contemplations on aging

Spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence.
Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance.
Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence.
Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.” 
― Yoko Ono

I never thought much about aging until my 49th birthday two days ago.  I suddenly felt like I got hit by a Mack truck.   One day my mother will die.  One day I will die.   What will my kids do?  What do I do if my mother becomes incapacitated?   If I do not find companionship, I need to make a plan so that if something happens to me, someone would find me before I turn to dust in my own home.  (Hey, it happens).     The big questions about death of course, are perhaps unanswerable–where do we go when we die?  (I think we go to someplace good, with so much love that it is almost too much). Do we get to come back?  (Maybe, if we want).

The aging, though–that comes with its own set of adventures.   You’re exercising as you always do.  Suddenly, some ankle bone you’ve never heard of before starts mysteriously hurting.   You bend over to pick up something and suddenly you can’t get back up.  Knees go out.   It hits you like a ton of bricks you aren’t 29 any longer.

Some of us go through a mourning period.  Perhaps this is what the midlife crisis we all joke about is.   We buy things thinking it will make us more cool, more relevant.  Less old.  Kids start asking us what life was like in the 80’s.    Maybe, for some of us, enjoying the companionship that mellows after years of being together.  Maybe some fears about your spouse going before you do.

Maybe you’ve got your ducks in a row now.  Maybe, you no longer care what people think of you.  Maybe like the woman in the poem, you now wear purple and you spend your pension on brandy and the dime slots in the casino.   Maybe you’re no longer insecure.

I’ll leave you with this poem and perhaps now you’ve found your niche, maybe you’ve found your home or maybe you never needed to leave it.   Don’t let your mind age.  Walk often, even run.   Resist the marching onward of time as best you can.  Love yourself.

“Prayer of an Anonymous Abbess:

Lord, thou knowest better than myself that I am growing older and will soon be old. Keep me from becoming too talkative, and especially from the unfortunate habit of thinking that I must say something on every subject and at every opportunity.

Release me from the idea that I must straighten out other peoples’ affairs. With my immense treasure of experience and wisdom, it seems a pity not to let everybody partake of it. But thou knowest, Lord, that in the end I will need a few friends.

Keep me from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point.

Grant me the patience to listen to the complaints of others; help me to endure them with charity. But seal my lips on my own aches and pains — they increase with the increasing years and my inclination to recount them is also increasing.

I will not ask thee for improved memory, only for a little more humility and less self-assurance when my own memory doesn’t agree with that of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be wrong.

Keep me reasonably gentle. I do not have the ambition to become a saint — it is so hard to live with some of them — but a harsh old person is one of the devil’s masterpieces.

Make me sympathetic without being sentimental, helpful but not bossy. Let me discover merits where I had not expected them, and talents in people whom I had not thought to possess any. And, Lord, give me the grace to tell them so.

Amen” 
― Margot Benary-Isbert

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Needing a break

I spent the evening just breathing while sitting on my bed in the camper. I find the smallness of the camper to be soothing like that machine Temple Grandin used to squeeze her body. I don’t have that machine but the embryonic roundness of my aluminum cocoon is what I curl up in when the world is too much with me.

The world is too much with me these days. The news happens so fast and its always negative. I shut it off and I can’t keep up anyway. Theres a feeling of desperation in the air I can’t describe; a bitter metallic taste of fear and anger and frustration. I become embroiled by it if I succumb to anger and fear. I feel like we are living Yeats’s The Second Coming.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

I need quiet. I crave quiet. I’m tired of the anger and divisiveness and cacophony of voices all shouting at each other drowning out reason.

