No Pity Parties Allowed

Hmmm,  turning the big 50 - 2010!

Hmmm, turning the big 50. Spring 2010

A couple of weeks ago I had a meeting with a charming and remarkable woman. Not afraid to tell me her age, Dolores at 71 has vibrant energy, a positive attitude, and an enviable fitness level . Four years ago, she completely relocated from upstate New York to Boise to live closer to family.

Rather ashamed to admit the following, but here it goes. I confess I conducted a hasty assessment of her.

A lovely, petite woman, with a quiet demeanor and yet an enthusiastic drive for community involvement, my ignorant mind still categorized her existence into one of a “nice older woman.”  I did not immediately consider the full significance of her life, the people she influenced, or what career she had pursued.

I doubt Dolores was aware of the conversation going on inside my mind,  but I knew I had unfairly categorized her, made assumptions, and trivialized her life.  I did the very thing that I have a fear of people doing to me as I grow older.

Periodically, I battle my own struggles with feeling invisible and irrelevant as a middle-aged woman. Divorced now for five years, I confront loneliness and often feel disconnected from community.

While still married and raising my girls, I worked full-time, pursued a Master’s Degree, volunteered with several non-profits, and stayed involved in all of our daughter’s activities. I even tried my hand at coaching Y-ball, though I knew nothing about basketball. I attended at least 98 percent of all concerts, plays, dance recitals, presentations, and parent meetings. When the girls graduated from high school, an immediate separation occurred from a long time community forged through my daughters. Life shifted, empty nest syndrome settled in, and divorce put me into a curious category I had not planned for.

I paused and decided to take the time and probe, “Dolores, tell me about yourself please, unless you don’t want to.”

With a tilt of her head and smile she began to weave her stories. Dolores’ life unfolded like an accordion and played to the tune of over 15 geographic moves that supported her ex husband’s academic profession.  Dolores forged her own successful research career in the medical field, and she has a long history of activism. She continues to volunteer with community projects working to improve the lives of others.

Then she raised her voice a bit and blurted, “Look, I spent my whole life building community and supporting others so I would always be surrounded by people and not be alone. First a divorce, then my second husband’s death, and my children grown and moved away changed everything. Sometimes I wonder why I put so much energy into all of that and confess I struggle to feel relevant as I age.”

A brief silence, I chuckled to myself, and we exchanged sparkly smiles acknowledging our kindred spirit status. The struggle to feel relevant, that we matter, and are useful as we grow old.

Then she burst into a brilliant fit of laughter and exclaimed, “Hey no pity parties here, we stay in the game and keep trying to make a difference! Even though at times we feel kicked to the outer limits and life does not line up as neatly as we imagined, we forge ahead and create new communities.”

Turning 50 2


To PhD or not to PhD, Part 1:

mpa picture

From The Scribe, Boise State University, Department of History

May 2008, I graduated with a Master in Public Administration in a thrilling ceremony that began with my family gathered around and a breakfast of donuts. Once seated, bagpipes played, former NASA Astronaut Barbara Morgan spoke, and Gabriel’s Oboe performed for the closing music. I felt a surge of accomplishment, pride and had no doubt that I would pursue a PhD.

Several of my MPA colleagues planned to enjoy the year break and then apply to the PhD. in Public Policy and Administration program scheduled to begin fall 2010. We knew a strict and competitive application process existed. We remained optimistic and looked forward to the honor of being the first cohort through the program. The Boise State fall 2007 FOCUS magazine wrote a story about me as being a great candidate for the program. (p. 26)

However, circumstances beyond our control altered those plans. As the University, with the rest of the nation, navigated a rough economic crash and budgets cuts, the program went into hibernation. The years passed with attempts by dedicated faculty to reactivate the program. During that time, my friends and I lost momentum, and our drive to pursue a degree.

We questioned if we wanted a PhD with all the stress involved and potential debt. I investigated other educational pursuits that involved history, training to teach English as a second language, or a writing career through the MFA program at Goddard College in Port Townsend, Washington. One of the many rewards of working at the University is the tuition benefit. It may take longer to complete a degree working full-time, but employees avoid educational debt.

In 2012, the PhD program, rather suddenly, came out of hiding and ready to accept applications. Exciting news and I considered application to the program but decided to delay for the first year, fall 2013. I visited with a longtime friend and mentor whom I trusted and knew would ask me the tough questions that boiled down to a simple, “Are you sure?”

