Drinking the coolaid*

I just watched the documentary about the tragedy of Jonestown and the People’s Temple. This tragic event spawned the term “Drinking the coolaid*.” I think this phenomenon and how it influenced our language is worth reflecting on. I will post about this soon.

*I don’t want to use the actual spelling of the now often-used phrase.

How old is old?

I recently posted a meme that hit me where I live. It sums up how I have felt about aging over the last few years.

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For the first 46 years of my life, I was pretty oblivious to aging. I loved being 36. That was the year I felt the least insecure, the most vital, the most energetic. It was the start of a wonderful energy surge that lasted 14 years. Between the ages of 36 and 50, I truly felt young. The number representing my age during those 14 years meant little to nothing for me. In my mind, I felt 36, sometimes I felt as young as 25, and that was all that mattered to me. My kids were growing but still quite young. I showed signs of graying hair, but I felt energetic enough to color my own hair. Presto change-oh, I’m still young! Physically, emotionally, spiritually, the rising number of my age had absolutely no effect on me. I paid it no mind. Young people at work would look and sound amazed (ok, they were being nice) when I told them my age. I’ve never lied about my age. I don’t see the point.

Then I turned 51. My son graduated from college. My daughter had a beautiful baby boy and made me a grandmother. I had to color my hair more often. I was getting mentally and physically tired of doing it myself, so I started paying to have it done. I didn’t feel the presto change-oh magic that I used to feel. I started acknowledging that the hair coloring wasn’t the wizard’s wand that made me feel younger anymore. I looked in the mirror and noticed skin tone and facial changes that seemed to have appeared overnight. I was sure I looked younger yesterday. I went on a serious, almost religiously regimented weight loss plan and lost 72 pounds. The most I’d ever lost in my life.

I went from this:

heavy_me

to this:

Me_Thin

I didn’t maintain that loss, but I digress. My weight loss-gain history is one I’ll save for another time, another post.

What I am saying in the most meandering way is that as I think of how I’ve aged, it seems like one night I went to bed feeling 36 (paying no mind to my looks at all) and I woke up the very next morning feeling every bit of 51. I know, I didn’t age overnight. It just feels that way. I felt that way about my daughter hitting adolescence. She and I have always been very close, and I remember when she was a little girl and wanted to be with me all the time. I cherish those memories. I’ve told friends that it seems like she was my little girl and woke up the next day in full-blown adolescence and all that it entails. If there was an in between, I didn’t pay enough attention. She didn’t grow up overnight, it just feels that way in my memory. She is an incredibly beautiful, strong, wise young woman and I’m so proud of her. But still, presto change-oh she grew up!

I began working as a technical writer in the IT field back in 2008. I wanted to have a career that allowed me to write. I now resent deeply that I actually paid for university coursework in hopes of learning technical writing well enough to get a job. If I could, I’d demand my tuition money back. I learned to be a technical writer by doing the job. The university coursework I paid for and completed was seriously antiquated. The instructor had no clue software had been invented that took the place of the cutting-pasting layout process he routinely assigned to us. Adobe InDesign, to name just one.

My tech writing career has allowed me a first-hand look at the world of technology and software development. What happened in my TW career was that I began to see what software developers do, how much they earn, and I also saw that they have a passion for what they do. I detected in them a passion that I want very much to have. I was fortunate enough to land a technical writing job at a good company during a time when they offered an excellent employee education program. I took full advantage. I took courses in Linux, MySQL, cloud computing, and four courses in Python. I decided to learn the Python programming language and to become a software developer. That was in 2014.  I fully intended to continue on the dev path that the company offered. So excited was I about learning to code that I started a group to find others who wanted to learn to code like me. I called it Alamo Python Learners.

My employer had other plans. The company did a big layoff in 2016, and I was one of the employees that got cut. I had planned to stay there for a very long time, had hoped to retire from that company. I went down a deep well of depression. I lost the desire to continue my developer education. I dropped out of Alamo Python Learners and went off to lick my wounds. The group still exists but they’re now called Alamo Code Learners and their Meetup site boasts 1,363 members. I started that.

During my layoff recovery period, I mused over the fact that most of the devs I worked with were very much younger than me. I decided to give up my hopes of coding in Python. I told myself that I’m too old. Who was I to think that I could work and keep up with developers that were my kids’ ages and younger? Python dreams still lingered but I didn’t mention it to anyone and pushed it out of my mind.

This past summer, once again working alongside devs way younger than me, I acknowledged that their jobs are what I want to do. I will turn 54 this month, two days after Christmas. I had previously invested heavily in Python development books and learning material. I decided to revisit my Python past. I didn’t even know where any of those books were. In a box, in a closet? Did I throw them out? I had thrown some of the materials out, but I kept most of it. I found one book, I found another notebook, etc. I popped open my beloved MacBook (which had sat unused for quite some time) and whaddya know? I had exported my Safari and Chrome bookmarks and was able to use them again. All those online sites are still available to me. I have no excuse for giving up on Python development. Except that I’m even older than I was in 2014. The devs I work with look even younger to me now.

