Mourning at Mary Poppins Returns

My father died in January 2018. I still miss him badly and keenly feel his absence. I’ve never mourned anyone as much as Dad, and I’m learning things about the grief process that I previously didn’t fully understand.

Last Christmas a friend and I went to see Mary Poppins Returns. As the opening credits rolled, I began to cry. My parents separated in early 1966. That summer, on a scorching, humid New York City day, Dad took me to see the original Mary Poppins. I’d already seen it four times, no doubt at least a couple of times with him. But we had to get out of the one-hundred-five-degree heat, and there were few affordable places to take a sweaty six-year-old.

Mary Poppins
The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.

I always thought of my father sitting through that movie for the umpteenth time as a valiant act of fatherhood. So when the credits for Mary Poppins Returns began and the music swelled, all I could think of was Dad and that day. It moved me to tears. I have countless happy memories of my father, and they make me mourn his passing, knowing my memories are all I have left. Despite my sadness, I’m always grateful that this warm, funny, loving man was my father.

GETTING OLD

I knew I was getting old when the highlight of my week was being fit for custom-made orthotics. In 2016 I’d developed painful plantar fasciitis in my right foot. With proper exercises to stretch my foot, and store-bought orthotics, my foot healed. In 2018 I developed even more severe plantar fasciitis in my other foot. The store-bought orthotics, recommended by my podiatrist, and the prescribed exercises failed to produce much improvement. Even though I’d have to pay for them out of pocket, after half a dozen months in pain, I made the appointment for custom-made orthotics.

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I guess I could be blue that my body doesn’t work as well as it once did. Instead I’m thrilled that there’s a product to ease my pain, and help is on the way. It will be worth every penny. I am getting old, but it beats the alternative.

 

SIXTY IS THE NEW FORTY

I’ve heard that sixty is the new forty. In a year I turn sixty, and I’ve wondered what I might do differently if I get to redo my forties. After some reflection, I realized I have no regrets. I had many challenges in my forties, but my fifties have been a wonder. Numerous elements of my life hit their groove, and it’s been a decade of beautiful challenges and growth.celebration-16301__480

I don’t need a second chance at my forties. I’m hoping instead that my sixties will be as exciting and rewarding as my fifties have been. I’m doing fine.

HOT-FLASH JOHANNA

With the onset of menopause I began to have frequent, severe hot flashes. Among friends, I jokingly called myself Hot Flash Johanna, using the Germanic version of my name.

While chatting with a close friend and her neighbor this summer, the neighbor called me by my menopausal name. I chuckled, and so did they. I realized I must have referred to myself this way during a previous conversation.black-926117__480

Seven years into menopause I still have hot flashes, although they’re less frequent and less severe. But I’m glad I used humor to address this unfortunate part of

MISSING MY MEMORY

Something bad happened to my memory after I had my splenectomy in 2017. Prior to the surgery, I had a knack for remembering what happened in my life down to the month, year, and sometimes week. But the eight months since my surgery are like an Impressionist painting—recognizable but not clear.

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This change is unnerving. I had a simple surgery and recovered well. I’ve had a busy eight months, but that doesn’t explain my lack of recall. I’m not having problems at work, where I must remember complex patient information on a daily basis, so I’m not worried about an underlying medical cause for my memory loss.

I loved my perfect memory although it often drove others crazy. I want it back and hope it returns. But even if my memory stays as is, I’ll be fine. I guess from now on I’ll just have to settle for being normal.

TWENTY-FIVE GOOD THINGS

I engaged in an exercise at the end of every day in 2018 during my emotional slump. Each night after I went to bed, I counted all of the good and remarkable things I’d experienced in my life. I could usually list at least twenty-five. Counting all these experiences helped me believe there were more good things in my future. Now with my slump resolved, I’m glad I sought out creative tools to get me through a tough time.

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HOW MY DREAM CAME TRUE BUT THEN I LOST MY MIND: THE PSYCHODYNAMICS OF BEING A NEW AUTHOR

This article was first published on the San Francisco Book Review on May 30, 2018.

Getting a first book published at age fifty-five could make a person so happy, she’d do her Snoopy dance all the time and in inappropriate places: on line in the grocery store, while cleaning the litter box, and even a few paces in front of her house of worship. I experienced this level of joy when my first book, Living Well with Chronic Illness (MSI Press, 2015) was published. After receiving good news about my book, I felt as though I’d taken the most fabulous happy pill. I was joyous the day my book was accepted for publication, thrilled beyond measure on its release date, and ecstatic when I discovered it was a number one hot new release in its small category on Amazon.girl-324688_1280

I also experienced many other unexpected, difficult emotions. For example, I upset my publisher by making a mistake and reacted so badly that I hibernated on my couch for three months. I wasn’t depressed. I know what that feels like. I simply didn’t want to feel anything, so I binge-watched the first ten seasons of Grey’s Anatomy every evening after work.

