It’s hard to believe it's been almost four months since I left New York. What was spring in New York is now suddenly late summer in Nashville. It's also easy to believe because summer, my favorite months, always move like a rocket. My yard was in full messy bloom when the end of this bucket list adventure returned me home toward the end of May. Now the garden's work is fall pruning, thinning, clearing and mulching. I loved when a day in New York was warm enough to walk for miles in sandals. Now, I feel a little anxious knowing these are the final six or eight weeks I can wear those same sandals. Enough months back at work have passed, I'm planning the next adventure.
I looked forward to New York for so long. Despite having accomplished a remarkably good job of being present-in-the-moment while I was there, it now feels distant and I’m sad it’s over. Sometimes I read the journal entries and blog posts to tune up the details as I reminisce. Still, when I close my eyes and go back, I can feel the energy of the people and the pace, get quiet with awe at the beauty of the art, absorb the hum of the subway, think about the sidewalk under my feet for 6 or 10 or 13 miles every day and feel happy. It was a bucket list success.
Bucket list adventures are my "must dos", angst seizes my heart when I wonder if I’ll get to all of them. Safari in Kenya. Learn to dance damn it. A month in Alaska. Write something notable. More. Maybe there will be a little sadness after each one; maybe sadness makes sense when waking up in the adventure becomes waking up with its memory. Worth it? Yes, I said to myself without hesitation. Yes.
I'm almost half way through my stay in Brooklyn. Not feeling homesick. I love Nashville. I love this time in New York.
Street art is not overrated. I could look at these all day. There aren't as many in DUMBO and the murals there are older; weather worn. In Bushwick, there are dozens and they're newer; vibrant colors. Bushwick is described as a working class neighborhood that used to be more dangerous and has at least in part been redefined through the artistic efforts of the Bushwick Collective. For more: https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/gRPwr3J5
The adventure of day three started with taking the subway all by myself. I had a little anxiety walking to the subway station. I’d never taken it alone. The subway stations tend to look like the mouth of a dungeon at street level. They aren’t particularly clean and even when a lot of people are going in or out, it feels like that small piece of real estate is a void...a weird portal between the activity on above and below. I bought my metrocard and took the subway, yes, all by myself. Now I’m expert. Boom.
Using a highly rated app, My Transit NYC, I landed a couple of blocks from the 23rd Av. entrance to the High Line. I hadn’t walked the High Line last time here; I didn’t understand what it was exactly. This 1.25 mile path, where the elevated trains used to run through the meatpacking district, is the brainchild of a public/private partnership. The High Line has turned an area of desolation, after the industry there declined in the 80s, into a greenspace filled with art and gardens and people. There are several points of entry so I was able to descend and walk around different areas, locating Milk galleries (though nothing currently showing), Gansevoort Market and Chelsea Market where I had a grilled cheese. The fancy schmancy cheese was totally outdone however by the fig jam. Fig jam apparently is all I need.
From the far end of the High Line, I decided to walk to Bryant Park. This took me straight through the Garment District where I’d never been before. Racks of clothes being rolled out of trucks into shops, fabric shop after fabric shop after fabric shop...is there truly a demand for that much sequined fabric?
I love Bryant Park. The history goes back to the Revolutionary War and wikipedia can tell you all about it. Current day Bryant Park is all about a safe, comfortable, fun place for people to be. It’s owned by the city but managed by a nonprofit; Friends of Bryant Park. It occupies essentially a city block along with the main New York Public Library, which I wandered around later in the day. Bryant Park is cool; thoughtfully designed for its people. There’s ping pong and bocci ball and other games. I watched 6 men play bocci ball for a while. There’s a reading area with books and special book events for kids. There are food vendors and a restaurant. There are fountains and sculptures. There’s a humongous lawn. None of the chairs are secured to anything...and there’s a ton of them. The people can move the chairs to wherever they want to be. It’s a happy place.
After the library, I expertly took the subway back to Brooklyn, where I located a very nice small wine shop and purchased a chilled white to carry back and have a glass sitting on my little balcony.
Day four involved a few hours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, some time spent at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, St. Thomas Cathedral and Rockefeller Plaza. The MoMA is someplace I’ll go anytime I come to New York. Starry Night is there. I could look at it a million times and not feel less enamored. Hundreds of other gazeworthy pieces, but I will always have a special thing for Van Gogh.
