Tuesday, June 2, 2015

On The Road – Solo And 60

Change – It could be that “change” is the definition of life. Whether you like it or not and whether you are ready or not, change is going to happen. I'll be 60 in a couple weeks. I was the one who was never going to retire. I was going to work until I died, and I had my life planned out to the minute.

One thing I never considered though was that mortality might get in the way and make some changes that I didn’t expect. Things that were not on my list.

It’s not like I took my health for granted. I have worked out all my life, starting in high school. I learned Tai Chi instead of getting surgery when I first had back problems, and I kept at it. I learned about nutrition and I ate right. Started that in high school too.

I was as healthy as a so called horse, and then I choked on a handful of junk food. Talk about karma or poetic justice – or something. I didn’t just choke. I spent upwards of a month in the hospital, living on tubes, and then I went back. A couple times. Change. Unintended. Unexpected. And a doozey. On a brighter note, thinking positive and all that, the doc said if I hadn't been in such good shape, I would not have survived. There is something to be said for survival. Change too, I suppose.

The thing is, in a so called blink of the eye, I went from right near the best shape of my life, to the slow doddering woman that takes way too much time at the front of the grocery store line. Just like that. In one instant.

This was not a slow progressive aging process. This was a blink of an eye and everything changes process. To say I was not prepared for the change would be the understatement of the millennium.

I’m not dead yet though and I’m still at it, huffing and puffing and tweaking those workouts one more time. Dreams and ambitions, I got plenty. Always did, but sometimes they need some rearranging along the way. Change and all that. You’d think I was the only one who had been in such a boat.

Despite the fact that I have no diseases, and I am still as healthy as a proverbial horse, I am a mangled mess. Kind of like a healthy, hobbling, rickety, but still running jalopy. Can’t get far at a whack, and my work outs these days are more a candidate for a meme gone awry than a fitness show. But as the saying goes: “I’m in really good shape for the shape that I’m in.”

I’m still working too, but to say it has been a challenge would be another great big understatement. The various surgeries and repercussions from the internal injuries left my digestive system a dubious mess, not to be discussed in polite company. The inordinate length of time I spent on an inordinate number of IVs left me without the full functionality of either hand. That cut my typing speed considerably, actually I had to learn to type all over again. I’m still pecking though. And my hands are a lot better than they were, but still nowhere close to as good as they used to be. See above about the grocery store line and trying to open your wallet when you are suddenly down to three fingers on each hand, still trying to figure how to do things all over again, with your current state of ability, and you got a line of people standing “patiently” behind you.

Could be all that sounds like too much information, but I, like many others, live by what they call the spoon theory. I have to pace myself, what can I do and what is realistic. How long is it really going to take?

If we are going to be blogging about going on the road in our elder years, which I’ll get to in a minute, every one of us in that boat has got something we got to deal with. If I go three days without eating right, I feel it. And if you are going on the road and you are not in the best of shape, unless you want the whole thing to turn into a nightmare, spend your time in the hotel room, or your tent, or your camper, if not the nearest ER, you are going to have to be prudent, and as the saying goes – act your age – at least on the health front.

Despite it all, I have mostly worked most of the time. Except maybe the five months that I was completely bedridden. I am not going to be quitting any time soon, but if I had any sense, I’d have put up a help wanted ad for a husband. A roommate. Or something. Could be I should have done that before I got to the shape that I was or am in now.

Actually, though, I am pretty happily single, so there is that.

I sure got side tracked.

But anyway, somewhere in the middle of all this, I get the idea, as many budding senior citizens have before me, that what I really need to do is to get some kind of RV, a camper of some sort and take to the road. Never mind the fact that I am flat broke, count it a blessing that I can now make it successfully through a grocery store line, and have to plan a year in advance to make it three hours away to visit family. I can get a fixer upper camper and fix it up. And wherever I park, I can sit a spell and write, do my work while I check out the scenery. And while I am at it, write about the world from the perspective of barely making it but still on this side of the daisies, a la the fantasies of a Lonely Planet existence, a world to see, not as young as I used to be and all that. It’s not just that. But it sure would be fun.
Convict Laborers around 1915, Florida.

I write and edit too, but back when I first decided that writing was what I wanted to do, it was things my granddaddy (William Joseph "Bill" Pickett) told me about the coal mines and convict labor that really touched my soul. Whatever else I did, I wanted to write about the things that I thought were important, about real people and the real story of things, real life stories that tend to get left out along the way. I always felt that way. And I have always tried to include what I could to inform people in my work as well. Stories and the side of things that needed telling.

