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Archive for the ‘On getting older’ Category

Photo credit: Wiki imagesA long-tailed tropic bird lifts and turns and swoops over my valley, sculpting shapes from the morning breeze while brandishing a glint of the rising sun on white wings.

It’s going to be a hot one today; clear, yet steamy with the infusion of last night’s rain upping the humidity ante considerably — not a bad thing, being good for the skin and all.

And so begins the last day of my decade that starts with a five.

In reading over words others have written on approaching senectitude I find myself nodding in agreement with some, railing against others, and taking some comfort in the idea I’m far from alone in my ponderings and in interesting company.

To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable. ~Oscar Wilde

I’m sixty tomorrow (Did I just write that?), still too young to use the word “spry” when self-identifying, so figure Judith Regan’s line can be useful: The key to successful aging is to pay as little attention to it as possible.

I can do that. Most of the time.

Anniversaries of my birth, however, have long been cause for itchy, scratchy contemplation, and the round numbers ever more so.

There is still no cure for the common birthday.
~John Glenn

As I write, the kids are off with Gay plotting something for the occasion, their enthusiasm bubbling over, excitement erupting in giggles from Cj and admonishments from Sam to keep the bubbles as thoughts so as not to spoil surprises.

Cute and wonderful as it is, the numbers stick in my throat as Cj’s six years get multiplied by ten in my mirror and I check out my reflection for its giggle factor. Single-parenting at 60 was not in the draft of any plan I recall making, but for the life of me I can’t imagine what I’d be doing now if I didn’t have these two marvels keeping my giggle factory up and running.

It’s funny how life loops around, where a wonky trajectory leads, and how stacking decades fashions unexpected architecture that manages to weather storms, deflect shit asteroids and remain standing even with foundations set in jello.

When I indulge myself and send up birthday wish-shaped smoke signals they look like more conventional structures with security struts, corridors that lead somewhere predictable, doors that open and stay that way, closed doors with working locks, storerooms stocked with other than anxiety. But after 59 years of sending such into the cosmos I’m not expecting much more than an ash blowback.

The older I grow the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.
~H.L. Mencken

Have I lived 59 years and 364 days unwisely? I can hear the “You betcha! You’ve done some really stupid shit!” from here, yet regrets, I have a few, but, then again, too few to mention. Rather a waste of time and energy at this point in the journey.

When looking at it all backwards it’s hard to feel remorse when what could be considered mistakes in judgement manifested in some wonderful ways. None of my children are acts of contrition and some of the dumbest things I’ve done have wrangled themselves into experiences it would not have been good to miss.

The first forty years of life give us the text; the next thirty supply the commentary on it.
~Arthur Schopenhauer

Seems turning toward 60 I’m still gathering material … commentary to follow if there’s ever the time … and although it’s with neither enthusiasm nor delight I hit this wall — more trepidation and its accompanying angst — I have always been a fan of irony.

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Wiki Image

A bit of backseat kid talk overheard by Gay as she drove them home from school the other day:

Cj: Do you know about phones with circles? There are places for your finger, and you spin the circle around.

Sam: Yeah. Those are from the olden days.

Cj: How did they work?

Sam: I have no idea …

Seems time has been passing.

While I’ve been spending recent years surrounded by kids and kidults, water has been flowing rapidly under my bridge and the damned dam designed to deny the dribbling drip of days into decades has apparently sprung a leak and allowed splashes of senescence to wear the bloody thing away.

In other words, it’s now dawning on me that I’m old. Good timing, I suppose, since I have a birthday looming, but I could do without all the reminders.

Rotary phones, TVs that required a trip across the room to turn on and off, handwritten letters, Thomas Guides in spiral-bound form are all items that may now require explanation and illicit comments about the “olden days” when dinosaurs roamed the earth and the only way to see a photo without a trip to a lab and a wait of a week was with a Polaroid.

Living where I do I am limited to how much of the modern world I’ve actually seen and still find myself wondering “What the heck does that doohicky do?” when confronted by many items others take for granted already.

