Gero-Punk Adventures: Aging in Place

aging in place

Happy-dog and I are enjoying our daily neighborhood park walk-about.

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Killdeer (three – one male, two female): “Dee deejee, tyeeeee deeeew, Twewddew!”

Me: “Hello, Killdeer!”

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“Tamaleeeeeeeees! Chicken, cheese, pork! Tamaleeeeeeees!”

I hear Mauricio before I see him. He is over by the playground with his tamale cart. Usually he pushes his cart and sings his Tamaleeeees song throughout the neighborhood. But today is the first day that’s mild and sunny after two weeks of intermittent snow and ice. Everyone seems to be out playing in the park; humans and dogs doing what we do on a sunny afternoon.

“Tamaleeeeeeees!”

I don’t have any money on me, otherwise I would chase down Mauricio.  He and his family make great tamales.

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Midway down the boardwalk, there’s a person peering keenly into the marshy area where the birds like to nap, bathe and forage (and enact elaborate mating rituals!).

Happy and I stop next to them.  I ask them what they are seeing.  They say they think they see a turtle over on one of the felled logs. I remark that I haven’t seen turtles here since the previous summer but that the turtles seem to prefer one particular log that’s in a deeper part of the stream, especially on warm sunny days.

They say Oh! I didn’t know there were still turtles here! I hoped there were.  I’m an old timer, I grew up in this neighborhood. When I was a kid we used to swim in the “turtle holes,” that’s what we kids called them. But I’ve never seen a turtle in all my life until today!

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Hummingbird (male Anna’s): “Zrrr jika jika jika jika!”

Me: “Hello, hummingbird!”

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 “Hello!” (Says the person I see every day, walking with their bull terrier around the park. The person is always gazing down, listening to music or sports or the news on their phone, moving purposefully. After passing by each other so many times, and saying hello to them, this is the first time I’ve received their acknowledgement and greeting.)

“Hi!” (I say in response. I’m glad our acquaintance has finally progressed to the mutual greeting stage!)

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Two kids careening toward the park.

Kid one: Can I have the anti-gravity helmet first?

Kid two: Yes, you can have the anti-gravity helmet first, if I can be in command.

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My mom, Susie:

I  was taking a walk through the park…enjoying much needed sunshine on my face.

As I turned from the park and headed west into the neighborhood I noticed a very large orange cat.

All at once, I realized that the cat was about to pounce on a chickadee!

I just couldn’t let the big cat kill the tiny bird!

I chased away the cat and with my purple-gloved hand picked up the chickadee and cuddled it. It looked as if its wing had been hurt!  I talked to the bird and petted its little body. It never struggled…it had the tiniest black beads for eyes.

I decided to check near where the little one fell and as I approached a flowering bush the chickadee flapped its wings and perched on a limb!

I have never held a tiny bird. I have always wanted to.

For a moment, I imagined making a little nest and adopting the chickadee.

I will cherish this experience.

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Black capped Chickadee (one, heard not seen): “Chickadee-dee-dee!”

Me (one, seen and heard): “Bye, until next time!”

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Gero-Punk Contemplations: A Debt to Life

For the past few weeks, I’ve been haunted by a paragraph from Florida Scott-Maxwell’s The Measure of My Days*. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that I’ve been haunted by Florida Scott-Maxwell herself, and not just for the past few weeks but for the past twenty-five years! (Was it my Gramma Jewell who gave me The Measure of My Days? Seems like something she’d have read and shared with me.)

sott maxwell

I’ve also been haunted by Ursula K. Le Guin, but that’s a tale to be taken up some other time.

Here’s the passage from Scott-Maxwell which has possessed me:

Age puzzles me.  I thought it was a quiet time.  My seventies were interesting, and fairly serene, but my eighties are passionate.  I grow more intense as I age.  To my own surprise I burst out with hot conviction.  Only a few years ago I enjoyed my tranquility; now I am so disturbed by the outer world and by human quality in general that I want to put things right, as though I still owed a debt to life.  I must calm down.  I am far too frail to indulge in moral fervor. (p. 14)

There are two things you need to know about this passage: First, it comes from a book (based on Scott-Maxwell’s personal journals) first published in 1968 – 50 years ago! Second, don’t let this passage fool you into thinking that in her old age Scott-Maxwell calmed down or stopped indulging in “moral fervor” about the state of the world. Read her book and you’ll see for yourself.

Her every word is a call to action. Her every sentence opens space for engaging in the life-long work of knowing one’s self, loving other people, and living a life “of fierce energy” especially when we are at our most frail, uncertain, or diminished.

