Fighting the Urge to Withdraw as I Age

No Substitute for Murder by Carolyn J. Rose

Carolyn with Bubba and Max

By Carolyn J. Rose

Almost every day my husband and I walk our dogs—the intrepid Bubba and the not-so-daring Max—in a loop around our neighborhood. Along the way we pass the home of a man in his late 80s. His wife died several years ago and he lives alone in a house filled with things much as she left them. He no longer drives, but he has family just down the road, close neighbors who look in on him, and lunch deliveries every weekday.

But he’s lonely.

On warm days he plants a chair in his driveway and waves over anyone who passes for a brief conversation—always about the past. Some days we stop. On others, we acknowledge his wave and call out an excuse—have to get to the store, the library, home to do the wash.

Once I brought him a brochure for the local senior center and asked if he’d like me to drive him on the days I go to the nearby rec center to swim.

“I wouldn’t know anyone there,” he said.

“You might. You won’t know until you go,” I answered. “But even if you don’t, people are friendly. You’ll be talking with someone in no time.”

“Maybe sometime.” He shook his head as he spoke, body language that told me “sometime” meant “never.”

Walking home, I thought about my future. Would I withdraw into a fortress of loneliness? Already I’ve found myself opting to stay home and skip events that are distant, unfamiliar, held after dark on rainy evenings, too crowded, too much trouble. And I’ve seen older family members pull like turtles into the shells they’ve created. When we talk, I hear undertones of sadness, loss, and regret.

And I hear pain as well. That’s a huge factor. When you hurt, it’s harder to get up in the morning and easier to crawl into that comfy chair earlier each evening.

But if I give in to pain and trepidation, my world will shrink, my days will become replicas of each other, and new experiences won’t happen unless someone comes to my door.

That worries me because writing feeds on experience. Of course, I can mine the past, but my aging brain provides fewer rich veins of recollection every year. Eventually I’ll be extracting only fragments of memory.

So I have to get moving and get out. And I have to keep doing that—and a lot of other things—as long as I can.

Being a Virgo, I wrote that admonition on an index card and posted it above my desk. And, in true Virgo form, I added a list of how I would accomplish my goal:

  • Make new friends. Try for 3 a year. Settle for 1.
  • Make new acquaintances. Talk to others at the gym or grocery store.
  • Try new things. (Rule out anything too risky like skydiving, skateboarding, or eating raw fish.)
  • Connect with old friends.
  • Plan a trip to a place I’ve never been.
  • Go back to a favorite familiar spot.
  • Commit random acts of generosity and joy.
  • Do something alone—eat a meal or go to a movie.
  • Learn something new and review something old—reading history can take care of both at once.
  • Read something I ordinarily wouldn’t pick up.
  • Stay in touch with pop culture—even if only in a limited way. Watch one of the hot TV shows geared for a younger demographic, listen to a radio station that sets my teeth on edge, have a conversation with a teen or young adult
  • Write outside my comfort zone and try to expand that zone as I do. (For me, this usually means writing about human relationships and love on a deeper level. As a mystery writer, I’m more comfortable killing characters off than having them kiss.)

If you have ideas about how to fight the urge to withdraw, please leave a comment. There’s plenty of room on my list for more. And your name will go into the drawing for a copy of No Substitute for Murder.

Bio: Carolyn J. Rose is the author of a number of novels, including recent indie titles A Place of Forgetting, An Uncertain Refuge, and No Substitute for Murder. A mainstream mystery, Hemlock Lake, was released by Five Star in 2010, and two Oregon-coast mysteries (The Big Grabowski and Sometimes a Great Commotion) penned with her husband, Mike Nettleton, came out through Krill Press in 2009 and 2010. In addition, she has six novels available through SynergEbooks. She grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. She lives in Vancouver, Washington, and founded the Vancouver Writers’ Mixers. Her interests are reading, gardening, and not cooking.

Web page: 

Link to latest book :
No Substitute for Murder

Blurb about No Substitute for Murder:

Divorced from a philandering con man and downsized from her job as a talk radio show producer, Barbara Reed is desperate for money. She's got a mortgage, a college loan, an aging car, and a ten-pound dog named Cheese Puff.

With her unemployment checks running out, she signs on as a high school substitute teacher and learns what stress is all about. When she finds history teacher Henry Stoddard strangled with his own outdated tie, her stress level soars into the red zone. Then she's assigned to cover his classes.

Stoddard was a bully and a blackmailer. The list of suspects is a long one, and police put Barb at the top. When she discovers a second body, the noose of circumstantial evidence tightens.