There was this one poet in particular that I met and loved her work. She really influenced me in the way she thought and did things with her writing. Her name was Lucille Clifton. Although she was an activist type, she had her own style. She loved to travel and she’d visit all these plantations, which are a trendy tourist destination all over the South. None of that reminiscing about bygone Southern glory for her, she was African American, and she would go on these tours and ask about the slaves who built the place and did the work, and why weren’t they mentioned on the tour.

Saturn SA-5 launch, January 29, 1964.
NASA Photo.
It was always about the grand life of the plantation owners, not about the slaves and what they went through to build and keep the place going. Anyway, Lucille Clifton kept pushing at the plantation tours, until folks started including both sides of the story. And actually, that was progress. I always admired Lucille Clifton, her poetry was awesome. She inspired me and there is no doubt about that. I wouldn’t mind revisiting some old places too, getting down to the other side of some of those old stories.

There is always another side of the story to what you get on the tours. Like in Huntsville, with Von Braun and the space program. Everybody loves the Space Museum, at the US Space and Rocket Center. I’m a space geek for sure. But talk about slave drivers, what in the world does Von Braun have to do with slavery? Wasn’t he German? A Nazi at that. The way they talk about those old plantation owners, you’d think they were the only ones, or hopefully, at the very least, the last slave drivers in the South. Does Peenemünde ring any kind of bell? We’ll be back to that another day. I still love all things space, but reality is reality.

What about the old mills?

Those old mill buildings have intrigued me since I first moved to Huntsville. There are several in the area. Lowe Mill, also in Huntsville, is now one of the most trendy arts centers in the South, but another side of the mill history was that way back in the day, a photographer traveled through the area and took pictures of the kids working the machines. To say those pictures caused an uproar was an understatement. Those pictures were instrumental in drawing attention to/and ultimately the push toward changing the child labor laws in this whole country. Those were some pictures. Huntsville was actually pretty important in the history of children’s rights and the child labor laws in this country. Bet you didn’t know that about “Rocket City.”

Closing hour, Saturday noon, at Dallas Mill. Photo by Lewis Wickes Hine.
Department of Commerce and Labor. Children's Bureau. (1912 - 1913)
In the meantime, I have a tent, and I have been checking out options. Pop-ups, campers, RVs, etc., the pros and cons of them all from the perspective of a 60 something single solo, somewhat rickety, female traveler with Lonely Planet fantasies and for whom a three hour journey is a monumental undertaking. But more on all that later, including each and every option you look for when you get the itch to hit the road and you are a single woman of a certain age in fair to dubious condition.

People are always writing about how to travel with the kiddos. From the beginning of time, college students have been taking to the road, but what about the oldsters? I know a few who have. But to say they have their own set of travel issues is another one of those understatements. And it’s not like I haven’t hit the road on my own before, but that was before the accident and although I am in a whole lot better shape than I was (when I was on various and sundry life support systems), I am not in anywhere close to the same shape I was in before that fateful handful of junk food.

So there’s that.

We will see where it all leads. I had many good years of good physical ability. I learned some things along the way, about the outdoors and such. At various times, I led Cub Scout and Girl Scout groups both. Things are most definitely different now. But I am not the only one on this planet to reach a certain age and realize that. The difference, I mean change. Even if we do the best we can with our health and our workouts, eat right, and really think we got it right, we are all subject to the whelms of nature and the reality of our own mortality. That doesn’t mean that life stops, or that we can’t get out there and enjoy it. It does mean that we might have to do a little more thinking and planning, but we’ll touch on that along the way too. There was a time not too very long ago that I never honestly thought I’d ever hit the road again to go anywhere, much less see 60, and now, as they say, my feet are itching.

I am not actually there yet, my birthday is June 12. Still got a few days to go. It’s going to take some doing to get on the road again too. You’d think I’d be lamenting the passage of years. Not me. It is a miracle on top of miracles that I am still walking this earth. If you want to talk about counting blessings, I got plenty to count.

Now let’s see what we can get into next.

Copyright 2015 Regina Pickett Garson

Regina Garson's Blog

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Call!

The last few years have been a time of intense change for me. Not exactly what I expected in the direction of my carefully plotted life. Nowhere close. A random choking incident and a month and counting of too many weeks that started to turn into months back and forth from the hospital, bedridden, living on various and sundry tubes, changed my world and everything in it. I just recently saw the third anniversary of the accident. In the last few years, a whole lot of days that turned into months, I did not honestly expect to see another day, much less the three year anniversary from the accident. It sure leaves one with a lot to think about. Reevaluating. Counting blessings. Thinking about the detours, the paths of my life.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that I still publish MagicStream. I started it in 1994–95, not sure of the exact start date, but at any rate, it’s been online right at twenty years now. It could be it is time for a celebration for that too, or something.

