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.

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One Step

The sun was so intense when I was out walking today, I had to lower the brim of my hat to keep from burning my face or being blinded as I turned to leave the park by the river. I couldn’t see the mountains, the river, the sky, or the two lone trees turning yellow in a world of evergreens, rocks and cacti. Just the ground at my feet. The gravel path. Then dirt with tire tracks. Then a patch of dust and weeds with a narrow path between the goatheads. Once I reached the street, I was no longer facing the sun, but my awareness had shifted.

Those steps with nothing but the view of the next step became walking meditation. I noticed the textures of each pebble, the curves of the tire tracks, and the green ground-hugging leaves and tiny yellow blossoms of the goatheads. Instead of seeing them as the foot-stabbing burrs they will become, I saw them as flowers. Walking slowly, listening, I only tilted my hat up to check for cars or snakes once in a while, then ducked back into my world of shade and single steps. Gravel-crunch. Wind-whisper. One step. Another step. The sensation of my legs moving, my feet contacting the ground. I should do this more often, even when the sun doesn’t force me into it. I used to teach walking meditation to my college students, and those were blissful classes.

Of course, I have no illusion that the rest of my job was bliss. It was work. The three-column to-do list on my desk ran into a second page most of the time. Things to do for work, to do as a writer, and to do for retirement planning. A few days ago, I went back to that system. Things to do for writing, for marketing, and my everyday life. The list is only one page, and two of the columns don’t even reach the bottom. Every day I cross one thing off, maybe two. Life isn’t about what I cross off, though. It’s a living moment. A single step.

 

Observations on being a full-time writer

    • It doesn’t feel like a job.
    • I’m writing while it’s still light out, not just after nine at night the way I did when I had a structured day job.
    • I now live where my protagonist does. Result: Everything gives me ideas.
    • The town changes faster than my fictitious version of it can, but the essence stays the same.
    • I don’t need a job to structure my life or keep me busy. There’s so much to do, from music events to dancing at Sparky’s to Art Hop to teaching yoga to just getting out in nature, the challenge is telling myself no, stay in and write. I was more productive when it was 108 degrees in June. Less temptation to go out.
    • Depending on which of my friends is making the introductions, new acquaintances may be told that I’m a writer or that I’m a newly retired professor. If they hear the latter, it’s hard to redirect their first impression, and they tend to suggest things I could do to keep busy, including—I cringe at the thought—adjunct teaching. I think of myself as a writer and yoga teacher, not a retired professor—the person I am today, not the role I used to play. It’s an important distinction.

 

Namaste, Y’all

I have a file called Blog Posts Yet to Post where I store drafts of ideas and eventually find some worth revising and using. Today, in search of this week’s post, I found three rough drafts about moving, and I since I’m getting to the end of that topic, I didn’t need three posts. One was about sorting through my books and deciding which to keep and why, one was about parting with some of my art, and one was about no longer working as a professor. I’m so happy about the latter, there’s not much else to say. I went into my office this afternoon just to use a desk with a proper chair (I’ve sold almost all of my furniture) and that felt good, but I won’t miss sitting there for hours reading student papers. Or emails. I will stay in touch with some special people I got to know through the job, but it’s easy to let go of the work itself.

A friend who is going to open a used bookstore bought about eighty books. Those were easy to let go of, too. Parting with a piece of art is harder, sort of like cutting scenes when revising a book, but I decided not to challenge certain fragile things to make a trip to New Mexico. The Santa Clara Pueblo buffalo dancer, a small statuette made of black pottery, broke a hand, a foot, and a leg on his way to North Carolina from Santa Fe many years ago. I repaired him as well as I could. The powerful energy I felt at a buffalo dance was unforgettable, a force that swept through my whole body to the bones. He holds that sacred feeling in his glued-together form. I was happy when a neighbor who teaches history in the public schools and loves Native American history wanted him and several other items. When she came to get them, she asked which piece was made by which tribe, and appreciated the buffalo dancer for what he means, cracks and all, not for collectible value. I packed him carefully, wrapped the tiny Acoma cats so they wouldn’t break, and sent the collection off with someone who will feel the spirit of New Mexico in it.

Friends value us that way—for our spirits, flaws and all, not expecting or needing perfection. Letting go of people is harder. My closest friends in Virginia (and North Carolina and Georgia) will come out to see me eventually, but I won’t see them as often anymore. One who has helped me with the multitudinous hassles of the moving-out process has grown even closer as we’ve worked on things like my moving sale, and I will miss her all the more. I’ve said most of my goodbyes on campus, but I still have two more yoga classes to teach, to students who have been with me for years. I have friends to rejoin in T or C, and I’ll find new yoga students there, but it will still be hard to say the last “namaste” in Virginia.

Centering and Balancing

Moving and retiring is a positive disruption and it’s one that I chose. Still, I’m prone to wishing I could just get the tedious parts over with. There is no “over with.” It’s all part of my life, unique moments I am consciously living. I’m more effective when I’m present to a process, whether it’s cleaning out my desk, selling off my furniture, or going to one last department meeting. Not only more effective, but happier. Slowing down, I can get more out of each step of this change and put more into it. Be more attuned to the people around me. An attitude of rushing doesn’t speed things up. An attitude of spaciousness eases the pressure. It will all get done. It’s like yoga. Set up the pose with attention, be aware of the pose, sustain the pose, exit mindfully.

Note: the pictures were taken in the exercise studio on campus where I did my most important work: teaching yoga. At my retirement party, that’s what everyone was talking about. Yoga.

Something for Real

t-or-c

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. January 1 is just another day. I decided to change my life for reasons that have nothing to do with the transition of numbers on a calendar. A plan I’ve been gestating for years is finally real. I made the commitment. I have a lease. My future landlady and I signed it on Main Street, Truth or Consequences, at an outdoor table in front of Passion Pie Café the morning of Wed. Dec. 28th. Friends in T or C have congratulated me, telling me it’s the best decision I ever made. The to-do list is growing. It’s hard not to keep thinking about it or imagining disasters that could intervene in my plan. I’m glad I have writing to focus my mind and yoga and meditation to quiet its hundreds of questions, or I’d be spinning inside. I’m focusing on the constructive work of getting ready and on trusting life’s unfolding process, trusting the flow of synchronicities that made this change possible. The process of winding down one phase of my life and beginning the next will be complicated even though the goal is simplicity. I hardly own anything but I’m going to own even less. Travel less, need less, and be more. Retire early and fully embrace T or C. Art. Hot springs. The Rio Grande. The desert. People who get me. I love the place. It’s been my heart’s home for years. At the end of this academic year it will be my full-time home. I may teach a college course or two online, teach a few yoga classes around town, but writing will be my full-time occupation.

“I’ve been a dreamer so long now. It’s time I did something for real.

There’s just no point in being alive if you don’t live the way you feel.”

    From the song “Something for Real” by T or C artist Don Hallock.