her house has been for sale for over a year, too, so she can relate.

Here is how insidious the house stress is. The situation consumes my every waking moment. I run the gamut of emotions: Fear (What if we don't sell?); Worry (What if we have a major repair to deal with?); Indecision (What have we left undone? What have we overlooked?); Disbelief (We initially thought the house would sell itself, and had no idea it would have been this long).

But most of my day on the emotional roller coaster consists of two major reactions: Hope and Despair. It's as if there is in my head a list divided into these two columns. Every single experience I have during the day and night gets placed into one of those columns.

I usually begin the day with Hope. After all, it's a brand new day and maybe this is the day we will get finally get something done. If I look outside and see that the weather is chilly and rainy, I write that in the Despair column. No one wants to come look at a house in the rain. The phone rings - Hope! This could be our Realtor with good news! No, it's just Rachel and her Charlotte angst. An e-mail from Venise, our agent! Hope! No, sorry, Despair. It's just ambivalent information.

Oooh, I see a car slowly driving by! Are they looking at the house? HOPE! Oh, I see they are slowing down for someone walking her dog. Despair.

Every showing brings Hope. Every slow-moving car stopping to look at the house brings Hope. Every time the phone rings, there is Hope.

But alas, for every Hope entry, there is usually a Despair entry in the other column. So from our waking moment to the closure of our eyelids in sleep, we are obsessed with fears, worries, hope and despair. The process consumes and drains us. It affects our moods, our plans, our schedules, our conversations, and all our thoughts.

So, friends and family, if it seems to you that we are always preoccupied, have pity. Let us weep on your shoulder and sigh over the phone. Let us rant and rave about injustice, expectations, and disappointments. Help us forget about our worries, and keep us laughing, as only you can do. Something funny Caroline or Amelia says is worth several minutes of relief. Getting together with the kids and grandkids gives us hours of pleasant diversion.

Seeing a picture of my mom in an umbrella hat - the epitome of hilarious distraction!

Where's Waldo et. al.?

Caroline loves the Where's Waldo? book series. If you have never seen one of these books, look through one on your next book store visit. Each page features a very complex and busy scene, full to the margins with colorful characters, buildings, and props, and scattered amongst the madness are minuscule pictures of Waldo, a guy in a red and white striped outfit. Of course, there are red and white stripes everywhere in the picture, so finding Waldo can be difficult (although Caroline has mastered the technique).

I personally don't enjoy looking for Waldo. I have better things to do, such as trying to find old friends using the Internet. But believe me, it's just as frustrating.

My sister says that my blog has gradually shifted away from "Journey to Simplicity" to become more like "Oh My! I'm Getting Old!" I can see her point. The journey to simplicity is all inclusive, and the act of moving towards a simpler life involves a great deal of introspection. And, unfortunately, every time I stop to look at my life, I am apt to say, "Oh My! I'm Getting Old!"

The more I feel my age, the more I look to the past because, after all, the past constitutes the majority of my life now. And the more I look to the past, the more I think about people I once knew - people I've lost touch with. Occasionally my curiosity will get the better of me, and I lean on Google to find Waldo - or in this case, someone from my previous adventure-filled life.

Of course, I realize right off the bat that it is much easier to find males than females. A male goes to high school with a name, keeps that name through marriage, divorce, even remarriage. Google a guy's name and you might easily find the one you are looking for. Not so with a woman. It's a convoluted mess trying to search for a woman.

I went to college with a girl named Annie Smith, and I lost touch with her and would really enjoy finding out where life took her. After some searching, I do believe one has to have the combined detective skills of Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, and Columbo to find anything specific with the name "Smith." I also realized that I didn't know as much about her as I thought. When I met her, she lived in Nashville, and that is where she went to high school. But which high school? I have no idea. Did you ever wonder how many schools there are in Nashville? A lot.

OK, then, maybe she is listed as an alumna of Lambuth College, which is where we first became friends. Maybe she kept in touch with Lambuth and is listed on their site, so I went there. Apparently before I can look at a list of alumni, I have to register as an alumna myself. That wouldn't bother me so much if I didn't have to pick my class year. I only went there one year; I didn't graduate. The site said they would verify my information before I would be allowed in, and all I could think of was the probability of being labeled a fraud, trying to impersonate an actual college graduate. So I nixed that idea.

I also visited the Memphis State site, because I believe Annie might have graduated from there, but I wasn't sure. At any rate, I had to register there too, and since I've never been a Memphis State student, even for a year, I gave up on that.

It was at this point I remembered that Annie Smith's first name was really LuAnn. Or LuAnne. So, armed with more correct information, I continued my search with LuAnn. And LuAnne.

However, Annie had married a Mike Davidson, and, if I remember correctly, got divorced. Did she keep her Davidson last name? Return to Smith? Heck, she might even be remarried again and changed her name altogether! To make matters more confusing, the last time a mutual friend heard from Annie, Annie had been living in Michigan.

