← If I were ever to write a novel set in post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, THIS would be my bio photo.
My current office is located at the gateway to downtown Los Angeles, with my window facing what used to be the Wilshire Grand Hotel (its demolition evident in the picture to the left) and what will become The Wilshire Grand Tower. Reading about its history, you retain a sense of old Los Angeles prestige and great change. If you look at the numerous incarnations this building endured through the years, you cannot help but wonder why this smallish, plain-looking hotel has garnered so much attention! (Both popes and politicians chose to stay there.)
“Two years after its opening Hilton Hotels purchased the hotel, renaming it to the Statler Hilton. In 1968 Hilton completed a $2.5 million renovation project on the hotel, and subsequently renamed it the Los Angeles Hilton & Tower. Reliance Group later purchased the hotel in 1983, and invested $30 million in hotel renovations. The hotel’s [penultimate] owner, Korean Air, purchased the Los Angeles Hilton from Reliance and renamed it to [Wilshire Grand Hotel] in 1999.” (Wikipedia)
Why do I bring this up? How does this tie in with my blog focus of Moments of Happy?
I want to briefly explore change – the change life inevitably brings as we age – and I want to talk about embracing changes and learning to welcome them – because they often happen without our permission or deliberation. And then I want to talk about releasing change not in rejection, but with the knowledge that it is, and that it is separate from who you are.
After turning thirty-three a couple of weeks ago, I took time to take stock on my body and self. Birthdays are excellent times to evaluate the person you have become versus the person you wish to be. It allows you a day or two (or sometimes seven!) to question your direction, to embrace the now, and to – chin up and face forward – own your destiny, knowing it can be whatever you want it to be.
This is what I believed for many years…namely, my childhood, teens, and twenties. I still believe that life can be as simple as focusing on what you most desire and swimming upstream to attain it.
But what about all of the little things that happen along the way without your buy in?
→ Graying hair
→ Fine lines and wrinkles (those “smile lines” are getting more prominent!)
→ Creaking and Crackling joints (or maybe that’s just me?)
→ Zero bounce back from those lovely (and “thirsty”) nights out with friends
→ More frequent visits to the dentist/doctor/chiropractor/massage therapists
→ Becoming more involved in (or consumed by) work
The list varies from person to person and experience to experience. The point is: there are some things in life that just happen that you cannot change, even though they are changing. But you can choose to either accept the change (easier said than done) or learn to change your perception of the change…and maybe embrace a little self-directed change while you’re at it!
When I was seventeen, my father’s job relocated from St. Louis to a much smaller town in Alabama. At the time, I could think of no worse fate than uprooting from my home to finish out high school with a bunch of strangers in a strange land. I did all things teenagers do with high levels of melodrama in the weeks leading up to our move. I rebelled. I gave the cold shoulder to the ones who loved me most. I tried everything I could do to change my destiny – to stay where I was comfortable. When I realized that I could do nothing to change our course, I immersed myself in music and poetry as a way to escape – to cope. I listened to music about change and moving on. I wrote stanza after stanza of laughably trite and cliché verse about loss and anguish. Looking back, I smile and congratulate that wise young person for figuring out a way to face and deal with change and soothe the self while at it. She chose outlets through which she could express her feelings and be heard…acknowledged. And she explored her creative passions in the process.
Let us move on, as an example, to one of the changes I listed earlier: Creaking and crackling joints. At some point after turning thirty-one, I began to notice my body “speak out” every morning. “Okay,” I thought. “I guess my body is just getting stiff after eight hours in a bed.” I would stretch when I got out of bed and stretch again – carefully – while taking a shower (taking advantage of the soothing steam). Briefly working with my joints, muscles and tendons seemed to ease the distress for a year or so. Fast forward quickly to thirty-three and I creak and crackle pretty much every day, all day – like a maturing house settling. What’s that all about?!
Let us look at the psychological and emotional implications of questioning this change. Say I question this step of getting older. Where then does my mind wander? First, I wonder if maybe I’m deficient in some sort of mineral or vitamin. Fats maybe? Am I not eating enough of the right kind of fats? I begin eating lots of avocados and coconut oil. Or maybe I’m protein deficient. I play around for a few days with my diet like some kind of mad scientist, trying to find the cure-all potion that will rid me of this “temporary setback.” I set up an appointment with my doctor to do some blood work to make sure everything there is copacetic. In my mind I am thinking “I’m getting old.” Repeat this enough in the mind and it finds its way to the lips. “I’m getting old,” I say to my significant other. He looks at me like I’m crazy. I’m thirty-three. And I certainly do not look old.
“I’m getting old,” I say to myself in the mirror as I try to cover up imperfections with concealer. Hearing myself say this – seeing myself say this – begins a snowball effect of negativity and self-discrimination until my body hears the message and begins to “play its part”: old. I feel emotions of disgust, sadness, helplessness, and even rejection.
In what other way could I deal with this change? For starters, I could choose not to allow the change to reflect who I am. I could choose to accept the change as something intrinsic to my gradually aging body, but separate from my self. It is wise to make the distinction between natural transitions and one’s character and value. So many of us misinterpret the popular adages – each worded differently but essentially meaning the same thing – that change must be embraced to mean it must be incorporated.
I do not believe this to be the case in most situations.
Let’s go back to my move to Alabama. Driving down the 65 from St. Louis, I had time to think about what life would be like in my new town versus in the town where I grew up. I realized that I could be anyone I wanted to be and none would be the wiser. In short, I chose to play the role of “Southern Girl” to the best of my ability. My wardrobe changed. My focus changed. I even mastered a southern accent. And in general, my life changed for the better for a time (and I think my parents were much happier with their once rebellious daughter). Looking back, I had an incredibly difficult time understanding my self at that time because I was in a constant state of flux. I was trying desperately to change with my surroundings instead of moving as a separate unit within the change. I was incorporating myself into my changed life instead of standing out as a unique human being. I was being a chameleon. And why do chameleons change shade? Bingo. Defense mechanism.
Changes that occur externally or internally are equally tricky for almost everyone to maneuver through. It is often quite difficult to see the forest through the trees. One of my favorite teachers, Annemarie Colbin, PhD, once wrote on aging:
“Getting older is like taking a slow balloon or helicopter up into the air: as you go up, you begin to see a broader and wider panorama, you see relationships and connections between points you only [see] as isolated close- ups. Having lived through various ups and downs, you remember on the next down that soon enough that will pass, and some up is bound to happen soon — as well as the reverse. Keeps you from freaking about the down, from exulting about the up. This too shall pass becomes the password.”
So what are your ups and downs? Are you focusing too much on changes as they affect you? Or are you noticing the changes and moving gracefully along with them? Which would you rather do?
Imagine yourself for a moment as the hotel I referenced earlier. In your youth, you are designed and decorated in the period’s style. You are all the rage of the town. Important people choose to stay with you when they visit the city. Over time, you change in image as managers come and go. Your curtains, carpets and bed sheets change, but you are still a hotel. From time to time you are torn down in places and built back up. You are still a strong hotel. Eventually, you are completely redesigned – re-imagined. You undergo a structural evolution. You may look different, but people still flock to stay with you when they visit the city. They are comforted and inspired by you.
The next time you look closely in the mirror and notice a few more gray hairs or a new line/wrinkle, take a step back and inspect the whole picture:
Am I still me?
Am I still loved?
And then you can decide to rock that gray hair, or to explore what it’s like being a blonde for a spell.