Phoebe King: Pushing Fifty Gracefully…
“There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving and this is your own self.”-Aldous Huxley
I have been writing a series of interviews on wonderful people I have met on different social network sites for over a year now. I find connections with people all over the world and while my interviewees answer a similar set of questions, their answers are always different. I find the process both refreshing and revelatory; each person paints a canvas rich with their views and personal journey. The destination might seem the same but each journey is uniquely different. I think you’d enjoy the process.
Today, I bring you another good friend I met through Twitter. Phoebe King is an accomplished writer/blogger from Chicago who has reinvented herself at different stages in her journey. She has a keen wit and a friendly demeanor and we connected on twitter because I found myself chuckling over some of her tweets. She writes a wonderful blog – Pushing Fifty and can been caught tweeting away on her twitter handle @PhoebeKing. I invited her to participate in the interview series and her fascinating, rich, personal story is below. Grab a cuppa, sit back and enjoy the read … Do leave a comment for Phoebe, will ya? Thank you!
“The only limits to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with a strong and active faith.” -Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Tell us a bit on your background: Where did you grow up and where do you live now?
I grew up in a suburb just west of Chicago, IL, USA called Oak Park. The famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright had a studio there and designed many houses and even a church that still stand today as a testament to his art. My mother was the first woman to be licensed as a surgeon in the state of Illinois. That was back in 1942. She went on to have an amazing career as a pioneer in emergency medicine. My father, a World War II veteran from Arkansas, was an entrepreneur through and through. He ran several businesses during his long life—some successful, others not so much. He was considered to be an exceptional salesman by colleagues and competitors alike.
When my parents bought their house in Oak Park in 1964, they had to use a “straw buyer” because my dad was black. There were no other black families, let alone interracial families, living in Oak Park at that time. Racial tensions were high. We had our share of difficulties. Although I was too young to remember, I’ve heard the stories about the “N” word being painted on our garage and a brick being thrown through a window that landed inches from my sleeping brother’s head. I’m happy to report Oak Park went on to become an integrated, diverse community that welcomes people from all backgrounds today.
My parents, who are both deceased, were incredible pioneers within the civil rights movement. They were loved by many and had a diverse, eclectic group of friends. My parents entertained often and opened their home to many people over the years. They lived the dream espoused by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I am very proud of my heritage as a biracial woman.
What do you do for a living?
I’m a writer/blogger. (See Pushing Fifty) This year I’m working on a book that celebrates the lives of people who found success after age 40. We need stories of inspiration and hope during these difficult economic times. I consider it an honor to get to interview people from all walks of life whose paths have taken them to extraordinary places later in life. They inspire me to keep reaching higher!
Why did you choose the path you now follow?
I’m a tail-end baby boomer (those born from 1946 to 1964) and spent the first 30-plus years of my life in aimless pursuits. I moved around a lot and have had a ridiculous number of jobs, from cook to child guidance worker at a juvenile detention facility. I’ve worked as a house painter, van shuttle driver, cashier, security guard at a major retail store—the list goes on.
In the summer of 1990, through a series of unfortunate incidents, I wound up back in Chicago, broke, homeless and without much hope for the future. I stayed with friends and relatives for a while, trying to get my bearings. I got a $5/hour job at a scone factory (add that to the list of unglamorous jobs I’ve held) working the overnight shift, eventually found a place to live sharing a tiny studio apartment with another girl—and slowly began to rebuild my life.
I started taking classes at a local junior college and was surprised when I got my first “A.” Despite my parents’ emphasis on education and academic achievement, I am a high school dropout and wound up getting my GED when I was 18. A few years later I transferred my credits to a four-year liberal arts college located in downtown Chicago. It was there I was told by my academic adviser that I was an “unusually good” writer. I planned to major in business administration with a minor in communications. I wanted to start my own business. Professor Carol Williams convinced me to major in communications and minor in business instead. When she told me I wouldn’t have to take as many math classes (my least favorite subject) that clinched the deal for me.
Books and reading have always been a big part of my life. From the first picture book I checked out at the school library in first grade, Billy and Blaze books by C.W. Anderson – I was horse crazy from the time I was 5 and still am today, I have always had a voracious appetite for literature. My parents had a fairly extensive library and I kept “discovering” books that took me on journeys and to times I never would have considered myself. By the time I was 15 years old, I had read books by Steinbeck, Hemingway, Saul Bellow, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, W. Somerset Maugham, Howard Fast, Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, Carlos Castaneda, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis; The Chronicles of Narnia were my all-time favorite series when I was about 12, and more. I couldn’t get enough and would often hide under the covers with a flashlight late into the night so I could finish reading just one more chapter.
And then there was the Scholastic Book Club. When it came time to order from the catalog that was passed around every couple of months, most of my classmates would order two or three books, if at all. I rarely took home fewer than a dozen and couldn’t wait to get home so I could begin gobbling up stories about horse-crazy girls or heroic dogs that saved people from danger.
I remember my grade-school librarian, Mrs. Winters, encouraging me to write, but I was too distracted and insecure to take writing seriously back then. I believe that the amount of reading I did in my early life had a strong influence on my capacity as a writer today. I have no doubt incorporated many different writing styles, based on what I’ve read, into finding my own voice. I am grateful to my family for turning me on to so many different kinds of great literature when I was young.