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snow day 2018

Here in Portland we had a snow day (Hooray!).

Happy-the-dog and I headed to the park shortly after breakfast.  The playground was full of kids and dogs and grown-ups.  I watched as two toddlers slid down a (very) little hill of snow in (very) little plastic sleds.  Their grown-up stood at the sidelines shouting encouragement and congratulations for their bravery: “Hooray!” and “Good job!” and “Wow, that was fast!”

I remembered snow days enjoyed with my own toddler – now twenty years ago! Ah, the wonderment of being awoken by odd snow-light reflecting off the bedroom walls, knowing that we’d get to play together all day (and make snow slushies, off course). I’ll give you one major holiday and a long vacation in exchange for a few snow days. Deal?

Walking on along the path beside the almost-frozen stream, one of my favorite birds, the awesome kingfisher, barreled toward me, loudly proclaiming his sovereignty. Two school-age kids and their grown-up were standing at the edge of the stream observing a domesticated duck someone had abandoned in the park.  I saw their attention rivet to kingfisher as he flew by. I asked if they knew who he was, and the grown-up said, “You mean the bird that just flew by with hair that looks like a blue jay?” I confess to you, reader: I knew who kingfisher was, and I wanted to be able to experience the thrill of seeing him with others; basically, I set them up. I proceeded to let them know all about kingfisher – he prefers solitude, but he also enjoys displaying himself; for such a small creature he’s a sassy loudmouth; he has the best blue mohawk ever (and look, he’s about to dive into the stream to catch a fish!). They seemed glad to know about kingfisher, though their reactions were mild in the face of such splendor. Hopefully they’ll never again mistake kingfisher for a blue jay! I can’t imagine either bird would be too terribly happy to be mistook.)

On we walked.  By the time we reached the bridge on the North end of the park, kingfisher was making his way back down the stream toward us. Right before he reached us he landed in a tree.  I took a quick look around to make sure there weren’t any witnesses and then I did what I often do when I see kingfisher. I shouted, “Kingfisher, hello!”  He rattled back. And then I realized I wasn’t the only human there!  A person who looked to be in their teenage-stage walked up and asked if they could talk to Happy-dog. (Phew—I thought they were going to ask me why I was talking to kingfisher!)  I let them know that Happy sometimes grows concerned around new people and then I gently held Happy’s head while the person stroked his nose.  I told them Happy’s name, and they remarked that Happy looked sad and then laughed.  I said that I didn’t think so, that probably Happy was just a bit confused about what was happening, but otherwise he loved taking a walk in the snow.  They said, yeah that makes sense; Happy seems sweet.  I said, yup he’s the sweetest creature ever.

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Elsewhere today other things were happening.  In Florida, school buses took loads of young activists to the state capital to demand gun reform.  Many young comrades around the country staged protests in solidarity.  They are begging, demanding that the “grown-ups” listen. And do something.

I feel inspired by their conviction that, to quote Scott-Maxwell, they want to “put things right.”  At the early stages of their travels through the life-course they already feel they owe “a debt to life.”

I feel ashamed that the grown-ups – I include myself here – who are supposed to protect them, to ensure that they have safe and vibrant spaces in which to learn and grow, have failed them so consequentially and miserably.

I don’t know those young activists, those soon-to-be grown-ups (who only a handful of years ago were themselves toddlers).  And I’m not really sure how best to help as I stand on the sidelines. God, I remember how I felt when I was a young activist protesting against nuclear bombs. I remember how I felt to not be listened to, to realize that none of the grown-ups could or would protect me. Now the kids in Florida and across the country know for certain that grown-ups can’t promise them that all is well and that they are safe.  But some of us are listening to them, some of us believe what they are saying about what they need in order to feel safe enough to engage life as fully as they can.

If there’s an opportunity here for intergenerational solidarity, perhaps it starts by we grown-ups apologizing and making amends. And making amends begins with listening.

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How does my “moral fervor” manifest? What is my “debt to life” as I dwell here in the long middle of my life-course?

(As I write this essay, I am painfully aware of the fact that I live in a time, place, and space where I have the luxury of assuming that as a 51-year-old I am somewhere in the middle of my travels through the life-course, that I may perhaps live to see many more days.)

We are creating legacy as we live our lives.  Legacy goes in all directions.  Young activists are creating a real-time legacy, not only for themselves, but for all of us (and for persons who haven’t even arrived on the planet yet!).  And the grown-ups who aren’t listening to the suffering of our young people are creating a tragic legacy.