People fighting for their party like it’s a life and death thing. People disowning family over this. People hurting others because they believe what they are told about teachers and immigrants and protesters and Republicans and Democrats. I fear there is nothing to be saved and that we are lost as a nation. The divide between rich and poor is a chasm. We work more and earn less. Every day a new scandal and new denials and more anger and injustice ugh!! Today our president announced that protesting which is a 1st Amendment right should be illegal. This isn’t really a surprise, because Republicans have been trying to get rid of protesting by passing laws to curtail it for the last year-and-a-half. This in a country that used to be about freedom and used to stand up against the Putins and Dutertes of the world. No, now we admire dictators. It is a brave new world in which we hate diplomacy and pull out of human rights councils. It is a brave new world in which we deride our allies and embrace despots as friends. Upside down. Alice in the rabbit hole. I wonder when the madness ends. My life is looped into the life of the nation. I love my country and I’m terrified at what I see. The opposite of freedom is happening . Praise of Putin and autocrats by Trump and his followers even before he was in the White House let alone now is even scaring those conservatives left who are actually conservative.

I sit and breathe. Politics affects everything now. Its affecting friendships and relationships. Its personal. It didn’t used to be this way. You could live separately from the goings on in Washington and do all right. Not anymore. Its been a slow creeping infection this division and hate.

Its killing America. Its killing freedom and people will die because of this disease of nationalism and populism.

I fear for my country.

A writer or a dreamer?

I never seem to write enough or as beautifully as I would like to. I am listening to the sounds of the night while a soft breeze creeps in through my window. A lone cicada scrapes away as if hoping for a reply. I have Kate Rusby playing in the background; her album Ghost mirrors what I feel soul-wise and I feel stranded here and the world is strange to me as I carve out a life in this familiar yet unfamiliar place that is my home. The largest freshwater lake in the world is my heart, my mother, my world. It is she I have returned home to, her song I’ve heard in my heart.

Endlessly, like the sea she stretches onwards meeting the sky at the far eastern horizon in a blue line. Like the sea she has her moods and in her worst moods she has brought mighty ships down to her deepst depths. This lake that doesn’t give up her dead due to the extreme cold temperatures is unpredictable and I am hopelessly in love with her and have been since I was a child.

I wonder what life i am making for myself. It is easy to give myself over to my gypsy soul and be flamboyant and read tarot cards in public and do whatever jobs come up. I wonder vaguely if this is responsible –adult–and then I quail inside. My inner child rebels. She has had quite enough of being responsible and adulting as they call it now–she wants to play and blow soap bubbles with their rainbows undulating and shining in wet stripes as they are formed out of the breath of my lungs in that curious plastic loop and set free. It is a mini act of Creation, an imitation of the sacred act.

It is starting not to matter if I ever have a career. I have failed most miserably in this endeavor. I tried to have one and it was cut short by pay cuts and circumstance and maybe fate. I have never recovered it despite hundreds of resumes sent out. The collective no that is the silence of prospective employers never responding to my applications resounds.

And so I write. I write my story day by day for me, to prove I existed, I exist, I live, to spite mortality perhaps. My life is a homage to the man I loved and it has not been wasted. I have traveled the world. I have raised two beautiful sons. I am mother, sister, aunt. I am no ones lover, but perhaps that has been by unconscious choice since Jerry died; though we were never married, never acknowledged publicly, there we lived in a bubble for a moment where we found each other, understanding and kinship. Is it less for never having been a public thing or embraced in a togetherness all could see?

To me it is not less. I do not grieve less than the widow of 47 years. I am often breathless by the pain of it at odd moments, just when I feel I am healed at last, I’m over it. You never get over it. Ever. It just becomes bearable until it is not. Then you cry and feel and crumple and begin again tomorrow.

I wonder if I will ever love like that again, have a soulmate like that again. A kindred spirit. I soldier on. I open myself to meet others. It curiously doesn’t happen, the meeting new people along with possible bonding. Maybe I am so powerful I am stopping a new love from happening because I am not over this. Maybe I am not desirable. Maybe I’ve had the only love I will ever have.

These thoughts swirl around in my head as I go on with my life and improve my camper and myself. I wander over the lake shore daily, no longer questioning what is on the other side. Sometimes I feel as if I am staring across mortality as if my life stretches interminably ahead, and I cannot see what will come, and I am overwhelmed by having to live so long . It seems empty to live without someone who loves me back I can look after.

