Shorter Days

The sunset was pink, blue, and purple over my neighbors’ blue-and-purple houses as I walked to the yoga studio to teach tonight.  One of those odd T or C sunsets where the color was not in the west, but somewhere else. Tonight, the northeast. It was beautiful, but daylight was ending already at five-fifteen.

 Waiting until I’ve done all my chores and errands before I do what’s most rewarding is no longer an option. It could be dark by then. I’ve always been the work-first play-later type, the anti-procrastinator, but if I want to walk, run, or do outdoor yoga, I have to take advantage of the sunny hours, the warmest part of the day.

Sometimes I make myself do every tedious task before I free myself to write. Life is short. My days are shorter. I feel young, but I’m not. What am I waiting for? Along with teaching yoga, this is my work and my art. I give myself permission, right this minute, to drop everything else and do it.

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People My Own Age

When I was a kid, I was close to my older sister and tended to share friends with her, people a year ahead of me in school. In college and when I first started working, I mingled with my own age group, and I also retained a close connection with a couple who were my father’s good friends. These mature people stood as a contrast to the crazy mistakes my peers and I made in our twenties. I would visit their home, leaving the sea of drama that is young adulthood for an island of sanity, culture, and intellectual engagement, and become aware of the difference, enjoying the respite and the chance to be a little more like them.

As I got older, my friends tended to become younger. I didn’t do this on purpose; they were the people I met through work and yoga, and I seldom felt older than them. By the time I retired, I was generally socializing with people twenty years my junior.

At work, I was surrounded by eighteen-year-olds five days a week, teaching primarily first-year courses. Since I taught in health and exercise science, the subject of aging naturally came up in classes. I often heard students say, “I love old people. They’re so cute.” It was good to know they loved their elders, but that adjective made me cringe.

My former backdoor neighbors had a frantic, poorly trained little dog which they let out in the yard to yap nonstop at all passersby. One morning, a stooped, gray-haired woman passed through the alley between my apartment and dog-owners’ trailer, and of course, the little beast barked hysterically. The woman muttered, “Someone ought to kick that f___ing rat in the head.” I wonder if my former students would think she was cute.

I live in a town where, according to one of its younger residents, the average age is “retired.” My friends are in their fifties, sixties and seventies. Vigorously engaged in their work, their creative pursuits, and in community organizations, they defy stereotypes of aging. Many of the poets who gather at Black Cat Books and Coffee are in their silver-haired years, and the vibrancy and originality of their work is impressive—perhaps because of the years behind the words.

At first I thought the predominance of fellow Boomers and creative people in T or C made it too easy to fit in, and I wondered, is this good for me? While I don’t miss the daily hassles of dealing with college freshmen or grading their papers, I realize I benefited from the abrasion. The longer I’m here, the more I see that everyone, in their own way, will challenge me to adapt and grow. People who are superficially and demographically like me are just as different from me in many ways as my eighteen-year-old students were. This is good. People who are not like me help wear the rough edges off my personality and opinions, like the wind sculpting desert rocks. With that softening comes access to the place where we are more alike, the essence, the humanness, the spirit.

Old and Gray: Joy Grows Deeper Day by Day

 

During my Southeast months, I teach yoga for a fitness and recreation program called “Fifty and Wiser.”  The name has always struck me as comical. At fifty and older, I hope we’re wiser than at twenty or thirty, but that’s not why there’s a whole set of exercise programs for that age group. Apparently it was not good marketing to say fifty and older, though.

In one of my online writing groups, a member asked for feedback on her new web site. Most people talked about the design and content in comparison to her old one. One person, however, addressed her sunny, smiling, middle-aged picture. He was adamant that an author should not post a picture unless he or she looked like a professional model, and said he wasn’t about to post his own picture, because he didn’t want his readers to know he was old but to think he was as young as the characters he writes about.

In honor of that comment, I’m updating my picture. In the one I’ve been using, taken indoors in black and white, my salt-and pepper hair looks only half gray. In bright sunlight, the gray shines and it looks totally silver. I like it—I’m like a little bitty silver-back gorilla. In humans, females get that honor as well as the males.IMG_7667

At the present progress of the Mae Martin Series, she hasn’t turned thirty yet. Starting with a young character allows me to keep the series going for decades if I choose, and the tumult and challenge of that stage of life make for good stories, but at that age I didn’t have either the patience or the perspective to write them.

Yeats published this poem in 1893, a young man imagining his beloved’s aging.

When You Are Old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,

And nodding by the fire, take down this book,

And slowly read, and dream of the soft look

Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

 

How many loved your moments of glad grace,

And loved your beauty with a love false or true,

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,

And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

 

And bending down beside the glowing bars,

Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled

And paced upon the mountains overhead

And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

 ***

 When he was old, he wrote The Apparitions.

(I’m only including the final verse; you can read the rest at http://www.poemhunter.com/best-poems/william-butler-yeats/the-apparitions/ )

When a man grows old his joy

Grows more deep day after day,

His empty heart is full at length

But he has need of all that strength

Because of the increasing Night

That opens her mystery and fright.

Fifteen apparitions have I seen;

The worst a coat upon a coat hanger.

 

***

Who will we become when our empty coat is left behind? Aging. The heart grows full, while the hair grows hollow, light passing through it like a halo.