As someone who typically would do anything to avoid a crowd, I love the sidewalks of New York. On its face that makes no sense. But the density and diversity of this city with people, vehicles and buildings make me feel ultimately connected and anonymous at the same time. The diversity is crazy. Skin color, languages, hats and headscarves, painfully thin to more generously built, stressed out, totally chill, obvious New Yorkers, obvious tourists and more, rule every block. There is a distinct rhythm I don’t feel anywhere else. It plays me and I love it.
Sleep. Coffee. Write. Plan. Walk. Look. Walk. Look. Walk. Eat. Good day.
The first order of business apparently was to sleep. Too tired to read at 10:00 Sunday night, it was lights out. Alarm went off at 5:30. Well, no. On a regular life day, seven hours of sleep works. On a vacation life day, it's never enough. What's up with that? I woke up again at 7:30 in the Brooklyn brownstone I'm calling home for now.
Coffee from a french press or bialetti were my options. I have every coffee making device one could ask for at home and I'm currently in a french press phase. But this bialetti is the big one and I wanted to try it out. I liked it. Two mugs later, it was time to write a little and plan a lot. I finished yesterday's blog post and set out to plan my day. Pretty chilly out, so no big hurry. Rain in the forecast, but didn't look imminent.
On the list:
South Oxford Street between Layfayette and DeKalb for what is reputed to be some of the most beautiful architecture in Brooklyn. Pratt (Art) Institute to see its entire campus-turned-sculpture-garden. Greenlight Bookstore. Feliz, a shop with handmade artisan wares, which I had to take back off the list since it's not open on Monday. And Dosa Royale for lunch; a good idea until I got there late in the afternoon and saw it too is closed on Monday.
I started by walking several blocks in the wrong direction. GPS is amazing but works better when a) you know which way is north and b) you're watching the little arrow showing you which way you're walking. If you are directionally challenged like I am, turning off the gps to save battery life and using the directions list only is a very, very poor choice.
By the time I got to Pratt Institute, I had achieved my first 10,000 steps and I know this because my watch was very proud of me. I love sculpture gardens and though this one also masquerades as a campus, I loved it. My feet slow down, my camera comes out. Most of the installations had been in place for decades. Here are a few of my favorites:
From here I found South Oxford Street. The architecture as beautiful as these sculptures. The detail in their facades was intricate. The wood and metal seemed both aged and perfect. The concrete steps up to the doors clean and stoops clear of clutter; lovely small city flower gardens. The maintenance seemed a step above the typical, though the typical in this neighborhood enviable. I kept wishing I could follow someone inside and look around any one of them.
Then Green Light bookstore. This bookstore is noted for its carefully curated inventory and unique small press offerings. I don't think I fully appreciate what goes into this kind of bookshop, but I still wandered around in it for 30 minutes.
I realized I was hungry. Dosa was just down the street. But alas, Dosa was closed. I walked home in the just beginning rain. Went back out a bit later for Indian food around the corner. The food was good but I don't think the owner was very impressed with my small order for an early supper. I tipped 40% of my bill to bring the grand total to $14. I'm guessing he still wasn't impressed.
Good night Brooklyn.
Bucket List Travel. Go.
Having been estranged from this blog for a while for reasons not any more interesting than work and travel and minutiae of life, I've decided to take the opportunity of an extended visit to New York to rekindle our relationship. This trip is from my bucket list. A bold move to take three weeks away from work and briefly embed in life as a New Yorker. Staying in a lovely apartment in Brooklyn, I am ready.
6:00 a.m. Wake up in Nashville. Feel pretty good. Slept well, not always the case before a trip. Part of a good vacation means not having a flight requiring me to be up and out before daylight. It makes me grumpy. Today's flight leaves at 11:30. Yay.
Coffee. Feed the cats. Bring up last load of laundry from dryer...towels for the friend who will be staying at my house. Run dishwasher. Finish big note for Jonathan. Shower. Dress. Grab final things for suitcase. Ben comes to pick me up for airport at 9:30. I'm a little concerned yesterday's marathoners will be crowding the airport, so allowing a little extra time.
Airport busy but I checked in online yesterday and am TSA pre. Got bags checked and through security in about 15 minutes. Yay. Settled in at my gate and worked on editing Journey to Peace with Aging--part 7, the one piece of writing I am still accomplishing, though slowly.
Flight was without incident. I almost never chat with my seatmates, but this time I slid into the middle seat next to a young woman...artist/painter/glass blower...who was headed out on an adventure far more daring than mine. She's headed to work four months on a ship in Iceland. She was exhausted from a few days at Penland School of Crafts in Tennessee followed by a visit with a friend and her new baby in Nashville, but perked up to tell me about her journeys. I don't know her name, but wish her godspeed.