I shake myself out of this blue state. I read Joyce Carol Oates’ memoir A Widow’s Story and I relate. And then I remember I am less than a widow. I loved a man who never married me or dated me or anything. I loved a man who spent hours picking my brain and talking with me and confiding in me, who made me laugh and who enjoyed giving me things to read and watch and listen to. I loved a man who dated others while we wrote back and forth over the years, while I dated and married another. I loved a man who is now dead, having never married who died alone in bed, and only his books, a Masters thesis, my memories and a headstone are testament to his existence. And one photograph.

I am less than a widow. My love was invisible. Perhaps not to him, but to the world. What am I who feels a widows pain but am not a widow? I feel somehow wrong as if my love was wrong, as if it belongs nowhere, as if it should not exist.

Yet I loved and still do. I wish to love again and I fear I will not and I fear I will not be loved. I am most alone but content in that slowness, curiously enough. I live day by day awkwardly, fumbling, in my hometown that is unfamiliar and familiar.

From house to car to camper–a series: What we can do without would surprise you

thoreau

When I wrote my initial blog entry “From House to Car in 2.6 Seconds,” I was not prepared for the interest this entry would generate. I am giving a bit of an introduction to the change of mindset that a move from consumerism to minimalism requires because 1) my mind is still getting used to the idea of downsizing, 2) I suspect many of you may not have known the option to live “tiny” existed. Or that it was feasible. Or that it could even be cool. What you may not realize, as I have not, is that you don’t really have to “go without”” in order to have a great quality of life. What does happen to your mind though, is that it gets “retrained” to think about what is truly necessary versus what we think of as “necessary.” For instance:

  1. I got rid of a bunch of clothes today because they won’t all fit in the small closet in my camper. I didn’t wear these clothes for a long time. I had no earthly use for them. I still had plenty to wear after getting rid of four big boxes and now those four big boxes are going to do other people good. Pros: I have less to wash, thus my laundromat loads will be cheaper. I kept what I REALLY liked.
  2. I don’t need a TV. I have Netflix on my 4 year old iPhone.
  3. I don’t need a phone contract. I got prepaid through Cricket for 30.00 a month with unlimited talk and text and 2G of data. What did I do with Facebook and Messenger? I deleted them off my phone because I have them on my iPhone, which I use for watching Netflix, email and Facebook. (I don’t use the iPhone as a phone anymore and I have never felt the need to upgrade to a thousand dollar iPhone X).
  4. I don’t need cable, or satellite. That saves me probably about 1200 a year.
  5. I don’t need WiFi. I can use WiFi for free at McDonald’s, Arby’s, Applebee’s, or just about any other public place including the public library. If I really want WiFi, especially in the winter when I might not want to go out in the cold I can add a prepaid hotspot to my phone to use for about 30 bucks a month instead of the traditional 75 and 80 dollars a month plus fees through other companies.
  6. I don’t even need to use electricity off the grid. I can, after a time, if I want, invest in solar panels for the top of my camper, and set it up to generate my own electricity for free.
  7. I don’t need the laundromat. I can, once I get on my feet a little better, get a portable washing machine that is compact, and drains in my camper sink and save myself the laundromat money. I can hang my clothes out to dry year round.
  8. I don’t need a bunch of food in my pantry or refrigerator. I can stock fresh meat and cheese and refrigerated goods a week at a time, and eat more fresh fruit and vegetables that don’t require refrigeration. I can stock dry goods like rice, flour, sugar and the like and make better meals instead of processed boxed meals. I have a CrockPot I can use. I can preserve food without refrigeration as well (canning, fruit jam, jelly, syrup, dehydration, etc). If I don’t have a ton of food to eat I won’t eat as much, and that’s just better all around. Better quality food and less of the junk.
  9. Don’t need to use a lot of propane. I used to spend hundreds filling the propane tank when I lived in the West. In a camper the propane tanks are small, and since I have electricity in the camper, it is not necessary for me to run the propane furnace. So it is a backup should it be extraordinarily cold. I can use an electric heater, and save the propane for cooking. The camper is such a small space it won’t take much to heat it, and I am taking the precaution of extra insulation, laying down rugs on the floor, covering the windows in the winter and laying black plastic on the roof to attract the sun in the winter.
  10. I don’t need to use full size shampoos, conditioners, and soaps. I started buying travel sizes for lotions, and shampoo bars instead of bottles. Shampoo bars are better for the environment as there is nothing to throw away. Ivory soap is biodegradable, and stackable! I threw out a bunch of products I haven’t even been using.