I have decided to get over being age conscious and go back to thinking as young as I want to feel.  I’m back to learning Python and, crazily enough, it is coming back to me quite swiftly. Stuff I thought was hard doesn’t seem so hard anymore. I set time goals for my learning. Maybe I will be a white-haired Python developer (the hair coloring routine is getting old) and I’ll stick out like a sore thumb in comparison to 20-something coworkers. I have decided that I’m fine with that.

My father set a great example for me of what it really means to be a lifelong learner. There was always a stack of books on his night table, and he returned to college a few times as he grew older. He pushed me and my sister and brother to make school and learning a priority. He worked hard to pay our private school tuition, but he expected results for his expense. “I’m not paying good money for you to bring home C’s on your report card!” He paid our tuition but expected us to do the work and to do it well. He passed away in 2010, and his words of wisdom with regard to learning and education become more powerful to me as I grow older.

I’m not ready to give up coloring my hair, and I’ll admit that I worry about wrinkling, but what I am more concerned about is my brain going stale. Somewhere I heard or read that we only stop learning when we are in the grave. I believe that’s true.

There is a quote that I love. It is attributed to Maimonides, a medieval Sephardic Jewish philosopher.

“May there never develop in me the notion that my education is complete, but give me the strength, leisure, and zeal to continually enlarge my knowledge.” — Maimonides 1135-1204

I found another meme that hits me right where I live, which is in a much better place than before.

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Where in the World Is My State of Grace?

The act of writing causes me turmoil. When I sit down to write it takes me three hours to part the emotional overgrowth of years to find my state of grace. It took many years for the emotional overgrowth to occur and I work very hard to clear it. I’m Catholic and I contemplate the meaning of the word grace every day. There is a state of grace that I didn’t learn about in Catholic school.

I prepared to write this by researching the word grace. I thought it necessary to learn about all the different kinds of grace that exist in the realm of faith and belief and humanity. I couldn’t find a definition of grace that satisfied me because the grace that I experience is different. It involves my ability to take the creative flow within me and use it to put words and ideas down on a page.

This is a grace that I feared I had lost. Sometimes I still think I have lost it. I remember that in high school I wrote every single day. Every thought and word and deed in my life at that time ended up on paper, white paper ruled in blue with three holes punched on the left side so that I could place it in a notebook. I had more notebooks full of my writing than I had makeup, clothes, shoes, or jewelry.

At the moment, I am frustrated by trying to type on my Macbook Pro while wearing a large, heavy watch on my left wrist. This is a metaphor for my struggle to write for the last few months. Ideas, thoughts, and words don’t flow as easily as they used to. That’s why I have moments of fear that I have lost my ability to write. I fear that I abandoned the daily act of writing for so long that my source of grace took flight and went on a search for someone who better deserves it than me. My God, but that idea scares me.

I have considered myself a writer since I was a child. When I was in the third grade it all made sense to me. I was eight years old when I discovered two miraculous things. The first was that I could think of ideas that energized me. The second was that when I combined my ideas with the letters of the alphabet I could make the words that are breath and life to me.

I wrote my first story in the third grade. I told my parents my homework was to write a story about pain, and so I wrote a story about a woman who was badly beaten by her husband. When I finished writing it, I gave it to my parents to read. They didn’t like my story at all. My father told me that I should write nice stories, not painful ones. I said nothing in reply, but I had a secret. I had lied to my parents. The teacher did not give me any homework. I made up a fake assignment so that I would have a legitimate excuse to shock the hell out of my parents. I succeeded. The story about the husband beating his wife was severe. I described the physical beating using vivid words. I described the pain that the wife experienced as well as the rage that the husband felt. I described his fists meeting the skin of her face and body. I remember my words to this day. The story was much too traumatic for my parents. They did not like what I had written about or the way I had written it. My father told me not to write things like that anymore. I didn’t listen to him. I was proud of my story, and I was pleased with their disturbed reaction. My words had evoked a powerful response from my parents. It scared them and I was glad. As my parents walked out of my bedroom, I heard my mother say “She’s a very good writer.” It was the first time I knew that writing gives me power and grace.

I wrote more and more as the years passed, but I didn’t share my writing with my parents again for a very long time. Much later in 2008, I maintained a blog and I wrote about my experience with bulimia from the age of 12 through 18. I wrote that I saved my own life by asking to see a therapist and by writing down my feelings every day. My parents responded to my blog entry with hurt and anger. It was a part of their life that they did not want to remember. My writing made them relive the pain of seeing their daughter suffer. Once again my writing came to blows with their emotions. I took down that blog post and I felt horrible that I had hurt my parents. I don’t think I’ve forgiven myself yet. I am not eight years old anymore. I have no need to shock and hurt people with my words, but I do need to explore my memories and feelings through my writing. I stopped writing personal essays and didn’t take it up again until last year. I don’t write to cause others pain. I write to heal my own. This is my state of grace.