Tag Archives: Aging

Whatever you do don’t stand still

Lately, and I guess it’s totally related to aging, its becoming a little too clear to me that we really are all just lined up like airplanes on a runway waiting for take-off, except we have these invisible expiry dates stamped onto each one of us and we don’t find out our own Best Before date until it’s game over. Thank you ma’am. Boom. Done. Next.

I know what you’re thinking. Oh oh. This is a tad morbid. 

Lately too many people I have known are flying off into the big airport waiting room in the sky. They’re like missing luggage from United Airlines. It’s never coming back. And that is causing me an existential crisis that’s actually a little more disturbing than all the other crises I’ve already overcome in the past 20 years.  

Clawing my way back from depressions? Been there. Done that. Overcoming heartbreak as a result of bad choices in men? Ack. Whatever! Unemployment? But would you look at all that free time I had?

Now that I’m older and wiser, I actually find it amusing when people refer to a mid-life crisis, as if there is just a single crisis and once you get that baby under your belt you’re home free. Not true.

The mid-life crisis is like the beginning of the Bible. One crisis begets another crisis begets another crisis and so on and so forth until the ultimate end of life crisis. That’s how it feels to me these days.

My crises right now, at least, are a little less drama filled than in the past. No sex, drugs or rock and roll. In this phase of the crises, which is a total drag for sure because it’s so boring, albeit easier on the mental health and the blood pressure.

Maybe because of my birth order as youngest in a family of people who were a lot older, or because I’ve always befriended people that are older than me, aging is constantly on my mind these days. It’s like a third character shadowing my monologue.

I can no longer make any decisions without thinking about the fact that I have X number of years, barring early onset dementia, to work at a “real” job, before I have to give up that real job and become a greeter at Walmart for which I’d surely last maybe half a day before being fired.

I try to think of the kinds of jobs I might do, when I have to give up my “real” job, and it’s as if I have no useful skills at all. I’m like one of those people who can’t use common sense to get around the corner to the 7-Eleven because their GPS has led them astray even though they’ve lived in the same neighborhood for 35 years.

I used to quit jobs I didn’t like on a dime and worry about it later. And in a blink of an eye, over the last 10 years, later IS now. So, even if I don’t like the job, I could quit, like my younger self surely would right this second,  except experience has taught me that impulsivity can lead to even bigger crises.

As a result, the ugly reality of aging is beginning to turn me into the kind of person I used to disdain. That is, the kind of person, who at 30 years old is factoring pension into any equation. In my former world, if you were thinking about your pension at 30, you were leading the kind of life that surely must have made it feel as if you’d already died before you were dead. I had nothing to say to you.

Trying to make decisions along the time versus longevity continuum is like one of those mathematical word problems in Grade 3 I could never solve correctly and would now  have a totally different twist. 

My new mathematical word problem would go something like… If you get to be 60 years old and you don’t have cancer and you quit your job to go to the Ashram in India where you could theoretically live out your days working harder than you’ve ever worked doing some form of selfless service, how many fewer regrets might you have? Answer _____!

If you sold everything you owned and bought an RV and just drove in the direction of a hot beach, stopping on a whim, would you really be happier? Freedom being just another word and all that…  Wherever you go, there you be.

Except, that statement isn’t totally accurate because sometimes wherever you go, if it’s the right place, really shakes things up and changes life for the better. Of course, leaving can do the exact opposite as well. 

We’re supposed to live in the moment. Be present. Breathe. And that sounds good except when you begin to wonder what happens if your choices based on living in the moment mean you’ll be lining up at the food bank in 10 years? What then?

Does life really work that way? You might not even be here in 10 months. And then all the decisions you never made, the adventure you opted not to take, means you didn’t meet the love of your life or end up, through a detour, doing the best thing you’ll ever do, meeting your tribe or having experiences that create the kinds of memories that will overflow from your heart and fill it up until your very last sentient breath.

When I worked in Computer Science at UBC, I recall interviewing a prof whose research revolved around something called game theory or decision theory or something like that. I remember I couldn’t believe such a thing existed. I still can’t. It was like having a fortune teller in a machine except smarter.

You mean I can put all my questions into a computer with a special fairy godmother algorithm and have it spit out my next course of action knowing that something way more logical than me has done a risk assessment for me and then it has decided I should head that way? Over there. Keep going. A little to the left. Don’t look back. Don’t look too far ahead. And whatever you do, read my lips, definitely don’t stand still.

