Living Until the Curtain Falls

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Newly retired and eager to prove that my life was still going to be useful and exciting, several years ago I set up my blog and named it “The Golden Years Revisited.” From the name it was obvious to me that I believed most of the myths about retirement and growing older.  In a youth-obsessed society with an evangelical belief in the powers of medicine and technology to delay or erase the natural progression of life, the images surrounding aging and being  “old” are pretty negative.  The most damaging message is that the right attitude (i.e., thinking young and following the example of those few exceptional seniors who never seem to get old) will delay aging, but once the battle is lost, you are irrelevant and useless, often even to people who love you, but definitely to society as a whole.

As an avid reader, I frequent our town library on a regular basis, and suffer anxiety whenever my unread book stack is down to one.  I always browse through the new acquisition section that is divided between fiction and non-fiction.  For most of my life, my choices were firmly in the fiction (escape) section.  Good escape fiction, of course, and hopefully thoughtful and pertinent to my own life, but fiction nonetheless.  I worked full time, was deeply immersed in the intense world of raising children and then helping them at a distance through the early years of adulthood.  I survived breast cancer and the deaths of both my parents.  I had all the non-fiction that I could handle.

Then I finally arrived at that golden shore of retirement.  I could read as much good fiction as I got my hands on and think of myself first in most situations.  I could be that woman who wears purple with a red hat and doesn’t care what people think.  Not that I was unaware of the realities of aging, but I come from a long line of strong and healthy women and I was sure it would be smooth sailing.  Eventually, of course, I would arrive in that amorphous stage of life when I would actually be OLD.  And that would be it, so to speak, even if I was still physically alive.

Something mysterious happened to my reading preferences.  I gravitated toward the non-fiction section.  I became obsessed with biographical and autobiographical stories.  I read books on politics that I would previously have dropped like a hot potato. I wanted more than ever to understand the world I live in and specifically the roots and consequences of the choices we make as individuals and a society.  Naturally the subject of aging was of paramount interest.  I know that I will never be president or live a fascinating life that someone will want to read about long after I am gone.  But I would get (and have finally gotten, I guess) to that place called Old.

I previously read “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande and am currently reading “Elderhood” by Louise Aronson.  They are both physicians who question the wisdom and approach of the medical establishment when working with older people and confronting death (at any age).  “Elderhood,” in particular has given me a veritable banquet of things to consider and ways to formulate my choices related to the medical establishment in the years to come.

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In September this year I will reach 75 years of age.  I do not want to buy into the myth that as long as I eat right, exercise, and do mental puzzles (though they are important), dye my hair or start wearing makeup to cover the wrinkles (not so important), I won’t actually die someday.  I want to celebrate this time in my life, not by trying to be one of those exceptional older people who run marathons (let’s face it, I never liked to run, not even when I was 20) but by finally learning to love myself and the place where each day takes me – closer to the end, yes, but anticipating one heck of a curtain call!

 

©Martha Hurwitz, 1/6/20

Temporal

Road Map

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Real Wrinkles

First, of course, there are the real ones.  Wrinkles on my face, wrinkles on my elbows, wrinkly skin on the backs of my hands, and wrinkles in numerous other bodily areas that I am too polite and lady-like to discuss in detail.  (You may discover this to be a blatant lie if you are kind enough to read further, so fair warning….)

dog-1721499_640.jpgPerhaps about 20 years ago, I naively thought that getting wrinkles on my face would mean crows feet around my eyes and maybe a few tiny lines here and there that would lend a certain dignity to my looks and convince people to treat me as a revered elder with  lots of sage advice to share.

I have always felt a great deal of pride (okay, a bit of snarky smugness) in not being overly concerned about looks, fashion, styles, driving an impressive automobile, or belonging to a prestigious country club.  So I was a bit surprised to find that looking into the mirror now requires me to engage in a pep talk to myself about how “wrinkles mean you laughed” and all that other touchy-feely, hippie philosophy that I used to subscribe to without reservation (or real-life experience).

But many wrinkles that aren’t physical arise during these golden years.

The Naming Wrinkle

What do I call myself?  What adjectives placed before “woman” characterize me now?  Old?  Sorry, don’t like that one.  Older? Not much of an improvement, and kind of vague.  Older than whom or what?  Senior?  That’s a little better, but sounds as if I’m about to graduate, and quite frankly, I’m not in a hurry to “graduate” from this time in my life because my next stop is probably the end of the line.  Elder? I do like the image gathered from cultures that hold older people in a more positive light, but it doesn’t really seem to fit here.  So this is still an unanswered question for me.  Maybe I’ll try Impatient older woman, left with only one nerve, upon which you are standing, so step lightly.  That would work most days!

The Time Wrinkle

phone-booth-295795_640Some days I do feel much like I stepped into a phone booth, made a short call, and then stepped out into a world where phone booths are seriously out of date.  Perhaps this phenomenon would be better described as a time warp.  Wikipedia defines time warp as “… an imaginary spatial distortion that allows time travel in fiction, or a hypothetical form of time dilation or contraction.”

The time distortions experienced during these years do seem to have some relationship to dilation, as any woman who has undergone a D&C can tell you.  (I warned you we might get back to bodily images!)  It may be temporary or, as one (male) doctor said to me once prior to doing the procedure:  “You may feel a little pinch!”  All I can say to that is “Pinch, my ass!”  These time warps and distortions are confusing, troubling, scary and they often hurt.  “Wasn’t it only yesterday ……?”  “Will  I live long enough to ……?”