LaGuardia is under construction and the lot for Uber/Lyft requires a shuttle ride right now whereas cabs are a brief walk from luggage claim. The cab ride becomes my first funny story. As soon as my cab driver started moving he said, “Pull up your gps, pull up your gps! There’s very bad traffic the regular way! Find us an alternate route!” What? Yes, it’s true…he did not have his own gps. The funny part is when I pulled it up (which took a minute because my phone had been in airplane mode), it gave us an alternate route involving about 25 turns through an industrial area he’d never seen or driven through before. He kept laughing and saying “This is great! This is great! I’ve never been here before! So much time, this is saving so much time! On the regular route we’d still be so far away…oh my goodness…gps is amazing!”
The apartment. Lovely. I learned in looking for a place that if I was willing to trade being right in Manhattan...which was difficult to give up...I could get two or three times the space for about 2/3 the money. Deciding on Brooklyn was a good choice. The brownstone apartment features a private balcony and rooftop terrace and more than twice the space of where we stayed in Manhattan a few years ago. By dark, I had unpacked (nesting is something I do even if for a 2 day stay) and walked to the grocery for food and beer.
Tomorrow: Fort Greene and locating subway stops!
Part 3: What is a relationship supposed to look like at 59?
Relationships. My relationship history has been, what…successful/not successful? Not unusual? A crooked path? Win some, lose some? I was married for 12 years. For many, the first year can be the most difficult, but for us it was the best. We were crazy poor — he was a graduate student, I was working — and crazy happy. The next few years were good. I did my graduate school thing and we had two babies. Babies change things, mostly I think because everyone’s so brain sucking tired all the time, but still there were few complaints. Then, as happens, we drifted apart and after 12 years, called it quits. The pain of that process was immense even though our divorce was one hundred times easier than most. I soon concluded: a) marriage is hard, b) I wasn’t particularly good at it, and c) I wouldn’t do it again.
There was huge value in being honest with myself about my failings in the relationship. I did not see in the ongoing day to day life of my marriage how poorly we communicated…so cliche, so true…or how uneven the power balance. I took control of almost everything which left us very out of whack with each other. He was more comfortable in the world of academia so I made all the decisions and secured my world exactly how I wanted it. The demise was more complicated than that of course, but it became clear to me that moving forward with other relationships, I would have to pay more attention to the balance of power.
The first post divorce relationship has become the hallmark for what I advise other freshly divorced people not to do. I took it way too seriously as a real relationship. Post divorce relationship judgment is not to be trusted for the most part. I learned that later. I went for opposite man. Not a terrible person, but a terrible decision for me. It lasted longer than it should have because I had also become opposite woman and didn’t take charge for a while, trying to find the right balance. For the record, balance will not fix a mismatched relationship. After that, it was time for a break. I had kids to raise and a demanding job.
Fast forward through some years and false starts the few times I did wade into the world of men. At 49, I decided to give it another try. Resulting from an online post, written late one evening in response to a girls’ night out wine induced challenge, I met a man. We were together for over seven years and it was good. For the first several years of our relationship, we thought we would be life partners. Over time, and more intensely for him, we drifted. We never did live together and perhaps that makes drifting easier? Neither of us had been looking for space sharing or marriage and what we were doing…seeing each other a couple of times a week, hanging out with friends, travelling…was working. Until it didn’t. There was enormous sadness with this breakup, but little drama. We’re still close.
A year after we broke up, we briefly talked about getting back together. At that point, I was good with my life alone. I had re-integrated myself in the world as a single person. In most ways it felt easier. Now, two and a half years later, I wonder about another relationship. I’ve been thinking about it for about six months. Not talking about it, not putting myself out there…just thinking about it. I’m not convinced I want to go there again. I’m not convinced I don’t. In my head, dating at my age looks different than before, even more frightening, even more work. Maybe not. Maybe I’m just chicken.
These are my questions:
How much does the way my body looks (not my body in clothes, my actual unclad body) matter?
As mentioned in part one of this series, gravity has taken a toll. Clothes are as much about camouflage as they are fashion or function. Skirts are longer. Running shorts are now a fashion don’t. My arms aren’t as tank top worthy as I’d like. I can talk all day long about how good relationships are built on so much more than how we look, but I’m not going to pretend this whole aging body thing isn’t at least to some degree, a visual dilemma. Not a concern for the first coffee date, but since we’re grown ups, we know that if a coffee date turns into a relationship, it will be an issue at some point.