Using Imagery as Writing Muse

Rummaging through some papers, I found this image from a magazine stapled to something I had written on July 18, 1998.

I was in a writing group then that met monthly – or tried to –  and re-reading it brought me right back into the small living room in the house where we’d meet. It was an old house, up rickety stairs, rooms all chopped up.

I was thinking how much fun it used to be to sit in that group, a bunch of magazine pages ripped out haphazardly, each of us taking turns choosing which image to pick so that we could scribble away during a timed writing exercise, letting whatever words come to us as they came. It was a form of writing meditation.  I think 5 minutes was what we settled on back then.

I was thinking how much fun it would be to let other writers look at a photo on the blog and see what they could come up with. It’s kind of a nice idea, a way to share. And then, you could post what you’d written after your own timed five minutes at home. No cheating!

If you feel inclined to try and time yourself and write to the above image, and then add what you ended up writing into the comments, it would make things a million time more interesting around here. I could then add a new image every week with whatever I’d managed to come up with in my own timed 5 minutes.

Here’s what I wrote back then although I will admit, I changed a few things after sitting down to type it out before posting it here. I changed her name. I decided this woman was Turkish and so Isabella didn’t seem like the right name.

Gülçin, a name bestowed eighty-nine years earlier, reveled in the spicy warmth of the nicotine as it streamed through the shriveled opening of her throat, lingered for just a few seconds, and was then expunged, pushing its way against the afternoon’s hot wind like an apparition.

She was safe in her chair, her favorite place. That same chair that had balanced her when the roundness of her thighs had not crept round the wooden corners of the frame but had fit snugly, like foam, atop the smooth wooden cup of the seat.

Her cane, carved by her grandfather over a few months the summer she turned eight, had been her most constant companion in the last few years. She had remembered him sitting near the red rocks, and bits of grass at the cliff edge near their home, the sparkling sea like a rug as far as the eye could see to the horizon.

She’d sit on her porch, perched above the dusty street in that town she’d lived in since she’d married more than 70 years ago now, and she’d watch the youth pass by in the way a factory foreman might watch assembly line workers. She never barked out orders or even greetings. 

When a neighbor or familiar face passed, she’d remove the cigarette and blow the smoke between the space where her two front teeth used to be and in that subtle shift, they’d know they’d been acknowledged, they’d been seen. And it was enough.

Most of the time she would not even notice the strays barking, the wrestling of small boys whose bare feet raised the dust to feather their ankles, or the bustle of women, beautiful full girls, and slap-dashed-together mothers hurrying back from the market in preparation for another day of the cooking, washing, feeding, cleaning cycle. She was there and she wasn’t. She was with all of them and she was with the images of her past that greeted her just as real as company, adding excitement and grief, love and energy to what would turn out to be just another 12 hours, like the 12 hours before that, wrapped in heat and routine.

 She’d think back to her best friend as a child and the hours they’d spent playing in the back alleyways, listening to adults they knew only by the first names their mothers used to refer to them as they gossiped. Mostly they watched. Anything to escape the one room they each shared with three generations who had perfected the familial folk dance, weaving around each other, ducking anger, ignoring bodily functions and even the tears everyone would have preferred to have kept hidden if they’d had the luxury of privacy.

Usually around midday, she would sometimes feel the phantom lips of her deceased husband as if they were grazing her forehead. A tear-dropped wet bead of sweat would seep from beneath her white headscarf and slip over the band of folded skin that decorated her chest like a handmade necklace.

She had loved the memory of his lips. Not just because they had become as familiar as her own but because they embodied everything they had shared together; framing the rite of two-as-one even though he’d been gone for decades.

Just being should be enough

MarjorieOn a quick trip to Salt Spring this past weekend, I visited my friend Marjorie. She will turn 93 on April 16th.

She is as mentally sharp, if not sharper, than anyone you’d ever hope to meet. Give her a once over and she looks fantastic, years younger than she is.

Most people, however, will not discover her humour or how quick she truly is, mentally, if they didn’t already know it, because her greatest challenge is that she has lost her hearing. The result is difficulty communicating with others and a great sense of isolation. Even with a hearing aid which, apparently, brings its own problems.

It doesn’t help that she is in fact isolated because she lives on a rural property. One of her sons lives on the grounds. It’s a property that was owned by her parents and that she moved to upon her late husband’s retirement in the 1970’s. I can’t say for sure, but I sense that she wouldn’t have wanted to move elsewhere, even on island. Her home is her home. Nature is her company. Until recently, so was her cat Duchess. She has a cleaner who has become a friend who comes once a week. Another son visits from Victoria often. Her daughter comes when she can from Alberta as well as grandsons and great grandchildren.

