How I Made A Huge Mess of My Life

billie best

billie best

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How I Made A Huge Mess of My Life

Billie Best has been a music producer, a marketing executive, a farmer and a writer. Her memoir, How I Made a Huge Mess of My Life (or Couples Therapy with a Dead Man), is a witty, unblinking look at success, failure, bliss, infidelity, life, and death. I loved it and was lucky to catch up with this busy author for an interview.

Stella:
Your memoir How I Made A Huge Mess of My Life spans twenty years in your life from forty to sixty. What are your thoughts about the paradox that while we grow in wisdom, we become physically less strong?

Billie:
I think we go through phases in life and our strengths and weaknesses evolve with our biology and our experiences. So, when we’re young, with the least life experience, we are at our physical strongest, highest energy levels and most likely to recover from injury. As we gain life experience with age, our wisdom becomes an increasingly greater asset than our physical prowess. Until finally, in old age, we may be physically fragile, but we have the knowledge and perspective that a person needs to live a long life. This is Nature’s design. We have value at every age.
In my case, this process really hit home for me when I found myself farming alone at 60. My body wasn’t keeping up with chores, and I was exhausting myself mentally with the stress of my situation. Thankfully, my wisdom came to the rescue, and I was smart enough to sell the farm.

Stella:
Your readers comment on how capable you are at everything from corporate work to farming to helping your loved ones have good deaths. What enabled you to succeed across so many fields?

Billie:
Both of my parents were schoolteachers, and even when they moved on to other jobs, they continued to teach my brothers and me at home. They taught us how to learn and follow our interests. For example, in our home we had sets of encyclopedias, atlases, guidebooks and cookbooks. They taught us how to use references and follow instructions. Also, they were both Scout Troop leaders, we went on camping trips and drove cross country to visit national parks. They taught us how to live in the outdoors, how to read maps, geography, plant identification, first aid and survival techniques. My mother taught me how to garden, cook and sew. My father taught me about business, office work and organizations.
So, I enjoy learning and I’m very good at it. I bounced around in my career because I was following my intuition about what I wanted to do next. My career was mostly happenstance, not a plan, except that in midlife I wanted to make money. So, for about 20 years, from 1981 to 2001, I focused on climbing the corporate ladder, took professional development courses to advance, got lucky with the technology boom, in the right place at the right time. After 9/11, I had an epiphany about being mission driven instead of money driven. I studied agriculture for a few years and blew everything I had on raising cows, goats, and chickens.

Stella:
In the memoir, after your husband’s death, your dad says he wonders what you are going to do with all that freedom. What did you think you would do?

Billie:
When my husband died, the farm was my passion and my home. I thought I would farm forever, stay in that house, keep raising animals and manage the land. But that vision for the future turned out to be very unrealistic. By the time I sold the farm and paid off all my debt, I had exhausted my imagination for my future, but the freedom of zero debt was exhilarating. I could never have imagined it. Now I’m a minimalist, much more interested in maintaining that feeling of freedom than in the materialism that fascinated me in my previous life.

Stella:
Why did you decide to write a book that bravely reveals so much?

Billie:
I have been writing short stories, essays, and poems most of my life. Writing is great therapy for the troubled soul. As I was writing my memoir, I discovered some hidden memories, saw my mistakes, and got clarity on my perspective. I realized I was not an innocent victim, as I believed around the time my husband died. I had to tell the truth about my mistakes if I was going to reveal his mistakes. That’s what made the whole process of writing a psychic cleanse.
People who were friends with my deceased husband had a positive reaction to the book because they knew I loved him and even though I was angry, I treated him fairly in the book.

Stella:
There is such a cross current of emotions in How I Made A Huge Mess of My Life: Your husband’s terminal illness pulls one way, the discovery of his infidelity pulls a different way, and you take us with you even when you confront him. That was a uniquely compelling situation. Yet many of us have experiences where emotions pull different ways (for example, when a formerly abusive parent nears the end of life). What advice do you have for women who find themselves in strong emotional cross currents?

Billie:
I would advise women tangled up in emotional drama to first protect themselves in whatever way is necessary. But at the same time, hold space for changing your perspective, be open to new information, don’t assume you know the whole truth, stay flexible. Situations evolve. Have the resilience to adapt and the compassion to forgive. Have compassion for yourself. Do not dwell in drama. Do not accept a life of constant stress. Develop a positive vision for your future and move toward it.

Stella:
Your process of forgiveness was tied to letting go of the need to know everything about the past. What else was important?

Billie:
There was a point at the peak of my emotional trauma that I was outraged at my husband’s infidelity. But as time wore on and I started taking stock of myself, I realized (I actually discovered a hidden memory) that I had cheated on him. In our 32 years together, we cheated on each other. That thought was not my starting place. It took years for me to admit that. Without him none of this can be reconciled. I don’t know if he was cheating on me for three years or 30 years. But what difference does it make now? So, I forgive him, and I forgive myself.

Stella:
In the years after your husband died, did you ever have the impulse to contact your husband’s girlfriend?

Billie:
I did not have the impulse to contact her, and we did not speak. For a long time, I feared she would appear in my life and continue to haunt me. I don’t know what I would do if I ever ran into her again.

Stella:
Years after your husband’s death, your perspective on monogamy shifted. What are your thoughts now?

Billie:
Yes, my feelings on monogamy have evolved. I don’t think it’s realistic. It’s a promise made to be broken. Monogamy puts too much emphasis on sex as the basis for relationship. It is simplistic to reduce the value of a life partner relationship to sex. Monogamy is not a guarantee that a relationship will be successful, and infidelity does not necessarily mean the failure of a relationship. Life is so much more complicated than that.

Stella:
What is your take on older women’s sexuality and sensuality?

Billie:
I will soon be 68 and I’m having the best sex of my life, the most profound orgasms and the most fun holding hands.

Stella:
How has your thinking about mortality changed as you have aged?

Billie:
I am comfortable talking about death, and I don’t fear dying. Of course, I don’t want to be in pain, I don’t want to suffer, and I don’t want to be afraid. But death seems like glorious sleep to me, the fulfillment of life and a return to the source. I believe we should celebrate death as we celebrate birth in the circle of life.

 

Billie Best is the author of two inspirational books for older women and a weekly blog called Aging Beyond 60: Loving Life, Staying Relevant. Her memoir is titled How I Made a Huge Mess of My Life (or Couples Therapy with a Dead Man) and her anthology of blog posts is titled I Could Be Wrong. She lives in central Oregon with her boyfriend and their dog and enjoys doing dishes. Her first novel will be released in 2022.

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