Eileen Blossoms

Lesson #2 from my flying friend, Eileen.  (She told me her age, but privately, so all I’ll say is this: she was visiting her daughter who was retired.)

Ok.  So, along with courage, which was lesson number one, there was a lesson that a writer of a blog, titled, “Single for a Reason”, a blog for choosy people, could not ignore.  The lesson is this: You are never too old to be choosy.

Her current male friend is wonderful but she doesn’t think she wants to marry anyone again.  She thinks, in fact, the reason that this relationship works so well is because they each have their separate domiciles.  But, it’s even more than that.

She’s long noted a double standard for men and women.  When she was just a young girl growing up in a small town in the South, she realized one day that the girl who had gotten pregnant out of wedlock was totally shunned in the community but the “father” paid few, if any, social consequences.

In modern parlance, I can just hear little teenage Eileen saying: “What’s up with that, people?”

But, she said she never could talk about her misgivings.  Nor, could she ever bring up such subjects with her late husband either.  He’d just get agitated.  So, she kept them to herself throughout a full life.

But, today, she confides that the man in her life is just about perfect, although a bit overprotective.  He calls her multiple times a day and if she is late coming home from a doctor’s appointment, for example, he panics.

But, then, she questions the surface of this overprotectiveness, just as she once questioned social and moral inequities when she was a teenager.  Maybe it really wasn’t a need to protect her that was driving him, she went on to say, as much as a reflection of needs all his own.   Maybe a need to control her in a way, she said softly.

“You know, I don’t think I’ve said that out loud before,” she said to me with astonishment.

Speak on, bloom on, sweet Eileen.  I am going to look on the bright side this morning and think about your gentleman caller in this way: he simply feels like I do about you–a precious voice, long silent, is a beautiful sound to hear.

I Am The Fog

Foggy bus ride

“I am the fog,” this woman with hair the color of fog told me after showing her this picture taken on an early morning bus ride.

I had said how beautiful I thought her hair and the fog appeared together.

I heard Pulitzer Prize winning speakers, expert professional speakers–all over the past several days and this spontaneous comment–this is what I remember most.

“I am the fog,” she said ruefully, smiling.

Why do I remember it?

Perhaps, it is the underlying truth of a writer’s conference in 2008 and, perhaps, the truth of all industry conferences taking place world wide.

How do writers/columnists get paid if their employer (newspapers) are laying off and budget cutting, and well, dying a slow death. On the way to attend this conference, I read an article from “The New Yorker”, where Bill Keller, the Editor of the New York Times, was quoted, “At places where editors and publishers gather, the mood these days is funereal. Editors ask one another, ‘How are you?,’ in that sober tone one employs with friends who have just emerged from rehab or a messy divorce.”

At this writer’s conference, many of the attendees are or had been employed by newspapers, and though the mood was occasionally touched by the funereal, it did not deal directly with the issue that is on everyone’s mind and affecting every one’s income.

There was simply a very large elephant in the room. From the podium, and, even, in small groups, the game face was on; the laughter raucous.

But, wait. Did I hear a band playing on the First Class deck?

In the case of many writers I met this past weekend, their once weekly newspaper column had been cut down to twice a month, then to once a month, and in some cases, dropped entirely. Their old employers, newspapers, are in free-fall, as recently cited in “The New Yorker”by Eric Alterman.

Many, far younger than this woman pictured here, said they were afraid of technology beyond using email. They waved their hands away with “Oh, I can’t do it.”

How do very talented and creative people make the adjustments through a radically changing world? Just the same way as assembly buggy whip makers did when the first Model T was made in Detroit. We have to learn something new.

This woman pictured here was riding with me, sleep still in her eyes, at a very early hour to a workshop on internet marketing and how to use the “new media” to a writer’s advantage.

Buggy whip makers, freelance writers–we all need to reinvent ourselves along the way and fear is not a good guide through the fog of change, no matter what century we are in.

Hail Thee, Eileen!

They couldn’t roll Eileen’s wheel chair, which she needs for sight as well as mobility issues, to the door of the plane for two reasons. First, they forgot to have the wheelchair she’d ordered available, and second, after she arrived at the gate, (How? I was afraid to ask) she had to board the old fashioned way, circa 1950, up a mobile set of steep narrow stairs. (I didn’t ask that, either)

I met her on this small jet at 7 AM leaving from Dayton, Ohio headed to Cincinnati, Ohio. This was a regional jet that could not be accessed by a jet way. Eileen was going back home to Hot Springs, Arkansas after visiting one of her daughters and son-in-law who are now retired in Dayton. Eileen told me she’d probably arrive back home after several connecting flights around 10 PM. By that time, I would have been asleep several hours back in my bed in a suburb outside of Boston.

I didn’t see her board because I was the last person to enter the cabin, having left the boarding line to wander off to get this photo. Word to wise: if you ever have a glorious sight that beckons you, alert authorities before you wander around the tarmac in search of the perfect framing. My behavior, circa 1950’s as well, nearly caused an airport terror alert.

At any rate, I sat down next to this petite woman wearing glasses and a sweet hat. She barely took up the seat and these days that means she is indeed a little bit of a thing. She talked about her gentleman friend back in Hot Springs who sang and recorded country songs and sometimes they both sang together and recorded a CD. In the course of the 20 minute flight, I got an education not because she had any inclination to teach me, but because I needed to learn.

Eileen’s Lesson #1 for me (I have several but I’m going to blog others on future posts) is this: Traveling alone when you are older with some health issues takes courage and the terror alert is the least of it.

The first thing you worry about is whether they’ll remember to have the wheelchair you ordered waiting for you. If they don’t, then you have to walk to the gate on your own. And, considering that gates can be a good 15 minute walk ( if you are robust) away from the “Departures” sidewalk, (sometimes longer, because it requires a shuttle bus to get to the different concourse), to say nothing of navigating the security lines–well, it’s as if you have climbed K2 without sherpas, before you even begin your 12 hour journey.

If you have mobility problems due to poor eyesight, as Eileen does, or frailty as many of today’s travelers do, you are utterly dependent upon airlines and the kindness of strangers to help you arrive at journey’s end. As another frail woman told me with her game face on, who I met subsequently in Cincinnati, “It’s not been a good day so far.”

Add to this that you are a member of “The Invisibles”, (not a voluntary membership by the way)–the term I use to describe my sweet growing group of folks (myself, included) in the Waving or Drowning™ Podcasts, who can’t get the world at large to see them even if they are right in front of them. (E.G.: Women over 50, both sexes over 80, American consumers of all ages and gender.)

The next time you travel, look around, they are all around you. Look not just for stunning sunrises like I did, but for a fellow traveler, someone whose frailty embarrasses them, but doesn’t keep them from traveling; someone whose courage may need your kindness to get them from Point A to Point B.

Tick. Tock. (It’s a cliche, but I’m saying it anyway) It won’t be too long before we’ll be the one waiting alone at the bottom of the mountain by ourselves watching everyone rush by us with fading eyesight or making frail legs begin the long journey ahead of us. We, too, shall need a hand or two from a stranger to help us arrive home.

Eileen and her male friend sing Dolly Parton and George Strait songs but she thinks the two of them sing the spiritual, “I’ll Fly Away” best.

I don’t know about her singing voice, people, but if you fly, you’ll feel blessed to have her sitting next to you on a beautiful Sunday morning.