I have always been around older people. My parents were 39 and 43 years older than me when I was born. My sisters were 11 and 14 years older. In my forties, I watched my parents’ aging and then, and it seemed to happen quickly, they were gone. But, in fact, it didn’t happen that quickly because, relatively speaking, they lived long lives. My mother lived to 84, my father to 93.  Somehow, especially with my father who remained healthy for so long, long never seems long enough.

Aging is challenging in so many ways. Hearing loss is just one of them. But what isn’t always apparent is that when you lose your hearing, even if you’re wearing hearing aids, it’s challenging to participate in conversations. People can’t be bothered. They have to repeat themselves. They hate repeating themselves. They don’t want to yell. Maybe they feel embarrassed.MarjorieatHarbourHouse

In the car driving home, Marjorie claimed that it may actually be easier to be blind than deaf because if you’re blind, people will know it, they’ll help you, they’ll feel sorry for you. Not that THAT’S a piece of cake. I’m sure she wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

I saw for myself what happens when she tried to explain that she was hard of hearing. Having to say it immediately shuts down conversation with most people who don’t know how to respond. They’re embarrassed to shout back. They’re shy to take the time to find a way to communicate. They can’t be bothered.

If you’re deaf, there are no signs. You look perfectly fine. Nobody knows you’re deaf until they try to speak to you.

On Sunday, we went to two galleries and when I engaged in conversation, she couldn’t hear what was being said between me and the other person that I was speaking with so she just kept looking.  She was on the outside. And in our society, getting old and being on the outside is the norm. I was guilty, I suppose, of not trying to ensure that she was included to a greater extent.

In a world where productivity and materialism are the Holy Grail, people who are not producing or consuming in large quantities are no longer seen as valuable. It no longer seems enough just to be. But actually it is.  Because your being is your only authentic wealth, your legacy.

It’s not necessarily easy to be the kind of person who recognizes this and looks for it – in the wonder of children, in the other of homelessness, in the wisdom of the elderly, in animals, in plants and flowers and in natural beauty and sounds.

When Ninety looks Seventy-Nine

birthdaycuttingsmallI spent the past weekend on Salt Spring spending part of that acknowledging the 90th birthday of my former landlady and friend, Marjorie.

She first came to Salt Spring when she was 19, to visit her grandparents who had bought property on Walker’s Hook Road, four acres on the corner of Hedger where she has lived full time since 1979. She lives  in a house that her husband built, a little ways in front of the cabin that has been used for decades by friends, relatives and for those in need of a small but decent retreat.  My retreat lasted 15 months, or was it 18? I can’t recall.

MarjorieandIsmall

I found Marjorie because I put an ad on the Salt Spring Exchange that read something along these lines: Where art thou my housing Robin Hood, one who is house rich and who would like to share that abundance with one who is house poor and doesn’t need much in the way of architectural uniqueness to be thrilled? It wasn’t exactly those words but it was similar and it worked.

MarjorieandLindsaysmall

No sooner had I put that ad out on the list of all lists than Robin Hood, dressed a little like  Marion, responded to me saying that her next door neighbour was interested in speaking to me.  If you want something, just ask for it. Fling your wishes about like confetti after a wedding, way back, when that sort of thing was allowed, in the old days, the sixties and seventies, when attire was loud and crazy and life was way more fun, although I was only a child so I suppose it’s not really a fair comparison.Marjoriebestonesmall

When I showed up and met Marjorie, no more than 5 feet one inches tall, she was direct and spunky. A smart cookie.   I have a history of older land ladies with chutzpah, foreshadowing, I hope. The chutzpah part, not the landlady part.

PaulaandLauriesmall

It’s not as if they were the late Emily Carr or anything, they weren’t that funky, but they had their strengths and uniqueness about them.sueandmarjoriesmall

Women. Got to love them. We all just get better with age because we come into our own, give a lot fewer hoots about what others think and the sooner we can all get there, get to that point of so what, love me or piss off, waving our freak flags a lot more proudly, right on. I’m working on it, intensely. Yahoooooo! And, really, it’s not even that much work.

Anyway, this is Marjorie. Here she is. She makes 90 look like the new 79. Happy Birthday Madam. Again. The actual illustrious date? April 16th.