Yes, the speaking GPS in cars puts me in mind of HAL … we don’t have those here, as that would just be silly on an island 17 miles long and 4 miles wide … and I’ve not yet come around to loading some of the apps available for my iPad that might make life easier, but can’t be bothered to learn how to use.

I can be comforted by how much hasn’t seen some of the predicted changes we’d been led to believe would leave us in the dust. Since flying cars, robot maids, beds that pop you up like toast and other Jetsons / Carousel of Progress stuff haven’t been incorporated into daily life, we aging Boomers do manage to get along.

Although Sam and Cj may find it had to believe, airplanes, vacuum cleaners and televisions are all pretty much what they were when I was a kid. Blenders still blend the way they did, dentists continue to pull teeth out with forceps, babies come out of mommy’s tummies, cars move along on tires, and it still takes almost two days to get from LAX to Seychelles.

Heck! If I somehow instantly transported from my teen years to present day even much of my wardrobe would look like the latest thing …

Can we tell I still have more than a month before my calendar clicks over to a new decade? Yes … we can.

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Hanging in a place of prominence in every house I’ve lived in for the past 30-something years is a photo of Roy Rogers in his prime upon which is the legend:

Stinkpot,
You old horse.
Roy

Not a personally autographed souvenir from a cowboy hero, but rather a snarky Christmas gift emblazoned with amusing family references by my brother in a quintessentially Hanks way I’ve treasured ever since the morning I unwrapped the thing and got a good laugh.

It was my father who dubbed me both “Stinkpot” and “Old Horse” … and the two often went together … when I was a little kid and since neither moniker was meant to sting I’ve no resentments or emotional scars, just the appreciation for humor that runs in my blood.

Why am I sharing this today? Well … I was pecking around for a post title, came up with this one and thought an explanation might be a good lead when addressing the issues of aging women. (So I’m considering this contribution a twofer … )

It’s this from the Washington Post written by Naomi Wolf, a writer whose work I’ve followed and appreciated for yonks and whose thoughts on women resonate.

Her topic in the Post is “The Aging Myth”, and I’m liking what I read.

I had thought that getting older would be harder. The common cultural script tells us that women lose value as they age and that men will trade in their counterparts for younger versions (because, of course, that would be trading up). Middle-aged women are supposed to face the loss of their youthful selves with grief and anguish.

I look around at the magnetic and dynamic women my own age, I look at my own life, and instead that script seems more like a convenient fiction — designed, as so many aspects of “the beauty myth” are, to make women feel less powerful; in this case, just when their power, magnetism and sexuality are at their height.

I’m not claiming that “at their height” thing personally, and although there are aspects of aging I’m not exactly chuffed with I’m far from anguished, as are the women I know.

Interestingly, Wolf compares today’s messages with those cranked out by ad agencies, marketing folks and others with a vested interested in fostering self-image damage of the past and finds the present-day situation even worse for women:

When my book was published in 1991, I noted that a burgeoning epidemic of eating disorders was engulfing what should have been the feistiest, most confident generation of women ever. The field of cosmetic surgery, especially breast implant procedures, was booming. Pornography was chipping away at young women’s sexual self-esteem just as insult-ridden advertisements for anti-aging creams were shaping the way women thought about the experience of getting older. The way we looked determined our value to society.

Since then, many of the issues I warned about have, indeed, gotten worse. The body size of fashion models and starlets has dropped still further; fashion ads showcase women who look as if they should be hospitalized. The technologies of cosmetic surgery have become so commonplace that there are communities in which women with unreconstructed faces are seen as bucking the norm. Breast surgery is almost universal in pornography, and pornography is almost universal in the sexual coming-of-age of both young women and young men; those images now have greater impact than they did when I wrote the book.

The good news, however, is that we’re not buyin’ it, or at least not in the wholesale ways we once went like sheep to the slaughter. She calls it a “substantial subset” and sites a study that reports about 30% as “change agents” … women “who are defining beauty for themselves”.

How this translates to both men and young women is a question, but I have to wonder if it’s one we need bother asking.

If I look like a crone to a twenty-something chickie-pooh should I feel somehow less-than? In actuality, I’m more-than and if she chooses not to notice the accumulation of wisdom and wit she still might catch the reflection that is herself in time.