With help from the showgirl widow of a reputed mobster, a trash-scavenging derelict, and members of the Cheese Puff Care and Comfort Committee, Barb struggles to keep a grip on her job, her sanity, and her freedom.

Notice:  This mystery contains no vampires, werewolves, zombies, or space aliens. It was not tested on laboratory animals. It makes no claims to political correctness. Characters may not be fully clothed at all times.

(Carolyn will be giving away a copy of her book to someone who makes a comment.)


Carolyn J. Rose said…
Marilyn, thanks for having me as a guest. I hope to pick up several more ideas over the weekend.
One thing that helps me is having so many grandkids and great grands. They definitely keep me from withdrawing.

I also love to go to movies and watch movies on DVD. If hubby won't see one that I want to see, I ask someone to go with me, usually someone younger.

Having younger friends also helps.
Anonymous said…

What a great blog post. I've let my world get very small too. I would love to drum up the nerve to go to a movie alone, but so far have chickened out each time.
You are right though...there is much we could do to make out lives more exciting, before we too, find ourselves pulling out a lawn chair and waving at passersby. Great post! Adorable dogs too!
Mark Asher said…
I tend to want to stay in more and more also. Here are some possibilities:

1) Join Yahoo Meetup groups. Don't know if you have these in your area but if you do, these are great for meeting people.

2) Write on a laptop in a coffee shop or someplace that has Wifi.

3) You and your husband walk the dogs every day? How about putting them in the car and driving a short distance and walking them in a different area just for a change of scenery?

4) Cash mobs. Just read about these. Maybe you could organize one. The idea is to get a group of people together with the idea of promoting local businesses. You all pick a day and a shop and pledge to go there and spend $20. If you get a bunch to go at once it could be fun.

5) Learn a new activity. Take fencing lessons. Take scuba lessons. Take golf lessons.

6) Enroll in a college class that interests you. Take a class on medieval history or one on Victorian literature or one on astronomy, etc.
Carolyn J. Rose said…
Mark - terrific ideas.
For the record, we've tried taking the dogs to other venues but we run into people and dogs they've never met before. People are fine because they love to get "fresh" attention. Dogs, not so much. Small dogs are into the preemptive first strike mentality and bark up a storm no matter how hard we work with them. That takes the pleasure out of the walk.
Melanie Sherman said…
I'm already like your neighbor. I have to force myself to leave my house. Maybe next time I visit you, I should bring a checker board and challenge your neighbor to a game.

And don't enter me in the drawing. I already have my copy of No Substitute for Murder and I give it FIVE stars!!
Helen Ginger said…
I would recommend developing a circle of friends. I belong to a group of women friends. We call ourselves the Irregulars because we don't have a set time or place to meet. When one suggests a meeting, all of us who can make it, go. Then we spend hours laughing and talking and, usually, eating.
Partially at Carolyn's urging, party out of my recognition that I could permanently cocoon if I didn't take some steps, I got a job mentoring/tutoring high school students. Talking about flooding the senses with new data. They are, in turn, insensitive, extremely kind, brain dead, intelligent and intuitive, manipulative, honest, infuriating, endearing and most of all intensely human. My 12 hours a week with freshmen-seniors keeps me stimulated, curious and gratified. I look at retirement as a time a space to stack in as many experiences as possible.

Carolyn's co-dog wrangler
misskallie2000 said…
This hit home. I have become a hermit going out only when I have to and reading blogs and books and working in my yard is my life now. I have not had a close friend in 50 + yrs as most were my ex's (wives stick with husbands friend). Even at work I had a few friends but not that close, now that I am retired I find myself without a close friend. I keep telling myself I have lived alone for yrs so don't need anyone. I do have 4 cats and my daughter is living with me since her husband died in 2009. I guess since she is here I don't feel I need anyone else.
I am an avid reader so reading feels my needs for now.
I would love to read your book as I love romance, mystery and suspense all in one story.
Thanks for the opportunity to enter giveaway.

misskallie2000 at yahoo dot com
Earl Staggs said…
Thanks, Carolyn, for an excellent piece. I'm old enough to sit and watch the world go by, but I don't want to be old. There's too much I haven't done yet. That's why I keep a part time job driving a school bus. Gets me out of the house for a couple hours each day and keeps me in touch with other members of my species, both young and old. It helps that I like kids,of course.
Carolyn J. Rose said…
Earl, you and Mike and others have hit on something important - getting out of the house (step 1) and spending time with those who have more youth and energy and fresh perspectives. That's why I keep up the substitute teaching.
RP Dahlke said…
I write mysteries about younger women which makes me feel younger. Besides, it makes me smile a LOT.

