Unforgettable: the Over 50 Revolution

Once I had an assignment in college to pitch and design a new magazine. I remember calling my mother and talking to her about the assignment. It had to be original and something that filled a niche. My mother said that she wished there were magazines that were targeted towards her, women in their fifties that were like Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar. She wanted beauty magazines that would have articles that talked to her demographic about aging skin, advertise products for aging women, talked about aging women’s health issues but in a high fashion stylish way, not in a frumpy, Good Housekeeping way. She recognized that women over a certain age were completely ignored by beauty/health and fashion corporations and the media. Not sexy enough. Once you hit a certain age, you are no longer relevant. Very little has changed since we had that conversation forty years ago.

Earlier this year, I met Maundy Mitchell, a local photographer in Plymouth, NH. I needed some professional headshots for my book. The only professional photos I ever had were my wedding photos when I was 28. That was thirty years ago! I am more comfortable behind the camera, so I was really nervous to have my headshots taken by anyone. While at Maundy’s studio, I noticed a collection of beautiful portraits of older women. She told me about the campaigns photographers all over the world are working on, which highlight and celebrate women over 50. 

Maundy Mitchell’s campaign is called Unforgettable: the Over 50 Revolution. She is taking beautiful, empowering portraits of women in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and up. Portraits that celebrate their individuality, their lives, and stories. Maundy states on her website, “I want to cultivate the freedom and confidence that result from appreciating—and loving–our own maturity. ” The more she told me about the campaign and looking at the beautiful portraits, the her enthusiasm was infectious, and I decided to sign up.

Maundy has her clients start a Pinterest board with portraits that we like that we could share with her. The mood board is a big part of her design process. The morning of the shoot, Maundy has local makeup artist/hair stylist, Donna Cotnoir come in to get the client photo ready. At my first photo shoot a few months earlier, many people critiqued my shots, telling me my hair was too coiffed. And I don’t wear makeup. They were right, of course. The headshots were nice, but they didn’t look like me. I told my friends that’s what ‘author’ Xine looks like – she wears glasses, although her hair is usually in a ponytail, not coiffed, and absolutely no makeup. I told Maundy and Donna some of the reactions to my headshots, so it was important that at this shoot, I looked like me. They understood and went right to work. We had a great time at the photo shoot, and we got a bunch of great shots.

My life barely resembles the life I led when I began my fifties, eight years ago. I’ve grown in many ways and experienced many things which helped me become more confident This allowed me to be more self-assured when it came to some big life-changing decisions. There wasn’t the same fear there as when I was younger. There is still fear, but I have learned that I have to step out of my comfort zone to grow. In the last eight years, (and in no particular order): I’ve added to my fur family three times and became a chicken mama. I moved away from my home of over 25 years to a new state where I had no friends or family. I made career changes. I adapted a new daily routine of meditation. I read books more and watch TV less. I limit my time on social media. I spent more time outside in nature. I wrote my first book, which was just released this month! The only thing I haven’t done yet is go into menopause. I discovered that everyone just assumes you have since you are in your fifties, after all. And they look shocked when you correct them. There is a confidence that comes with age.

A long time ago, when he was in his fifties, my uncle and godfather told me to always keep learning and don’t be afraid to try new things. He was learning how to play the piano at the time, he had never played a musical instrument. He used to love to write and review books and movies which he would share with his friends and family — even including them in his commentaries on the economy to his clients, somehow tying which ever book or movie in with his economic outlook. For some reason I remember that conversation we had and thankfully his advice stuck with me. They were sage words of wisdom and I have had some incredible experiences stepping out of my comfort zone and trying new things. I learned how to draw and started to learn Italian. When the kids’ left for college and I found that I was in an empty nest, took myself off to the local art school and I learned how to weld. I loved welding and sculpted a number of pieces of furniture, a few garden obelisks. But my most favorite project was working on the owl I fabricated. I spend hours over the course of a few years hanging out and working on projects at the metal shop. I met some talented and inspiring people there.

“You never change your life until you step out of your comfort zone; change begins at the end of your comfort zone.” 

Roy T. Bennett

A few days before the photo shoot, Maundy had me come over to the studio with the clothing I had decided to wear for the shoot. I had been delaying making any decisions about what to bring, but now I was going to have to make some decisions. All the photos I had seen at her studio were mostly of beautiful women in gowns or dresses. The last few times I have worn a nice dress, it was at two funerals, and my lifestyle on the mountain is not inductive to wearing a dress. I hadn’t been feeling well, and I almost canceled until Mark offered to drive me over. Truth be told, I was having a hard time seeing myself doing this – this was way out of my comfort zone. The whole day before heading over there, as I was gathering my things together, I kept thinking to myself, what was I thinking?

What was I thinking? I was thinking that I wanted to have some nice photos of myself for my children to have that showed my personality and the lady I have grown into at the age of 57 years and 11 months old. Phew! Glad that’s over.

Creating New Habits

I have been trying to live a more mindful life in the last year. It’s not something that I woke up one day and said to myself, “Self, you should be more mindful.” No, it was a way subtler shift than that. 

My mother died in February 2021. I had to double-check that since I am terrible with times and dates. The last two and half years are feeling like more like five. I have trouble sometimes remembering how old I am sometimes. But I blame my best friend partially for that since her birthday precedes mine by six months. For half a year, referring to us as whatever age she was, even if my birthday was still 4 or 5 months away.