My area of interest is affordable housing policy. I spent a year investigating topics and research questions with various faculty, friends, and directors of programs involved with housing issues. I considered the impact on my life if accepted. I finally turned in my application for a fall 2014 start-up.

In early spring, I received a form letter in the mail – the answer was, “No.” Initially, I felt hurt hearing the news via an impersonal form letter, and nursed an insulted ego for several days, okay weeks – all right maybe a month. Yes, I still feel a tinge now!

Curiously, underneath it all, I noted a sense of relief. I struggle with health issues and had concerns about my stamina to complete the program. At 55, I deliberately ponder how to spend the next healthy years of life. In addition, when I stopped feeling sorry for myself, I had a terrific review session with the Department Chair. Congratulations to the program that had over 50 applications!

When I paused to reflect thoroughly on the ordeal, I realized a five-year journey ended. I spent the last five years thinking or talking about getting a PhD. – at least once a day. That turned into a fair amount of real estate property in the brain dedicated to the question, To PhD. or not to PhD.VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100

To be continued……


Text Messages and Spiritual Faces

On December 7, my daughter Jen and I had a spiritual text conversation.  One of our infamous, special meaning of life, things feel sort of strange, something is afoot in the cosmosworld mother-daughter connected moments.

Most parents feel and experience unspoken connections with their children.  Even as both my girls are grown up and living away from home, I can sense when something is wrong.   Sometimes images occur in my dreams or generally I experience a sensation of uneasiness.  I wonder if one of them is sick or having a difficult time in their lives.

The mystical clan bond cuts both ways.  I have traversed some sad turf in the last year,  and at certain times received calls from either Molly or Jen inquiring, “Hey mom, you okay? I felt an overwhelming rush of sadness and apprehension and am checking in, you okay?”

The calls always came at critical junctures when I had just received difficult news concerning the health status of a dear friend or some other dire information.

Early entries in this blog joke about our “spiritual faces” during periods when we enjoy a special event, vacation, music, scenery, tender conversational interludes, or unique occurrences.  Least my moods get too uncontrollably sappy, my daughters often jolt me back to earth exclaiming, “Oh, Oh, look out, mom has spiritual face on!”    Spiritual Face Alert

Meanwhile, with permission from Jen to share, I present one of our classic  “what is going on here?” text conversations:

Jen – “Today I keep getting these “bouts of anxiety… are you getting them too?”

Me – (the mom)-  “Yes, I feel unsettled whereas on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I felt really grounded and peaceful, not sure what is going on.”

Jen – “Yeah me too, I just feel anxious and shifty about something I guess we will have to see.”

Me – “Well there was an earthquake in Japan and I think a storm in the Philippines this week.”

Jen – “Are they shockwaves before or after hurricane?  I ahhh, I just don’t know hahaha.  Ha-ha weird but I mean like is there still a shit storm to come?  Or maybe things beginning to shift…”

Me – “I believe things are beginning to shift.”

Jen – “We’ve all been feeling things changing inside and outside of us and perhaps this just the turnover.”

Me – “I like the way you worded that I tend to believe it is the turnover too.  I feel pretty grounded lately and wonder if the anxiety is us picking up other people’s fears and worries.”

Jen – “Hmmmm, interesting thought.”

Me – “The other is that our spirits are vibrating at a higher rate so we can make the change not sure that makes sense will have to explain that more later.”  (oh dear, I have been having difficulty sleeping lately, and I am not sure what I am talking about here – little mind slippage going on.)

Jen – “Hahaha okay mom.  Either way, I feel like the tides are definitely starting to turn.  I don’t know what that means for either of us, yet but it is happening ha-ha.”

Me – “Whoa I kind of got out there whoohooo..”

Jen – “Hahahah its okay mom, I understand, just reel it back in a little bit, we can still talk about it though … sounds interesting either way.”

Me – “For sure reeling me self in now and going home love you. – I have my spiritual face on, do you?”

Jen – “Oh yeah hahahah.”


The Emerson and Nelis Clan. Jen and Molly Emerson in white sweaters.
Susan Emerson in glitter dress, my mom, Bonnie Huff, and sparkly Gabrielle Nelis.