Me, me, pick me! I'm drawn to Carolyn's books like a damn moth to flame. I haven't read Hemlock lake, hint, hint.Kindle version e-book, please.
Suedenym said…
Love the article and the posts! Very thought provoking. What's the old saying? "Do one thing every day that scares you"? That works for me. I also find I need to lay my eyes on new surroundings (near and far) on a fairly regular basis otherwise I feel my psyche sink into myself. One book I'd rec is called "Get a Life! You don't need a million dollars to retire." It talks about the need to cultivate new friendships and, most importantly, to make them of differing age groups. Nothing ages you faster than ONLY hanging out with folks your own age. Finally, totally agree with the suggestion of "take a class". My husband and I did that when I moved to Vancouver five years ago and that's how I met Carolyn and Mike! :)
Sarah Scott said…
In my youth I was a change junkie. Now that's not the case, but I find I still am nurtured by the stimulation of new experiences. A favorite thing is to go somewhere alone. I engage with the world more than if I go with my husband or a friend, although that can be wonderful in its own way. I love making an unknown a known. Last summer, that meant seeing Big Sur for the first time and going to a writers workshop at Esalen. My husband wanted to stay home to work on a building project. On my trip, the scenery, creative stimulation and interaction with interesting new people fed me. Short of that, a trip to the grocery store can be enlivening if I'm open to the world that meets me. Some of my friends seek out new adventures, some avoid them. You can guess which seem younger.
David said…
Carolyn’s musings on aging and isolation seem to have inspired many creative and interesting readers, judging from the posts. I think that enjoying one’s own company, like autoeroticism, isn’t particularly destructive, unless it deprives one of the joys of social intercourse. I love few things as much as laboring, alone, in my shop, but my (very detailed) retirement plan included “Join another writer’s group to counteract tendencies toward social isolation.” I enjoyed the photo of you and Max and Bubba.
Carolyn J. Rose said…
Thanks, Sarah, for bringing up being open to the world. And thanks, David, for granting me time alone in my office. Every day should have a distinct few moments.
Jim and Gayle said…
Thanks for this thought provoking post. My wife and I retired just over 3 years ago and I can certainly see how easy it would have been to narrowly define our new world.

We chose to sell our home and most all of our possessions and move into a motorhome and travel the country. As a result we have stayed in the deserts, national parks and forests both on and off the grid. We have made many new friends and experienced some breathtakingly beautiful places.

Pending some unforseen circumstance we continue our journey.

I find I don't want to get out and about as much as I used to, but that the writing life I live via email and the web more than takes up the slack. Still, I know we must keep a good balance and actually see people. For me, that's easy because we live in a gated community and have a clubhouse.
Carolyn J. Rose said…
Jim and Gayle, life on the road sounds great, but arrggghh, the pain of downsizing keeps me from roaming that way.
And Marilyn, much as I love gardening, I'm starting to be seduced by the idea of someone else taking care of the yard and leaving me more time to write and mingle.
Anonymous said…
Great article. I've been thinking about this lately, as I realized I had no close friends in the community to which I moved when I retired five years ago. At first I went out to a number of events aimed at meeting people. And I did, people who needed to meet people. I quickly realized 1)my life had been far more interesting than theirs and 2) mostly they wanted to talk about their health. Now I stay home and use the internet to correspond with friends I've made through writing groups and other mutual ventures. Facebook and Twitter are new for me, but interesting. I've reconnected with my old friends and appreciate them even more than I did when they lived down the block.
Most of all, I started writing novels and have just published my first, with four more inthe works. That's brought me an intellectual challenge, a job to go to each day, and many new friends. I highly recommend it.
Anonymous said…
Many elderly persons can't drive or get out because of poor vision, health issues or mobility problems. With baby boomers aging, communities will need to wake up and provide better senior services and public transportion to prevent millions of seniors from "cocooning."
Sally Carpenter
Katlin said…
Wonderful post, Carolyn. We watched my father-in-law withdraw to his recliner. The less he moved, the less he could move. The less he could move, the smaller his world became. He, too, refused to go to the senior center. The smaller his world became, the unhappier he became, it seemed and he appeared to lose the will to live. He passed away two weeks ago. It all seemed to start with the "urge to withdraw." We really miss him.

My idea for you: come to dinner for Scrabble more often...and, of course, bring Mike!
Carolyn J. Rose said…
Right - we all need to keep moving - and keep up our friendships.
Katlin, I'm ready any time - as long as there's not too much cooking involved - LOL - not cooking is now officially one of my hobbies/interests.

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