Then there is how I think about birthdays in general: when you have a birthday, you have just completed that year. You just successfully finished living the 1st, 10th, 25th, 36th year…of your life and are about to embark on living the 2nd, 11th, 26th, 37th…When I explained this to Mark one day, he didn’t like my reasoning as sound and correct as it was. I just made him a year older. No, I didn’t – he and many others have been thinking about this all wrong.

New parents understand this initially as they watch their children go from hours to days to months old. “How old is your baby?” Three months becomes six months. But they don’t stop there. “How old is your baby? “Nineteen months old.” The answer is seldom “One and a half years old.” 

But all that has little to do with what I originally started talking about, which was trying to become more mindful. I was 56 when my mother died, and I felt very untethered. It was too much – my mind racing around with all sorts of things, too many things. Life had been so unsettling that I felt as if I was clinging to a boat on high seas, and the storm would not pass.

Mark is my anchor and my navigator. As an offshore sailor who has crewed on teams sailing from Newport to Bermuda, he understands life at sea and lived through calm waters that churned up in moments forcing him to hold on for dear life and try to navigate through the storms. His mind, too, races, and he also was looking for a way to be able to settle it.

Together we decided to try to create a new habit of meditating daily. Now we made a mindful decision right there but didn’t recognize it as our first step towards living a more conscious life. The app we use is Insight Timer. I’ve written about this app before, and I guess I just can’t say more about it since it has helped us so much. As well as the guided meditations, there are many talks and lecture series which you can also listen to.

Mark wanted to learn more about Taoism and Buddhism, so we listened to lectures like the Taoist Principles for a Prosperous Life and Practicing the Tao Te Ching by Solar Towler; Exploring the Basics of Buddhism and Exploring the Fundamentals of Zen Buddhism by Silas Day. We listened to The Power of Tao: Live a Life of Harmony & Balance by Olivia Rosewood, as well as Learning From The Masters by David Gendelman. Every morning before we sat for our meditation, Mark and I would sit at the kitchen table drinking our coffee, eating breakfast, and listening to a session of one of the lecture series. For the most part, each session is no more than 10-25 minutes long but lasts 10 to 30 days. For 200 days, we listened and learned so much from these courses.

In my March 2022 post A Year of Mindfulness and Meditation, I talk more about Insight Timer and one of our favorite teachers, David Ji and the courses we took of his that we found to be so incredibly helpful. It was in his Forty Days to Transformation course which delivered a transformation in us – solidifying our new habit of mediation. I won’t repeat myself more than I have here in this post; just suffice it to say that I will forever be grateful that we took that course.

With mindfulness, I have discovered that I am consciously becoming a more grateful person. In the past, I took many things for granted. Perhaps age has something to do with that. We tend to be young and naive – we don’t know any better since we are newbies to experiencing life. Some people learn that lesson earlier than others, and some never learn the lesson. When choosing to live a mindful life, you don’t take things for granted. You live in the present moment, understanding that the past is done and the future isn’t something to waste your time worrying over in the present. You do that, and you miss what’s happening here and now.

Our cell phones and laptops have distracted us from being present. I have become increasingly aware of this and purposefully try to limit my time on these devices. Today’s children spend way too much time playing on their phones and devices – and our parents worried the TV would make us a bunch of couch potatoes! Which it did. No mindfulness is going on when you are staring into these electronic opiates. Which is precisely what they are and were designed to do.

I am glad I have adult-aged children who benefited from running around in the woods and spending time in the woods camping or on a mountain skiing. It’s not to say that my son didn’t have his video gaming phase. Call of Duty was his game of choice that he and the Cavemen played. The Cavemen are his friends and were so called when they dubbed my basement The Cave and spent as many nonschool nights overnight in the Cave as they did in their own houses. If I were raising a child in this day and age, it would be very different and challenging. Knowing what I know, I wouldn’t be handing out video games, laptops and cell phones. I would probably also be homeschooling as well. But that’s for another blog post. I’d like to think that at this point, we would have a much more mindful approach than we did in the past.

In being more mindful, I have been able to set more goals for myself and achieve them. For the last few years, I have been active in the Goodreads Reading Challenge, which has you set a reading goal for yourself. I always wanted to be a reader. I was a very slow reader in school and didn’t enjoy reading then. They always told me I needed to practice, practice, practice. I just wish there had been audiobooks around then. If it weren’t for the audiobooks, I wouldn’t be able to achieve my lofty reading goal, which I set for the age I will be at the end of the year – 58 this year. So far, I am thirty-seven books in, three of which were physical hardback books!

The other goal that I set for myself was to write and publish a book. I am happy to say that in the last two years I have been working very purposefully on achieving this goal and seeing it through fruition. I would not have been able to do this without all that I have learned about mindfulness in this last year and half. In many of the guided mediations I have listen to in the last 446 days, many of the instructors have you plant a seed of intention. At first when I listened and was instructed to do this, I had so many things I wanted to accomplish I didn’t know what to focus on. I have many seeds in my bag to plant. I settled on one of the seeds that I had been holding onto the longest. And that was to write and publish my book.

Currently my book is in the hands of a publisher and it will be published. Thanks to the seed of intention that I planted, focused on and fertilized. I don’t know where this mindfulness and meditation will ultimately lead me. I am just focusing on the present moment, and presently I must start the laundry and get back to selecting photos that are going into the book. Namaste.