If my age makes me invisible to a man whose vision is limited to the firm and perky is there some mandate stating I must react with self-flagellation with a sack of insecurities and regrets over what I no longer have at my disposal?

There is only one alternative to aging and that involves a deep hole and a box, so beating myself up over the rings of my tree … even if they add a bit of girth … seems a waste of time and an endeavor meant only to add to frown lines.

Ms. Wolf goes into some detail on the advantages of aging, and I don’t disagree:

On the street, young women are told: Give me some. Older women hear: I love your eyes. That is not a bad trade.

Since I hear that quite often, I’ll settle for being how old I am … until I’m older.

Here’s lookin’ at you, Kid …

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Me at 10, but where's the rest?

There’s no doubt my parents would have been considered criminally kinky had they made a ritual of taking naked photos of me … full fontal and backal … every year of my childhood and beyond, but how I would like to have those now.

Sure, in those days film had to go elsewhere for development and parents toting rolls to Fotomat could have been accused of trafficking in kiddie porn. Plus it was just not done, at least not by anyone in my world, so evidence of my development is limited to either from-the-neck up or fully clothed and often both. Yes, the clothing itself is part of the story … those fashion victim shots that provide much amusement to generations following, right up to the time platform shoes and low-ride jeans came back on the scene, and I am glad I didn’t grow up in a country where the never-changing burqa look wipes out even that progression … but no matter how hard I try I cannot manage to conjure any image of what my body was doing underneath the clothing.

The older I get the more I long to see myself in earlier forms. I know I began the morph into womanhood sometime around the age of twelve, but have little recollection of how that happened, how long it took or what shifted where when. I longed for boobs, but the process of filling from A to D cup and the look and feel of that blooming is lost to me.

I suppose I could have begun an anthology at some point myself, but it would not have occurred to me at any early age to start taking naked shots of me. No, once that naked baby phase is over, unclothed on film only happens in the movies. (One advantage of going into porn, I suppose, but that never occurred to me, either.)

I’m fairly sure my body was lovely in all conventional senses once I hit the mid- teen years, although not what I wanted. I was curvy with big boobs and hips, long legged, tall and flexible, and very un-Twig-like, a fashion trend at the time I could not pull off. What I wouldn’t give now to get a good look at just how good looking I actually was!

A shot of me at 17 would show me in the full glory of my first pregnancy, and although I do remember how my belly looked from the vantage point of looking down upon it, I can’t see anything of myself below my equator and I sure would like to ponder my whole baby-making self.

In my twenties I had all those non-moms to compare myself to, so focused on things like stretch marks and breasts that had gone a bit non-perky, so there was no way I’d have posed for photos of that body. What a shame I was ashamed.

I didn’t begin to find comfort in my own skin until sometime in my 30s and feel I may have looked my best at about 40, although thats a tough call with no evidence. I know I felt good and spent a lot of time unclothed, but that had something to do with that tropical island thing and the fact that Mark and I lived for a while on an almost deserted beach. There are a couple of photos of me from that time, and I’m grateful for those as a study of a firm, smooth body I under-appreciated even then. (Less grateful for the ones taken more recently when Ernesto was here, but I suspect if I live long enough even those will prove interesting and create some longing for the me I am now.)

I can’t help but wonder why it is we ignore and hide the progression of ourselves and our children. While documenting so much of growth and development we leave out something as important as how our bodies change to the point of thinking there is something wrong with capturing images along the way. We mark height, keep track of weights, save every lost tooth, yet allow the drama of our changing form to dissolve into vague notions our aging selves can not grasp.

Think of how helpful it might be if we could show our budding daughters what we looked like as we navigated the rough seas of puberty, jumping ahead a page or two to let them know how it turns out without them having to assume they’ll assume our proportions, whatever those may be, at the time they are holding hopes of not turning into us. See? We were young once, too!

I’m not talking about a coffee table album here, but were I to have a collection of nude photos of myself through the years secreted away somewhere, I would pull it out from time to time and allow myself to remember me and celebrate what I was too embarrassed to flaunt and too shy to notice before fleet of form turned into a fleeting glimpse I can’t quite catch.

