I Am Sixty

I am now sixty years old. I’m grateful for three things:  That I’m alive, am in reasonably good health, and I know God.  There have been changes over time – some for better and some for worse.  It’s nice to be wiser. Not so nice to not be able to find the right word I want to use, right when I want to use it.  It’s nice to know what/who is worth expending my time and energy on.  Not so nice to not be able to move/trust my body in the same way I once did. It’s nice some people show me deference.  Not so nice when it’s only because I move slower or can’t read the tiny print to figure out which button to push. 

My time on this earth is running down.  I figure I have about 25 years left (based on the fact most of my relatives have died in their 80’s).  That may seem like a long time at first, but not when you consider 25 years ago was only 1996.  Gulp.  The older you get the faster time flies. Back in my younger days there seemed to be much more wiggle room and lots of time to make mistakes and then to fix them, to make choices and then to change them. Even with wrong choices that couldn’t be fixed I still had time to sort through and deal with them (a.k.a. therapy and prayer). But now, sometimes I feel like the choices I make heading into my own “end of days” may not even have time to play out.  There’s much more of a feeling that they might be final and irrevocable. This can make me a bit nervous.        

A friend recently asked me that old chestnut of a question, “What advice would you give your younger self?”  If I could go back in time, would I talk myself into finishing school?  Would I tell her to take the other job? Would I remind her to get married and have kids? Would I try to change things?  No, I wouldn’t.  Things are as they are and everything that happened made me who I am today, and I’m okay with me (except the aforementioned being 60 years old now).  But I think I would give my younger self a big hug and whisper, “Pammy Girl, you’re alive, you’re in reasonably good health, and  in every single instance it was always worth it to follow God.  Every. Single. Instance.” I think that would help me get through everything.

Today, as I was reflecting on all of this, I suddenly thought, “What do you think eighty-year old Pam would come back and say to you today? What would you WANT her to say?”  Would I want a warning to avoid something or someone? Would I want to be cautioned about one of my choices that might go wrong or not play out? Actually, no. I think I would just like that same deep hug and same encouragement that I am still alive, still reasonably healthy, and it’s still worth following God in Every. Single. Instance. I think that could help me get through anything — even being sixty.     

When You Know the Notes to Sing…

For 25 years I have been part of a singing ensemble. Different members have come and gone but the group has continued on in one form or another and I have remained a part of it, until this year. This year the group finally came to an end. It’s quite odd not to have regular Tuesday night practice, not to be in the holiday mood early because of working on Christmas songs in September, and not to have a reason for a new holiday outfit this year.

To keep from missing it too much, I chose to begin lessons with a vocal coach – not only to continue to have music in my life but also to keep me in front of an audience on a regular basis (if I have too long between public appearances, whether speaking or singing, I tend to develop a touch of stage fright). Right now I am preparing a piece for a recital. While it’s strange to be working on only one song instead of fifteen, it’s fun to be laser focused on making that one song completely mine – crafting it to take advantage of my abilities.

It’s an interesting process. First I found a song I liked. Then I searched the internet and listened to 38 different artists to find a version that suited me. I found two I liked equally well and couldn’t decide between them. My vocal coach and I decided to combine them — take the best pieces from each and splice them together. In order to do that I needed to learn to sing the parts of the songs EXACTLY as the original singers do: their notes, their timing, their inflections. Once I mastered that, only then was it time to work on folding them together. And after that, I was finally able to put my own spin on it and make it MY version.

That’s pretty much a basic formula for anything one wants to do well in life:

  • find something you enjoy and for which you have a natural aptitude
  • find someone to mentor/coach you
  • find someone to model who does something similar with excellence and study them – duplicate their movements toward success until you know what you are doing very well; then step away and put your own spin on it.

It’s similar to learning to write in cursive in grade school. At first it’s all about holding the pencil exactly right, then following the patterns of each letter perfectly, row after row after row. Then in the end you’re free to write any way you choose, with your own personal flair.

vontrapp family
photo courtesy of Internet Movie Database (imdb.com)

Remember the Von Trapp children from The Sound of Music?  Once they knew the notes to sing, they could sing most anything!

It’s true professionally. There are hundreds of financial experts. All of them have the purpose of increasing their clients’ financial portfolio. But each one has their own variation on it. Suze Orman, the Motley Fools, Clark Howard, and Dave Ramsey are all people who are in tune with the same basic principles and do what they do very well, but very differently.

It’s also true personally. Whatever your purpose is, take advantage of the people out there who are doing it well now. Don’t be too proud to ask for assistance – ask questions and try out their methods. Read books, visit websites, go to seminars, or plays, or concerts, or sporting events and watch and learn.

Why start from scratch when you don’t have to? Get the basics down, establish a foundation, and then move out and find your own style and make your own kind of music.

You can read about networking on one of my previous posts:  Stirring the Embers

There’s Something About Passion

Born in 1868, Florence Foster Jenkins, above anything else, loved to sing opera. When she was 17 years old, her wealthy father refused to let her go abroad to study music, so she eloped. In 1909 her father died and she used her inheritance to kick start her career, taking lessons and becoming active in Philadelphia and New York City musical social circles. Florence made several recordings and began giving public performances in 1912. There was great demand for tickets to the recitals, but ticketing was typically limited to a few favored associates and friends. Then in 1944, at the age of 76, she gave in and gave a public performance at Carnegie Hall – the event sold out weeks in advance. One month after that success, she passed away.

And so here is the secret about Florence Foster Jenkins: the girl could not sing.

Not a note. She was known for her lack of pitch, tone, and rhythm. She couldn’t even pronounce the words in her foreign language songs. She was popular for the amusement she provided. And while she was aware of her critics (and the laughter her performances evoked from audiences), she really didn’t care. She was doing what she loved. “People may say I can’t sing,” she said, “but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.”

On the surface it seems like just a precursor to contemporary famous-for-being-famous non-talented reality TV stardom (shudder). But Florence’s story stirred something up inside me.  There’s something about her saying, “People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.” There’s something about passion.risk anything

When I look back on my life it’s the things I did not do or try that I regret the most. I have more, “I wish I would have…” than “I wish I wouldn’t have…”  Thinking back, the reason I didn’t do things was because I was afraid of failure and what people would think of that failure. The funny thing is that in the opportunities I did take, and did fail at, and people did deride me for – I don’t really regret them. In a funny way I have gained strength from them, a sense of increased self-knowledge, a sense of survival and ability to endure and persist through the next challenge.

The library and the bookstore are full of books. You may have received 20 rejection letters from publishers. Does that mean you shouldn’t write? There are millions of corporations and companies around the world. You may have failed all your business courses. Does that mean you shouldn’t start your own business? There are thousands of bands and singers in the world. You may be refused by “American Idol.” Does that mean you shouldn’t sing? Florence Foster Jenkins didn’t think so — and I don’t think she had any regrets.

Who said it was all about success anyway? There’s something about passion.

Fill in the blanks for yourself:

People may say I can’t _______________,

but no one can ever say I didn’t ___________.”

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