Category Archives: Aging

Change

“I have accepted fear as part of life—specifically the fear of change…I have gone ahead despite the pounding in the heart that says: turn back…” Erica Jong

Change.  Many of us struggle against it, and, at the very least, devalue it, like the pennies and nickels and dimes that collect in the bottom of our purses, weighing us down. Change, whether gentle or harsh, is uncompromising in its persistence and its accumulation.

Loose change adds up. Minor changes, some of them which occur so gradually we can’t detect them in real time, are not going to remain small forever. The tiniest of cracks hidden behind a wall may grow undetected for months or years before we discover the mushrooms growing in the attic or we step off the last stair into an inch of water pooling on the basement floor.

And also, for women, there is menopause, which I remember my mother calling The Change. Relief or regret, it makes no difference. At the average age of 51, American women stop having menstrual periods and no longer produce eggs (www.mayoclinic.org). The change comes, though at different ages and with varied symptoms. For men, it seems there’s no age-related end to sperm production (though counts do tend to go down), but the prevalent use of Viagra speaks to a change in performance (erectile dysfunction).

My granddaughter’s skin is silky perfection, my daughter’s, still smooth at thirty something. Mine is a map of a lifetime of laughter, heartache, and a wretched lack of self-care. First, a tiny crease transformed into one small wrinkle between my eyes, an exclamation mark above the bridge of my nose. Surprise!

Over the years that small furrow deepened, and numerous others presented themselves, accompanied by an overall loss of tautness and clarity. When the face one sees in the mirror belongs to someone who appears to have lived through a millennium of sleep deprivation, dehydration, and exposure to harsh elements, it’s only natural to be alarmed or saddened. Many of us fear or loath this facet of aging so much that we slather on sun blocks and night creams, either before the lines make their appearance or as soon as we spot them, hoping it’s not too late. If we can afford it, we go to salons for facials, steam baths, Botox, surgery… Some of us ignore the changes in our skin, or better, take a certain pride in them; we’ve earned them!  Regardless of what we do or do not do, the wrinkles come.

Children grow up. Careers change. Our bodies change. Our country changes. The world changes. This is all understandably unsettling.

As for me, I have always been the restless type, one of those odd sorts who has accepted and often sought change in my life, even while at the same time yearning for stability. This very probably has to do with the fact that I experienced a great deal of change as a child, living in different states in different circumstances.

 Don’t get me wrong. I had parents who loved me. They just weren’t together and they weren’t all that traditional, and our family experienced multiple dead ends, detours, and reroutes. I loved Dorothy’s “No place like home,” but as an abstract idea only. Something from a pretty story. By the time I was eight years old, I didn’t know where home was.

Wisconsin, Nevada, Illinois, Minnesota, and back again. Thirty-seven years in California (a record!), and then another move.  Always wondering where to land. And so, as Vonnegut would say, it goes. Wishing it had been different does no good. Wishing I had been different doesn’t either. And now time, the master architect of change, has brought me to my “golden years.” Not for wimps, my dad used to say. Truth there. And he wasn’t. Nor was my mother. And I won’t be either.

That said, there’s no getting out of this thing alive. All the more reason to wake up, spiritually, physically, academically, socially—in whatever way we are stuck downstream of where we want to be. That’s perhaps why I read so much, and travel. And pack up my belongings and move.

It’s not always effective. The change has often been for the worse, at least temporarily. Sometimes short-sighted. Maybe selfish, too. So, as I consider the changes I will willingly make over the next decade(s), and what painful changes may come that I will have to accept, I endeavor to do so consciously self-aware, and mindful of everything and everyone around me. These are to be among the last changes I will know in my lifetime.

Whatever changes come, I pray to accept them with grace and love, and in deep gratitude for the all the people I’ve known: my beautiful family, my dear friends, my students, colleagues, neighbors—the strangers who smile when we pass, or write a story that moves my soul, or who care for a child, an animal, or our natural world—the world entire.

But for now, it’s time to pack the car. I’m off on another road trip. Wishing you the ability to embrace the best of the changes you make or take, and the fortitude to deal with the worst of them. And may love be your unchangeable superpower.

Mahalo!