Before throwing in the towel, I came across a promising match with a Nashville address. Every time I came across this lady's name, it was because she was involved in marathon running all over the country. Annie wasn't a runner when I knew her, but she was skinny enough to be. Her age was right, too.

I took the chance and called the lady. She was very understanding, but, alas, she wasn't Annie. I almost wished her luck in her running career, but I figured she would think that was too creepy, coming from a complete stranger.

So now I am back to square one. Well, this blog reaches around the world - maybe someone has heard of Annie Smith, a skinny girl who grew up in Nashville, attended Lambuth College and Memphis State, worked as a waitress for Red Lobster, married Mike Davidson at one point, and maybe (or not) divorced him. If so, would you please contact me?

I think after all, I might try again to find Waldo in one of Caroline's books. It's got to be easier than this!

There's something in your teeth

Rachel and I took Caroline to a children's museum last week. One of the displays consisted of anatomical sculptures, and one of those was an open mouth. Of course, I had to get a picture of Caroline being eaten.

She dutifully climbed up into the mouth and posed for the picture. Rachel urged her to act scared. "You're being eaten, Caroline!" she said. But Caroline knew she wasn't being eaten, and the only other expression she could give us was a frown. She couldn't act frightened on cue. I didn't get to see her crawl through the big intestine, but I would guess that would not have scared her either.

It's funny what scares little kids and what doesn't. I think when I was a little girl, the mouth would have fascinated me, but wouldn't have scared me. I'll tell you what really scared me.

There's a museum in Memphis called the Pink Palace. When I was little, there was not much rhyme or reason to the exhibits; it was mostly a hodgpodge of various curiosities. There was one huge room full of animal heads hanging on the walls. They were killed in Africa on safaris, I believe, back when it was socially acceptable to kill an innocent animal to provide a conversation piece for your wall and a souvenir of your adventures. Every time I went into that room, I was surrounded by huge dead animal heads. Most of them had been posed so that they looked capable of jumping down at any moment. It was quite eerie and uncomfortable and may have given me nightmares.

But the thing in the museum that scared me most was The Log. It had several holes in it, and the holes were totally dark. We were urged to stick our hands in each hole, feel around, and try to figure out what we were touching. Then we could turn the light on and see what it was. The whole thing totally freaked me out.

Maybe The Log experience was the earliest childhood "trauma" that made me fear the unknown, and maybe not. But it seems to me that as a kid, I was more frightened of things that I had no reason to be scared of. I knew those animal heads couldn't drop down and attack me. I knew those mysterious things in the log weren't going to harm me; otherwise, the museum would not have encouraged children to stick their hands in. Nonetheless, I was terrified.

When I became an adult, the situation changed. I had "eaten the apple of the tree of knowledge of good and evil," so to speak, and the things that frightened me had changed. Oh, they were still encased in the "unknown," but the fact that I knew they could happen changed everything. It's the difference in watching a scary movie - even though your emotions are affected, you still are aware you are watching just a movie - and barely avoiding a high-speed collision on the interstate. In real life, things that scare adults are very real, from terrorism to car accidents to financial ruin to losing your job to deaths of people you love. That is reality, and that is scary. It's so overwhelming that sometimes it is even tempting to step back in time and just have The Log to deal with.

I don't know if The Log is still there in the Pink Palace. They've gotten high tech in a lot of ways, I believe, and, of course, things change. But with Matt and Sarah visiting Memphis this week, my mind landed on the Pink Palace and its "safe" way to be scared out of one's wits. Too bad reality eventually sets in, and somehow the scary things get scarier.

The Interview

They sometimes call houses like ours Victorian Painted Ladies. And why not? Especially for families who live for years in a house like this one, the structure seems to lose its inanimate quality and becomes almost human with quite complex emotions. I imagine if "she" could be interviewed, the write-up would be something like this....

Today, we focus on the downside of dating after 40, specifically on finding that special long-term relationship. We are fortunate to be able to interview an older Ellsworth resident, Victorian Lady, who knows too well the hazards of finding that special someone.

She is an elegant lady who looks younger than her purported age of over 100 years. She is dressed to the nines, but as she removes her dainty white gloves, her hands bespeak her true age. She looks intently at me and sighs.

"I'm honored to be here. Of course, at my age, I'm honored to be anywhere! I believe that's an old George Burns joke. So, tell me, what do you want to know?"

I look into those aged but bright eyes - the windows to the soul. What things they have seen!

I clear my throat. "Victorian Lady," I begin, "exactly how hard is it to begin dating again at your age?"

"Oh my," she replies. "It's extremely hard. I feel like a Sophia Loren competing against the Paris Hiltons. There are so many eligible ladies out there these days, vying for just a few special available people. The trouble is that someone will agree to date me, but it ends up being just that - a date. I have yet to find that long-term relationship, the commitment, that I need so desperately."