When I first started Magic Stream, I am not sure I knew exactly what it was supposed to be. The Internet was just starting to move into the area of what would come to be known as the World Wide Web, home pages were new back then. The way it was presented to me, the Internet was going to be a place where everyday people could publish and even compete with the big publishing companies. Looking at it from that perspective, I did a whole lot of thinking; what would I publish if I could publish anything I wanted.

Back then, to get anything published, get started as a writer, you sent submission after blind submission. Likely as not, you also collected stacks of rejection slips. Some writers seem to gloat on how many rejection slips they have collected over the years, such as that never quite appealed to me though. I wanted to publish, not just “be” a writer, I wanted to be involved in whatever and any way I could in the publishing and media industry.

One thing that stuck in my mind. At that point, back then, when I first learned of what would soon be the World Wide Web, it maybe seems insignificant now, but back then it was a very big deal and that was the fact that information wasn’t so easily available like it is today. There is a very real reason this age we live in is called the information age.

Anyway, somewhere in that time, I had been to the doc and given a diagnosis, which we all do sooner or later. That was definitely my turn, long story short, PTSD, that would be post traumatic stress disorder, and a doozey of a case, probably an understatement on the diagnosis, but that’s enough on how crazy I am. The thing is, it is treatable, not to be confused with 100% curable, but I did get help. And if I have a problem, I try to stay on top of things. Really upsets me to realize all these homeless veterans suffering from PTSD, when it really is treatable. Getting the treatment you need is another story though. Coming back from war without the support and treatment they need is another story still. Get me going on that.

Anyway, at the time, I was overwhelmed with trying to find out what was going on with me. I’d go to the doc, okay, I’d go to the shrink, and he’d go yada yada, and the next shrink would go yada yada, “Leave it to us. Don’t worry your pretty little head.” And I’d head off to the library trying to find information on what I was dealing with. If you have ever taken a nose dive, and a detour to Flashback City, tried to find your way back out and you know exactly what I mean. Somebody saying, “Trust me, don’t worry your pretty little head,” doesn’t cut it. By the way, “never trust anybody who says trust me.” You can quote me on that.

Long story short, I’d spend hours at the library and never seemed to get very far. Part of the problem really was most likely the state of mind that I was in while I was looking for the information, which wasn’t wonderful. Don’t ask me how I made it through it all, including finding my way back out of Flashback City, but I did.  

With those considerations, given the notion that I could publish anything I wanted, I thought about that time of frustration in finding information on mental health issues. And that was really only part of what I was dealing with at the time. We all have to deal with something though. Mine just happened to be the PTSD. That is a reality of life. And life does go on, but what could I do to make things better in the meantime. Make no mistake, for just about every diagnosis you can get, there is something you can do on the self-help level as well. Maybe not a cure, but there is always some little something that you can do to make yourself more comfortable, make things better and more bearable along the way.

Given the possibilities of the World Wide Web, I wanted to do something along the lines of self-help information resources, and making it easier to find everyday medical information, focus on mental health information. At the time, I did not have a clue what I was dealing with or where to start. I remembered vividly my own lapse into PTSD, the journeys through Flashback City. The hours spent in the library, never seeming to get much of anywhere. Wanting more information about what was going on with me and not being able to find it. Thinking hard about that time, when I realized the implications of what was coming with the World Wide Web, I decided that what I would like to do was publish a self-help and wellness information resource that focused mostly on mental health issues, helping people to connect and find the related information they needed, also the physical, and the spiritual, because in some kind of way, it is all related. Mind – body – spirit. You really do need it all.

That was the seed of Magic Stream. Other interests at the time, I had really wanted to get certified in bibliotherapy, which is the use of writing and literature for healing, started into it, but the certification is not recognized in Alabama and an unrecognized therapy certification is not worth much of a dime if you got bills to pay. So much for that, somewhere along the way though, I had written a fairy tale, by the name of “Magic Stream”; it is kind of gory when it comes to fairy tales, definitely not of the Disney sort, but the concept was people reaching out to each other for healing. None of us can honestly go it alone. So all that combined together was the start of Magic Stream.

This got long for a short little blog post about a calling. Over the years, I had a lot of ideas that came and went with the changing times of the Internet. Magic Stream was among the earliest, probably first dozen or so, self-help and wellness sites on the Internet. And being as it is still up, it is now one of the oldest continuously published, still up and running, self-help sites on the Internet. Through thick and thin, good times and bad, I’ve managed to keep it online.

There were times when I honestly thought about shutting it down, but at the end of the day, how do you build a mission and close the doors while people are standing there. When all was said and done, it really is a mission, always has been, and a mission to which I have devoted much of my life. And how do you build a mission, and close the doors while people are still coming there for help.