I began to understand why people who create for a living are prone to relationship instability, emotional liability, and addictions. Those issues seemed like perfectly reasonable responses to the vicissitudes of the creative process. The highs don’t negate or alleviate the lows, at least not for very long. I live alone and usually don’t speak to anyone I’m close to more than once a week. When my first book was published, many people supported me during my transformation to becoming an author, but no one served as a steady sounding board to help me through the low points or rejoice with me during the high ones. It was an acutely lonely process.

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My pathway to becoming an author was speedy and uneventful. I found a publisher for my book three months after beginning the search. As a result, I didn’t know what other authors learn as they strive to become competent writers. Often they join writing groups and guilds, take classes and go to conferences where they meet other aspiring writers, and become knowledgeable about the business of publishing along the way. I didn’t do any of those things. I had no sense of what were reasonable expectations. Learning on the job was overwhelming and exhausting.

In addition to the steep learning curve and enervation, I’d decided to spend every dollar not locked down in retirement funds on book promotion. I had no disposable money, as a safety net, for the first time since I was twenty-eight years old. I chose to go for broke, and I didn’t expect to recoup my investment in sales. I simply wanted to give the book my best effort.

Nevertheless, I agonized over the money, fervently hoping that my car, my home, my cats, and I would not have any emergency that incurred a large, unexpected expense as I rebuilt my savings. When I told a colleague, he said he couldn’t believe I did this because it was so out of character. I agreed but explained that as a cinephile, I’d read about countless independent film directors who’d made the same decision. Most of their stories involved maxing out a series of credit cards. I’d learned over four decades from these artists that when you engage in a creative endeavor, you give it your all. But I worried constantly about money and spent many Sunday mornings crunching numbers to ensure that all my bills would be paid.calculator-385506__480

Then one Saturday, as I was leaving to get my hair and makeup done for a book signing at Barnes & Noble, a neighbor informed me that another neighbor, Greg, had been taken away in an ambulance that morning. Seven hours later, after returning from the book event, I ran into two different neighbors who told me Greg had died of a heart attack. I’d been friendly enough with Greg to invite him to my book launch. He attended yoga class several times a week and often rode his bicycle in the neighborhood. I never could have imagined him suddenly dropping dead.

This neighbor’s death convinced me I’d made the right choice to go for broke with my book, both financially and emotionally. I’m not worried about having a heart attack, but life can change swiftly without warning. No matter what happens next in my life, I’m pleased knowing I maximized my experience as a new author and gave my book the best start possible. In the process, I developed a deep appreciation for my publisher and became close to my editor and publicist. I learned about publishing, what I needed to do as a new author, and how to manage expectations. With hard work and my editor’s guidance, I became a competent writer.roller-coaster-2475115_1280

My second book will be published in April 2018. It’s my second baby. I’m calm this time around. I rely on the guidance of three skilled professionals during this process: my publisher, my editor, and my publicist. As the highs and lows begin again, I know I’m back on the roller coaster of book production. The first time, the roller coaster was too fast and too intense. This time I know what I’m doing. I’ll hang on, hair flying, eyes wide open, and a smile on my face. I’m practicing my happy dance again.

THE LAST 15 POUNDS

For about a year, I shared an office with two wonderful middle-aged women. One day, through casual conversation, I learned that each of us wanted to lose fifteen pounds. We all looked fine. The other women were very attractive by any reasonable standard. I didn’t think they needed to lose any weight, but I respected that they knew their ideal sizes better than I did.weight-loss-2036969_960_720In that moment, I related to innumerable women. So many of us are striving to drop that middle-age girth. I felt supremely normal, not at all like a woman who’d had to watch her weight scrupulously her entire life. At last, I was just like everyone else! Normality never felt so good.

THE BEST MID-LIFE CRISIS EVER

When I woke up on my fifty-third birthday, my life was fine. My health was stable. I had a job I liked. All was well with my family. But I had the mid-life blues, as though I’d entered a long, slow, slide to sixty, with nothing particularly invigorating in my future. I had written a manuscript about managing chronic illness at my father’s urging, but it sat in my desk drawer for almost eight years. I decided to combat my ennui by hauling my manuscript out of the drawer where it had lived for years and doing whatever I needed to get it publishedstickies-3127287_960_720

MSI Press published that book, Living Well with Chronic Illness, in 2015. My second book is being published this spring. I have published thirty-two short essays on the HuffPost Blog, as well as publishing on two other health and wellness websites. I’m amazed at my beginner’s luck. My writing life is more demanding and rewarding than I ever envisioned, and I’m deeply grateful. My stepmother, an award-winning science fiction writer, summed up my literary life perfectly by observing that I am having “the best mid-life crisis ever.” I’ve tried to be brave dealing with my health issues, and I’ve tried to be brave with my literary life. There’s no doubt that the challenges of the former helped me as I struggled to become a new author. It’s a grand adventure.