When did you decide to make key changes in your life?
Coming back to Chicago and returning to school in 1990 was a pivotal time in my life. But I guess the biggest changes began to occur in 2000, after I was diagnosed with a pituitary adenoma (a small, benign brain tumor). I had a job as a copy editor; a decent apartment in a decent neighborhood on the North Side of Chicago, friends, and family…life was going OK. But I was experiencing painful symptoms that had me calling in sick to work a lot—that and the fact that I drank too much.
My boss at the time practically forced me to go to the doctor and find out what was wrong. I was fortunate to have been assigned, through my HMO, an amazing woman doctor – Dr. Hemphill- who also happened to be African American. She listened quietly as I described my symptoms; she asked intelligent questions and ordered a series of tests, including an MRI of my head. She was very kind and matter-of-fact throughout the process. I don’t remember feeling alarmed during her evaluation period. Although she explained that the MRI was part of the diagnosis process, I don’t recall her telling me she was concerned I might have a tumor in my head.
When all the test results were in, Dr. Hemphill had me come into her office. Not ever having had any major health problems up to that point in my life, I had no idea that doctors bring you into the office when they have something serious to talk to you about. She sat me down and told me I had a brain tumor. I joke today that when I was complaining about having painful cramps and irregular menstrual cycles it turned out to be all in my head—literally.
After the initial shock of the diagnosis sank in, Dr. Hemphill assured me that if I had to have a brain tumor, this was the “best” kind to have. It was a small, slow-growing tumor in my pituitary gland (called the “master gland” because it regulates so many different hormones and systems in the body) and would probably NEVER turn into cancer. In fact, she told me, most people with my type of tumor can be treated successfully with medications and never have to have surgery to remove the tumor.
She turned out to be right. I was on a medication for several years that actually shrunk the tumor! And I have been functioning just fine ever since.
I bring up this medical mini-drama only because the tumor diagnosis in February 2000 became the catalyst for an even bigger change in my life: I quit drinking that spring and have been living a sober life, fraught with its own challenges and rewards, ever since. Ten years later, here I am writing my first book, starting a blog about my neighborhood with a major media group and getting interviewed by an inspiring woman who is spreading a powerful message of peace, love and hope to the world. My life today is beyond my wildest dreams—even from when I was a child reading under the covers by flashlight.
Share your world view: How do you live your life and manage your household?
I have always been a champion of the underdog, choose cooperation over conflict, think listening is an underrated skill—especially in this day and age when we are constantly being bombarded with “noise”—and believe that everyone has something of value to give to the world. I believe people should come before profits and that we need to work harder at protecting the environment. My “household” consists of a big black dog and two cats that I love as if they are my own children and have promised never to forsake.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” -Marcel Proust
What do you consider the most important thing about yourself?
My capacity for love and forgiveness. I had to learn about the first one through my own life experiences; Oprah taught me the second one.
What motivates you to get out of bed?
Gratitude and hope: Although I am figuratively miles and miles away from where I want to be, I am grateful every day for what I have. My vision board depicts goals I have set for myself that sometimes feel unattainable, yet when I approach each day with hope and a sense of gratitude, the end result becomes less important than the journey itself. I keep putting one foot in front of the other, taking another little action each day, and trying to let go of the outcome.
What makes you happy/laugh?
Silly things my dog does; he makes me laugh every day, several times a day. Really, I experience joy in everyday living and through my interactions with others. I especially try to adhere to rule No. 62: Don’t take yourself so damn seriously.
What makes you sad/mad?
Injustice and lack of tolerance – especially when it comes from people who claim to value peace and social justice. Although sometimes they simply don’t see their behavior for what it is, I have worked with people who put up a front of being peaceful and loving and then stab you in the back.
What would you do differently with your life if you had the power? With the world if you had the choice?
If I could meet my younger self, I would give her a big hug and remind her how much she is loved and that it’s OK to stand up to bullies. The world will have to take care of itself; the only control I have is in how I react to it.
What guiding principle(s) do you follow to make your life meaningful?
For more than 10 years, I have been making a daily practice of love, kindness, tolerance and acceptance; being true to myself; and growing along spiritual lines. I am at my best when I am in service of others.
What word(s) of advice would you give to others today?
Yikes! I am not in the advice business, although I am happy to make suggestions—sometimes even when they are not asked for.
How would you like to be remembered?
As someone who stood up for the underdog and tried to make a difference by how she lived her life.
an inside job.
“Forty is the old age of youth; fifty the youth of old age.” -Victor Hugo
Phoebe writes a blog – Pushing Fifty on the WordPress platform where she blogs about “pushing 50 and its attendant “unfoldings.” I hope to be able to use some of my knowledge and experience to find and share useful information for people “my age” and older.” She is fun, funny, witty and poised. You may connect with her on her blog, via her twitter handle – @PhoebeKing, and in a few weeks or so, her upcoming new Website: phoebeking.com (this is not live yet, however).
What questions or comments do you have for Phoebe? Are you an expert in a field that our readers can benefit from hearing about? Do you have a story to share? Please share your feedback with us. Thank You!
My positive motivational tip is: Age is only a number, follow your dreams with passion and aplomb…
All Photos of Phoebe King and family ~ courtesy of Phoebe King
Until Next Time…
Ask. Believe. Receive. ©