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Still pondering that David Eagleman article I wrote about the other day on time, and will eventually get to the bit on drummers I found interesting, but tonight it’s a different angle that has me twisting in the wind when I should be sleeping.

That bit about time going faster when it’s the familiar around us makes sense in ways I’m feeling these days. Maybe it’s the fact I have a birthday in a couple of months. Perhaps it’s the time I spend with Sam and Cj. Who knows? But what it’s boiling down to is a linking of age and time and how that makes it go so bloody fast.

Does it not make sense that time is relative, and not only to the spinning planet and ancient universe, but also to each individual? Sure, in geological terms a human life is an eye blink, as how could any of us even begin to comprehend the eons needed to carve a Grand Canyon or push India up against the Himalayas? We barely have the patience to wait to see how our own little dramas play out, so how the hell can we incorporate the truly slow grind or non-linear time that has the grind happening ahead as well as behind us?

I’m beginning to see life as through a telescope. When we’re young, we put the “wrong” end to our eye so everything seems so far away, beyond the chance of touch and so densely crammed into the picture that details are difficult to make out. As we age, it’s the other lens we gaze into, the one that brings things closer, and as we become progressively more familiar with what we behold, we begin to range wider for new sights to examine.

Time, it seems, telescopes as well. At ten, one year is a tenth of life. By 50, that percentage is so greatly reduced that there’s no wonder one Christmas seems to follow another with barely enough time to put a shopping list together in between.

At twenty we’re rushing toward life, anxious to get started on whatever path our feet might find. At sixty we’re wishing we hadn’t run those gamuts so quickly and have grown too aware of the speed the ground is passing under our feet.

Can’t we all … all of us of a certain age … recall the huge abyss that lay between eleven and twenty-one while wondering where the hell decade between thirty and forty got to? For sure Mick Jagger sings “Time Is On Our Side” with a far different take on the lyrics now, and I won’t even mention how “When I’m Sixty-Four” feels as that decade looms. (That was, after all, “many years from now … “)

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
~William Shakespeare

And tomorrow comes just that much faster the more you’ve had …

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If you’ll give me a minute or two, I’m about to go off on yet another tangent about time, all in my good time, of course.

The fact that my time is very likely different from your time is the grabber here, and not just different now, but variable depending on your circumstances and mine.

WTF is this woman on about now? (Yes, I can hear you … )

It’s this from the New Yorker that gave me pause … and led my paws to the keyboard of my poor, dying Mac … on time spent and discussed with David Eagleman, one of the more interesting people around these days, a thirty-nine-year-old assistant professor of neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

He is a man obsessed by time. As the head of a lab at Baylor, Eagleman has spent the past decade tracing the neural and psychological circuitry of the brain’s biological clocks. He has had the good fortune to arrive in his field at the same time as fMRI scanners, which allow neuroscientists to observe the brain at work, in the act of thinking. But his best results have often come through more inventive means: video games, optical illusions, physical challenges. Eagleman has a talent for testing the untestable, for taking seemingly sophomoric notions and using them to nail down the slippery stuff of consciousness. “There are an infinite number of boring things to do in science,” he told me. “But we live these short life spans. Why not do the thing that’s the coolest thing in the world to do?”

As head of a department that has most showing up wearing watches that haven’t worked for ages, Eagleman has a take on time I’d like to wrap my head around, but the second I feel I’m grasping an idea both the thought and the second are beyond me. The concept, for example, that time is a dimension, or that which asks, ” … how much of what we perceive exists outside of us and how much is a product of our minds?”

According to the guy at Baylor “brain time” … that’s our reality, not microseconds or millennia, since we don’t actually get either of those at any level that’s helpful … is subjective:

“Try this exercise,” he suggests in a recent essay. “Put this book down and go look in a mirror. Now move your eyes back and forth, so that you’re looking at your left eye, then at your right eye, then at your left eye again. When your eyes shift from one position to the other, they take time to move and land on the other location. But here’s the kicker: you never see your eyes move.” There’s no evidence of any gaps in your perception—no darkened stretches like bits of blank film—yet much of what you see has been edited out. Your brain has taken a complicated scene of eyes darting back and forth and recut it as a simple one: your eyes stare straight ahead. Where did the missing moments go?