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My Body

Winefiction 002Last night in bed, I started thinking about my body. About how it aches. About the way it doesn’t move anymore, not in the ways it used to. About the way it gives me very little pleasure anymore. I mean, I still get up every day and put clothes on. I even walk my dogs most days. There’s some pleasure there. My body takes me up and down the street, along the river, and if I so choose, into the woods. The dogs definitely derive pleasure from these walks and I, too, am grateful for them.

I also still very much love hugs. And kisses, especially on the back of my neck.

I love the cool touch of the wind, and the warm caress of the sun.

I love the sound of laughter. And music. And falling water. And birdsong.

I still love the taste of good food and drink, but only late in the day after my tummy settles down from its angry-cramps-in-the-morning routine. Still, I do get to eat and enjoy doing so, which is a big part of the enjoyment of having a body. Oh, and a lovely chilled glass of chardonnay served outside in a garden—that’s pretty blissful.

Field Recordings, Paso Robles, CA

Field Recordings, Paso Robles, CA

It’s not that I am particularly decrepit for my age. I guess it might just be that I haven’t been this age before, and I am realizing how much I took this amazing body for granted for so long.

My skin, for example. I was never much enamored of my skin—too pink, too blotchy, too many freckles—and those moles. I covered my forearms throughout my entire puberty and adolescence, thinking that if anyone knew I had two moles on my left forearm, well, I’d never be loved. But my skin was amazingly sensitive. It buzzed with life and reacted to everything that touched it. Quite spectacular, thinking back.

My joints were supple. I could wrap my legs around my ears!

I ran. I ran for fun. I ran to cleanse my mind and change my emotions.

I was a sensual being. My body, well. All bodies, really, I hope. Electric.

My womb carried two babies, my breasts fed them, and my arms held them. Those were exhausting times, I remember, but oh so incredible. There was no end to the tasks needing to be done and no end to the hugely blossoming love that encompassed every simple movement. Ah, those nights rocking my baby in the dark, singing an old lullaby, afraid to get up and tuck the baby in the crib, afraid to lose the magic

.My body took me on camping trips, road trips, plane trips, and a few trips of another sort—like when I fell down a flight of stairs. What a crash. And what a healing. My body always healed.

My body brought me to my beloved classroom and allowed me to teach for many years. I remember when I could hop up on the counter while reading the scene from The Call of the Wild where the man in the red sweater breaks Buck out of his crate and all of the men in the yard jump up on the fence to watch. I remember replaying that scene in the classroom for years, and then one year, I just couldn’t make the jump. I landed on one of my eighth-grade students.

My body survived numerous surgeries, cancer, and chemotherapy.

My toes have been numb for several years now. Neuropathy from the chemo. My joints ache, especially those on the left side of my body. My skin is wrinkled. My hair is silver. I wear bifocals. I can’t hear out of my right ear. A one-mile walk leaves me exhausted. I find myself longing to go to bed with my heating pad early in the evening, and I basically never really want to get up.

My body likes to rest, and I like to try to forget about it altogether. Meanwhile, my mind considers other things. Like, maybe this is a normal part of aging. A stage of getting ready to let go of this old body and move on. So I pray, and read, and write, hoping to figure out what it is that is happening, and even if it is in fact, a real experience, or maybe it’s just a new and interesting facet of depression.

IMG_1192I look for articles about anything and everything connected with this sense of disconnectedness, wondering if anyone else feels this way, too. And then, today, my friend Stephanie posted an extraordinary article from The Washington Post about a rare illness that makes people think they’re dead. Timing is everything. I mean, it does seem that you attract what you think. Last night I’m thinking about being dead and today I’m reading this article. You can read it, too. It’s quite fascinating:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/zombie-disease-makes-people-think-they-have-died/2015/10/30/ca8ab52c-532f-11e5-933e-7d06c647a395_story.html.  Though it doesn’t describe my experience, in particular, it does contain some familiar aspects of what I’m trying to describe.

I remember, for some reason, right now, something my brother told me after our mom died. He said she came to him and said, “It’s okay, Billy. It’s ok.” That’s all.

I was sort of miffed. Why didn’t she come to me? But I guess she knew Billy would tell me. And maybe that’s all I need to know.

It’s ok.

What do you think?

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Filed under Aging, Depression, Writing