I don’t want my legacy to be that I didn’t listen. I want my legacy to be that I asked questions, I listened, and I did something.

I don’t want to calm down.

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I started with Scott-Maxwell and it seems fitting to end with her:

“When I am with other people I try to find them or try to find a point in myself from which to make a bridge to them, or I walk on the egg-shells of affection trying not to hurt or misjudge.  All this is very tiring,  but love at any age takes everything you’ve got.” (p. 15)

Yup. Love at any age takes everything you’ve got.

 

*Scott-Maxwell, F.  (1968).  The measure of my days.  New York: Penguin Books.

 

 

 

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Gero-Punk Tribute: Ursula K. Le Guin

Monday night was rough.

I didn’t think it would be rough as I was primed for a restful sleep. I’d ensconced myself in bed early so that I could continue reading my way through No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters, by Ursula K. Le Guin.

no time to spare

Simeon added this book to the top of my huge pile of books I received as gifts over the winter holidays.  It is a collection of Le Guin’s blog essays on all sorts of juicy topics, such as:  examples of how one might cultivate presence to a soft-boiled egg or a rattlesnake or a toddling human or a thunder storm (or any other object, phenomenon, or creature); the nature of belief and truth, and the primacy of respect, freedom and equality; and the inside experience of being old. (As she wrote, “I don’t mean older, I mean old.”)

So, several of my most favorite things to ponder, discuss, and sometimes try to write about.

Simeon confirmed my suspicion that giving me this book at this time was part of a strategy. He wanted to remind me of the pleasures of writing and reading small essays about big ideas. He wanted to encourage me to keep at it, especially the writing part.  And maybe – though I didn’t articulate it this way until now – he wanted to remind me that there’s renewed inspiration to be found (in this case, rediscovered) in the work of writers whom I’ve long admired, such as Ursula K. Le Guin. Especially Ursula Le Guin, who figured a way over the expanse of many decades to attend to and nurture family, friends, herself, and her considerable creative and political commitments.

Back to Monday night.  Shortly after I turned out the reading lamp and was falling toward sleep, Happy-the-dog busted into the bedroom.  He stood at the side of the bed and stared at me for a bit. When  I couldn’t take it any longer, I got up and helped him back to his bed in the living room.  The minute I was back in my bed, he was up again, ricocheting around the house (what a clamor!).  Once again, I showed him back to his bed, cuddled him a bit, and then begged him to go to sleep.  This time I made sure my bedroom door was closed and un-openable via dog-body-slamming; Happy hurled his body against the closed door (poor guy!).  I opened the door and told him to come in, and if he’d cut it out, he could sleep on the bedroom floor. This worked awhile because I fell fully asleep and slept and dreamed. But at some point, in the middle of the night – I didn’t look at the clock as it would freak me out to know what time it is and how little sleep I’m getting – he was up and at it again.  This time and without the least bit of guilt, I barred Happy from the bedroom and attempted to fall back into sleep.

As I was attempting to fall back into sleep, my mind was soft. I was counting my breaths, which is a helpful practice in the middle of the night when you are awake but want to be asleep and to sleep you need to avoid pursing any of the thoughts playing in your mind. But one of the thoughts that formed in the softness of my mind I followed.

The thought was: I should write a letter to Ursula K. Le Guin. I should thank her.

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On Tuesday the world got the news that Ursula K. Le Guin had died on Monday.

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I had trouble sleeping on Tuesday night, but this time I can’t pin the blame on Happy-dog.

One of the thoughts that formed in the softness of my tired night-mind was: Gramma, keep your eyes open for Ursula K. Le Guin. She’s on her way.

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florence

I arrived in lovely Florence, Oregon yesterday afternoon.  To get here I had a three-hour drive along the coast. What a day! Cold, blustery, and rainy. I made a couple of stops to see who might be out and about: Cormorants; seagulls; one kingfisher; one oyster catcher; no whales, though. When I could catch a signal, I listened to the radio. Lucky me, I got to hear three different tributes to Ursula K. Le Guin and how her work – no, how who she is – has inspired and emboldened so many, across time, place and space.

I’m in Florence to facilitate the Oregon Humanities Talking About Dying Conversation Project at the Lane Community College Florence Campus.

Last night, ensconced in a very comfortable bed in a very sweet hotel room that’s right on the water’s edge, I finished reading No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters.

Last night, I slept long and well.

Thank you, Ursula K. Le Guin.

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