Rather like the fact that one’s nose is always in the vision path but edited out of perceptions, it is true that we miss an awful lot of what is right in front of us. There are, of course, reasons our brains leave out many salient details, but it’s important we realize this happens, and happens all the time.

All the time being non-constant, as it is, some of the time shifts things around a good deal … like when you’re scared shitless and time slows in that aggravating way that allows perception of every little article of terror and laminates all.

I can still distinctly recall every detail of a car accident I was in when I was 14 … the images out the window as single frames of spinning world, the sound of metal under force, the smell of black rubber smoking across tarmac, the realization that my head was about to hit safety glass and the hope that I wouldn’t end up a bloody mess and that my father wouldn’t kill me for being in a situation I was so not supposed to have set myself up for. The whole experience took less than a few seconds, but I could easily manage a couple of pages of description that would feel about the same duration if read … slowly.

Eagleman studies this.

In one story, a man is thrown off his motorcycle after colliding with a car. As he’s sliding across the road, perhaps to his death, he hears his helmet bouncing against the asphalt. The sound has a catchy rhythm, he thinks, and he finds himself composing a little ditty to it in his head.

“Time is this rubbery thing,” Eagleman said. “It stretches out when you really turn your brain resources on, and when you say, ‘Oh, I got this, everything is as expected,’ it shrinks up.”

Being a wimp when it comes to things like jumping off high places, this goes far to explain what it is about that sort of nutso stuff appeals. Although the idea of having the sensations seem to last longer is nothing I’d vote for, I can almost understand why others would like that.

One of the seats of emotion and memory in the brain is the amygdala, he explained. When something threatens your life, this area seems to kick into overdrive, recording every last detail of the experience. The more detailed the memory, the longer the moment seems to last. “This explains why we think that time speeds up when we grow older,” Eagleman said—why childhood summers seem to go on forever, while old age slips by while we’re dozing. The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass.

There is more to this, but I seem to have run out of time. I may need to find something to scare me to slow things down a bit, but for now I’ll near the edge by trying to post this blog as my Mac heats up and meltdown threatens.

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In a swimsuit much like Mother's

There was a period of time when, as a child, I was pretty sure that Liz Taylor was my mother. No, not that I was her love child being raised in another family, but that she and my mother were one and the same.

National Velvet convinced me my mom could ride horses and should, therefore, buy me one. For reasons I completely get now, that didn’t go over so well.

Both born in 1932, my mom and Liz led somewhat parallel lives in that married-a-whole-buch-of-times-with-loads-of-drama sort of way, so even when I grew old enough to read headlines it would occasionally be confusing.

They also looked very much alike … two brunette, busty beauties skilled in grand entrances that drew the eye of every man in the room.

I distinctly recall walking down Market Street in San Francisco shortly after Butterfield 8 opened and seeing Ms. Taylor’s face looming large from posters outside cinemas and thinking, “That could be Mom.”

Of course, my mother was not a movie star, simply a suburban housewife spending her time giving me Toni home perms and sewing up pjs and playsuits for me and my brothers, but that didn’t seem … to me … to impact negatively on her glamour one bit. I can still conjure an image of her strolling into the Steinhart Aquarium in Golden Gate Park in a skin-tight black and white sheath dress, high heels and a HUGE hat as my brother and I checked out the crocodiles and all the men in the place checked out my mom.

I wasn’t allowed to see many of the films Liz starred in until I was old enough to have made the jump necessary to know the difference between the woman who’d married Richard Burton and the one who’d divorced my dad, so it took a while to catch up to the cultural assessment that had one a world famous celeb and the other just my mother, but the blend continued nonetheless.

Now Elizabeth Taylor is dead and my mom is not well. Both lived. Both aged. Both did life in the way that life must be done.

I love you, Mom, and, Liz … I thank you for sharing yourself and adding to my childhood confusion.

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