The time we really spend in our homes is minimal when you think about it. You are at work about a third of the time you are awake or more. When you are not at work, you are out with your kids, or out at the park, if the weather is nice, or you go out with friends. The time we spend at home tends to be in the evenings, before we go to sleep, and early morning before we go to work. Weekends we may spend all day at home, but you can see we don’t spend a lot of time in the house. Living in a camper due to the small space almost pushes me outside to tell the truth. It will be cozy when the weather is inclement, but I’ll be outside a lot of the time. Yet, the camper is large enough for company should someone visit me and need a bed. There’s an extra bed on the other end that folds up into a breakfast nook with a table. Neat, huh?

Granted, living tiny isn’t for everybody. Some just like their houses, and that’s quite all right. Living tiny appeals to me because I am so aware of how much time gets sapped away on Facebook, TV, video games, and working, and I find myself listening to other people who wish they had time to go to the beach, or time to read a book, or spend with someone they love. The start of living tiny for me is getting back to basics, and spending less time on technology (not giving it up altogether), and finding that I have time now that I am not distracted by TV or the need to be “entertained,” to read a book, or to write in my blog. Work is necessary, in order to live, but work will not define my life. I am doing what I love and I realize that, by writing here, and writing about rats, and I’ve never realized really that writing is what I love to do until I lost everything that was distracting me from seeing what I really love. Who I really love.

I feel like my imagination and my mind are waking up after a long sleep. I could have a garden in large pots. (I can’t dig up my lot). I could have a pallet garden. I can hang wind chimes. I can paint a scene on my camper…I can do some seriously cool interior design in my vintage camper--my mind is working out possibilities.

Why do we think we need to do what is expected of us? Go to school, graduate, go to college, get married, buy a house, pop out 2.2 kids, get old, retire, THEN go RVing? We think if we fail to achieve this illusory American dream we are somehow failures. I know I went through that for a long time as my finances didn’t seem to pick up at all and I felt I was underemployed in comparison to how highly educated I am. What if we are trained to believe if we don’t follow that line, don’t achieve what we are “supposed” to==what if we are TRAINED to believe we are failures?

Oh my darlings. You are not failures if you don’t have the house with the white picket fence and retirement enough to go to Florida and live in a condo. Don’t fail to live. Reducing my circumstances (which let us not forget I was FORCED into), has slowly started to mean a better quality of life, which seems counter-intuitive in a way. Money really doesn’t buy you happiness. Quality of life is what brings you happiness and you do NOT have to be rich to live well.. Trust me. It’s a myth. The money you can save by simplifying your life…well, already it’s astounding to me. Doesn’t take a lot to live well.

It is a myth we will bust together if you want to come with me and follow my adventures. I plan to write day by day the struggles, the problems I encounter, and the innovative ways I find to solve them. I will share my joys, what I learn in terms of big ideas and profound thoughts, and what I learn to make life easier in a tiny vintage house. Who am I? I’m just a teacher without a classroom, because finding a job that pays well has really been difficult–I’m just an English teaching, Emerson and Thoreau spouting woman who loves nature, reading books, writing journals and blogs, loves art, swimming in Lake Superior, and clearing away the clutter to find out who I really am. Who are you?

emerson