In my mind, and the way I’ve tried to live my life, it’s like crossing a bridge, it was a rough journey, the paths of my life, but if you look back and there is somebody behind you that all they need is a steady hand to get across, how can you not take one little moment to reach back. I always felt like in some kind of way, we should all do some little part to give back to the community as we are able. Magic Stream was my giving back. And so it continued. It was never anything grand, never the highest traffic site on the net, just a place where people went for mostly mental health and wellness information, to find what they needed to get on with their life. Sometimes teachers and counselors go there for information as well.

I never did make a lot of noise about it. There is something about mental health issues, people really aren’t into a lot of noise on that. We all have our little red wagon as they say, but blasting it all on a loud speaker is another matter. And I had no inclination toward being a professional patient. And we all know some of those. But I kept Magic Stream going, published it, maintained the site, and wrote the code. I have published a whole lot of really awesome people along the way, no way was it ever a one person project, never has been. I am really humbled at the caliber of people who have shared their writing, their own journey, and their stories on Magic Stream.

I’ve thought much at different times about where to go with it, and like others who work for a living, have often found myself severely limited in what I could realistically get done with it, especially after the accident. Talk about slow. Nonetheless, sometimes absolutely despite myself, Magic Stream is still there.

Funny thing is. I don’t know how as I got on this, what a rambling circle. I don’t generally talk a lot about Magic Stream, even to people I am around a lot. Some people have worked with me for years and never heard me say a thing about it, other than maybe passing mention of some kind of web publishing, they didn’t have a clue how I would know such. And I know I got some raised eyebrows over the years when in the middle of some meeting or something, some web issue or question would come up and I would have much feedback and people would be rolling their eyes, like where is this coming from and what does she know about the Internet, twenty some years’ worth of publishing actually.

I was never much into that part about blowing one’s horn though, could be that has been one of the big mistakes of my life. Could be I wouldn’t do that much different if I had it to do again. I’ve been building web pages since you pretty much had to write your own code, I still mostly do, old fashioned like that. Anyway, it is something I have always done on the side of whatever else I was doing. Folks who know me, and the site, also know there is a spiritual side of it all, it has always been there as well. Funny how things happen.

Lately it seems that things spiritual and ministerial have been on the brain and popping up here and there in various ways. Others have mentioned ministry related issues as well. Spiritual outreach very similar to what I have been doing with Magic Stream all these years. The mission has been open for a very long time, twenty years, and counting. It really is a mission, never was much of anything else. Could be I went about it in from a completely odd direction, bass ackards as they say, but the minute it was in my head, I knew it was right.

I went ahead with a Universal Life Church ordination. Nobody wants to get married, that I know about, but I can do it too. It is a non-denominational type ordination, although the term would seem to mean no denomination at all, from my perspective it is an inclusiveness thing. Magic Stream is very much about spiritual inclusiveness. Anyway, it is true that some people use the Universal Life Church ordination route for ceremonial purposes, to be licensed to perform weddings and such. I am not looking for a church or a congregation either, but the Magic Stream mission has had its doors open for the last twenty years. It is non-denominational in philosophy, not to be confused with lacking in spirituality or religious values. It is very much welcoming of religious diversity, especially the healing aspects. And interestingly, some of the earliest things I published were written by ministers.

It is the same old Magic Stream, but going into the ministry will allow me to extend some of the resources in various off line ways, into the community, and lend the resources I have already developed and sitting there to support various other of the causes and efforts that I already believe in for the common good.

After publishing Magic Stream for all these years, I actually have significant background and self-help type resources to pull from. It is way past time for a ministerial type, more spiritually focused presence at Magic Stream. And no I am not quitting my day job, nothing much is changing on the day-to-day, just a different direction for what I have been doing all these years.

Growing up as a preacher’s daughter, over the years, I remember when various stood up in church and said that they had “been called.” Called to the ministry that is. One doesn’t however always talk about everything they do. Could be I was called the day I decided to build the Magic Stream website. However, such that it is, the non-denominational ministerial ordination route, lends me to move in a new direction with some of the Magic Stream resources, more focus on the spiritual aspects of healing, which after dealing with my own especially, I really do feel is so important. I also think is very much needed in the world today, and timely, and coincidentally in the process, I am already ordained.

My mission is the same as it has been for the last twenty years. It won’t be over night, there is however going to be a change in the spirit at Magic Stream. This is after much consideration as to how I would commemorate the twenty year mark of Magic Stream. Coincidentally, I can also perform weddings, and funerals, and various such, licensed to do everything that goes with it, which I have actually done in some capacity for many years, I just used to be the piano player. Namaste, Amen and blessings to all.

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