The Communication Wrinkle

I am referring to the interesting phenomenon that happens with internal communication among the parts of the human body. One of the first posts I wrote about the physical changes of the older years explained how the different parts of my body no longer seemed to communicate effectively and now were like a dysfunctional family full of self-centered kids all clamoring for attention from a stressed out parent. It was a cute little fluff piece, written as I was getting my feet wet as a new writer.  Two years later, I can only say it is no longer cute and funny.

Take putting on socks, for example.  For those lucky enough to live in a nice warm climate, this may not seem like a big deal, but during a typical New England winter, let me assure you that several pairs of socks are often necessary (in the house).  Putting on socks is a simple task, is it not?  A toddler could do it.  True enough, but the toddler does not have to factor in a hip that refuses to assist the leg in lifting up the foot high enough so the hands can reach the toes.  Ignore this situation at your peril.  Straining to complete the task may eventually get socks onto your foot, but now your hip has alerted the muscles in your thigh that they are under attack and they better spasm up and man the barricades!  Staving off impending muscle cramps usually requires instantaneous change of position and to that I say, “Yeah, right, how does that work out for you?”

The Attitude Wrinkle

Although I am someone who generally sees the world from a positive perspective and tries hard to lighten the mood and laugh at difficulties and troubles, I find myself tempted frequently to slide into self-pity, irritation and sadness.  This time of life requires a great deal of fortitude and spiritual strength, even in the best of times.

In June of 2016, Huffington Post photographer Damon Dahlen took portraits of 14 women aged between 50 and 90 and in the accompanying article Shelley Emling said these women “roll their eyes at ageist (and sexist) standards of beauty. Rather than fight the inevitable effects of aging, they see the lines on their faces as a road map of their lives. They are the etchings of many years fully lived — and each and every one of them has been earned.”  To that I say “Amen!”

 

©Martha Hurwitz
3/16/2018

 

True Conversations, Creative Use of Words, and Verbal Stupidity

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It’s no surprise that people who love to write, (whether they are high level journalists, published authors, or–like me–a freelance wanna-be) are fascinated by words. It is a great delight for me to learn of the creative ways the human brain formulates verbal expression.  I love to share with native speakers of languages other than my own, and learn the colloquial expressions we use for the human experiences and emotions we share in common.  A good pun, sentences that convey an idea with depth, and a tongue-in-cheek use of words to soften a message are all a delight to me.

Anyone who has spent time with a child through the language learning years has seen verbal creativity first hand.  When our children were young, their sandwich bread had to be trimmed of crust because they didn’t like the “bark.”  When our son was just learning to identify letters, his dad pointed to a large store sign that looked like this

R I C H ‘ S

and asked him what the letters were.  “R,” he said with great confidence, but paused, clearly confused by the next one.  Then the creativity kicked in:  “Line, C, H, curve, S,” he announced proudly.

One of my most difficult experiences is those moments when I cannot recall a word or a name.  It frustrates me greatly, but there seems to be a similar creative process in my aging brain by which I can retrieve or somehow modify and find a different word in order to express myself.  When my mother was in her late 80’s, she was watching the birds at the feeder in her yard–something that she had always loved to do.  Squirrels are notorious for robbing these feeders and trying to outsmart them is like protecting a bank from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

My mother started to say something to me, then hesitated, the look on her face making it obvious she was searching for the right name for that animal that was stealing food from her beloved birds.  “Look,” she finally said, “the bandit is at the feeder.”

I can only speak for myself, but am guessing that most people who enjoy creating word pictures or verbal symphonies, and write because they love to communicate through the written word experience frustration over improper word use and statements that clearly indicate the speaker has no real idea what the word means.

Yesterday there was an advertisement for a personal injury law firm on television, which loudly announced:  “Accidents often happen without any warning!”  Isn’t that pretty much the definition of an accident? Are warnings given if the accident was planned?

I have collected some snippets of conversation to share with my fellow word fanatics. Some are creative, some demonstrate a bit of stupidity, but all of them are real conversations that I either overheard or in which I was a less than enthusiastic participant.  Hopefully, they will provide some humor to brighten your day.

Son:  Dad, could you possibly lend me some money?
Dad:  Sorry, son, but the well is dry.
Son:  (two days later when father drives up in a new car):  
     Dad, I thought you said the well was dry.
Dad:  Well, actually, the well isn't dry, 
      but your bucket definitely has a hole in it.
Customer at Pick-Your-Own Strawberry Farm: $2.00 a quart!! Are you kidding?
           The farm down the street is selling them for $1.50!!
Farmer:    Why didn't you pick them there?
Customer:  He's closed because he sold out.
Farmer:    When I'm sold out, I'll sell them to you for $1.00!
Grandma:  Your friend is not very bright.
Grandson: How can you say that, Grandma? You only just met him today.
Grandma:  A stranger sits for a while and sees for a mile!
Car Nut:  It costs $30 to get into this show?  That's a lot of money.
Beleaguered Ticket Seller:  Yes, but there are at least 70 cars,
           and you can stay as long as you want.
Car Nut:  Can I just go in for a few minutes and see if there are any cars
          I really want to see? If there are, then I'll buy a ticket.
Judge Judy:  So, you were driving the car?
Defendant:   No, I wasn't driving, I was backing out of the parking space.

A confession about being a word snob:  I am one.  My snobbery is usually quiet and unobtrusive.  I don’t say much out loud, but someone with really long fingernails is clawing at my internal chalkboard when confronted with the incessant use of “like” and “actually.”   Human language is so rich and evocative and it saddens me to witness the popularity of making a statement in 140 characters, tweeting inane or hurtful comments as a substitute for true dialogue, or language reduced to “one-size-fits-all” statements such as “have a good one.”  I’m thankful to be part of a community of people for whom the written word is still something worth pondering over and delighting in, and crafting a well-written story is a delight.

 

©Martha Hurwitz, 8/15/17