"Why is that, do you think, Madame?" I inquire.

She pauses to consider this, then smiles a poignant smile. "I think that many people assume I am a high-maintenance kind of gal. Well, in a way, that is true, of course. I sag in places, other places could use a day at the spa. Body parts don't last forever, you know, and I have actually had to have replacement surgeries! But they can do wonders these days with that!" She pauses. "I'll bet you can't even tell my porch has been rebuilt, can you? The wonders of medical renovation!" I can tell she is proud of her upkeep.

I know I have to ask, but all the same, it is uncomfortable raising the delicate subject.
"Madame, I hear comments that....well...your size may be working against you. Do you think, as some have said, that you're just too big?"

She draws herself up to look every inch the Grande Dame. "Sir," she replies. "Some people actually prefer the larger woman. We have more to love."

I can't help but grin. "What exactly are you looking for in a mate,

Her eyes get misty. "Oh, I'm flexible on that, but I have my desires, of course. I want someone who loves and appreciates me for what I am - an old lady, but with the charm and charisma you don't find in the younger girls these days. I want someone who realizes that under this prim and proper exterior, there is an adventurous soul. Nothing can shock me - the things I've seen would make your hair curl!"

She continues. "My true desire is to find a family to love me. Of course, I am multifaceted and have the potential to be lots of things to someone. I learn quickly and easily and could master the art of a Bed and Breakfast overnight."

She sighs again. "I'm not some old stuffy Victorian Lady who can't have a little fun. I'm not stuck in the 1800s, for heaven's sake. "

She leans closer. "Do you know I have high-speed Internet and Wi-Fi? Some of the younger girls can't even get that! And my washer and dryer are digital top-of-the-line. My garage doors open by remote control, too." She takes her voice down a notch. "But they don't open for just anyone," she whispers. "I have to give you the special remote. It's my equivalent of giving you my unlisted phone number." She smiles.

She looks at her clock. "Oh dear," she says with a frown. "You'll have to go now. It's time for my weekly haircut." I look at her broad expanse of lovely green hair, which displays the beautiful flowers she enjoys wearing. "Ed, my hairdresser, tries to keep me looking groomed. Even so, I occasionally have those bad hair days! But don't we all?" She laughs a remarkable laugh that speaks of many years of love, caring, and wisdom.

"Good luck, Madame," I say as I depart. "I dare say your special someone is right around the corner." She nods wistfully, and plucks a day lily out of her hair to give me. "Just a remembrance of our visit," she says.

As I drive away, I take one look back. She stands tall and proud with a little furrow in her brow, squinting down the horizon, still looking for her soul mate. Someone special will be fortunate, indeed. I hope it's soon.

Caught Between

My generation is often called the "sandwich" generation because we so often find ourselves in the middle, continuing our roles as mothers and fathers to children (sometimes adult children), and at the same time, still daughters and sons of aging parents - and we find ourselves needed by both groups. A whole generation is redefining what growing older means and where we find ourselves at each marker - from what we should look like to how we should feel.

There are some days that I feel every hour of my 51 years, other days that I feel 18, and still other days that I feel all of 80 years old. I can laugh about getting old and feeling old, when in reality, 51 is not old. But it certainly is not young, either. It is definitely in between. Many of us feel like Max Cannon's quote: "I am too old for an eyebrow piercing but too young for an eyebrow lift."

I'm reading an article called "What is Old Age For?" by William Thomas. He separates the population into three distinct groups: The youth, the adults, and the elders. Here is his idea:

Adulthood itself is a right and fine thing. I am an adult. I love adulthood. I find daily pleasure in living as an adult and have no interest in returning to the childhood I have outgrown. Nor am I ready to enter into an elderhood that requires perspective, experience, and judgment that I do not yet possess. Adulthood, rightly understood, provides us with a productive, potentially glorious interlude between youth and old age. The problems begin when we conceive of it as a permanent necessity, an apex of human experience that must be defended and enlarged no matter what the cost.

So maybe the reason I feel so in transition is that I am in transition. Caught between youth and elder status. That's why the label of Baby Boomer never fails to get my attention. It's the one group to which I know for certain Ed and I belong - Ed, born in 1946, represents the first of the Baby Boomers, and I, born in 1954, represent the last of them, give or take a few years for statistical purposes.

It is a shame that, with the aid of Madison Avenue et. al., we Boomers are fighting tooth and nail to stay in adulthood and not accept the natural transition to elderhood. William Thomas calls our present stage a "productive, potentially glorious interlude." I guess the key word is "potentially," for our lives are in the end what we make of them.

In his article, Mr. Thomas maintains that elderhood starts around age 65. I still have time left in my "productive, potentially glorious interlude." The older I get, the more I believe that accepting where I am today - at this time, this age, avoiding yearning for the past or worrying about the future - is the key to contentment. Acceptance is certainly the first step. If I can add actual appreciation to that - even better.