Hmm. That probably shouldn’t have been my first question. Seems kind of shallow?
How do people over fifty meet if not online?
I’m pretty sure Tinder isn’t my go to source for dates. Yes, match.com is the most obvious but I’m not crazy about doing the online thing again. I used e-harmony twelve or thirteen years ago and it was a lot of work. The results were meh. I also used craigslist, which I never in a million years would use now. It was worse than meh even then, although I have some weird and oh so funny stories from it. Meeting people online is hard. So, meet up groups? How would I, for example, find the right hiking meet up group? There are about a dozen hiking meet up groups in Nashville. Do I ask on the facebook page the average age and marital status of the regular participants to pick the right one? Church? I don’t go to church. I think magic would be nice. I’d like to put out to the universe to steer an active, healthy, emotionally and financially secure, not needy, artist type my direction. Too much to ask?
I went to a hair stylist years ago who told me once he was so tired of dating, he wished someone would spontaneously appear and say, “hey, let’s agree to be a couple for six months to see if it works.” There are a dozen potential problems with that idea, but in concept I get it.
Is it ok to need as little from another person in a relationship as I need?
I don’t know how to say that without having it sound so weird. When my boyfriend and I broke up a couple of years ago, one comment I made was if either of us ever did decide to go for another relationship, we would be hard pressed to find someone who needed as little from another person as either one of us need. What I mean is, I like being in a relationship, but I don’t have to be; I don’t depend on a relationship for identity. My life is good and I like sharing it with someone, but there aren’t big holes in it waiting for someone to come along and fill. My job can be demanding. I’m committed to my time at the gym. I cook and eat with other neighbors three times a week. I write and want to write more. I make jewelry. I travel. I spend time with my son who lives in Nashville. I get out of town when I can to see my mom and my other son. I want to get more involved in the art community. I have a bucket list that needs attention. I’m not looking for marriage.
Thirty five years ago, I was looking to build a life with someone, write that story together. Isn’t dating at this age a little bit like taking two already published biographies and write a new ending that works for both stories? It can be done, but it’s not as clean as starting with the first chapter.
I thought about avoiding the topic of relationships altogether, but that would be both not transparent and chicken. The purpose of this series, you will recall, is for me to be as transparent as I can be to expose this angst about aging, one topic at a time, with a little humor and hopefully a little grace.
This was first published on medium.com via publishous. If you aren't familiar with medium.com, go look around...a lot of good writing there.
Part Two: Seven Stages from Athlete Girl to Athlete Woman
My sole purpose in this series is to be transparent, writing with some humor and exposing some anxiety, about particular phenomenons of aging as I experience them. In part two, my experience is this: after a hard-fought battle to transform myself from gawky non-athlete girl to athlete woman, I now have to learn to motivate older athlete woman in new ways.
Athlete Girl Stage One: I am not an athlete. Everyone says so.
I’ve played a lifelong fact or fiction game with my sense of self as athlete. I always wanted to be an athlete. Ironically, those damn Presidential Fitness challenges undermined my athletic confidence, starting in elementary school. I would kick ass at every station (except that pull up nonsense) and finish with a high five sense of “you go you athlete girl”. When the rankings came out it was deflating to see I was just average girl. No presidential fitness glory for me, only a participation shout out. The early chipping away of my self-image an athlete girl.
I’ve always been small so you wouldn’t expect gawky to be the accurate descriptor, but yes, I was gawky. Uncoordinated. Physically awkward. In 7th grade softball, my friends in the outfield sat down when I got up to bat. They thought it was funny, foreshadowing the inevitable strikeout. It wasn’t funny, it was maddening. I wanted to smack that ball over the school roof. I wasn’t good at volleyball or basketball or tennis either. I was the smart and not-pretty-but-cute-ish girl who was also not, by god, an athlete. Chip, chip.
Athlete Girl Stage Two: I am not an athlete. I say so.
In high school, I envied the track runners. I loved the gorgeous, well-defined quad muscles. I loved the graceful way some of them made racing look so effortless, even if in a sweaty, red-faced, heavy breathing kind of way. However, there were enough other self-confidence and popularity crushing obstacles to avoid without taking the risk of trying to run track and certainly ending up humiliated. I was not an athlete. I didn’t need anyone else to chip away my image of athlete girl, I was doing it myself.
Athlete Girl Stage Three: Take a deep breath. Be who you want to be athlete girl.
My freshman year at Indiana University, I would pass students running all over campus every day. I realized I was walking several miles every day, all over campus. My wannabe inner athlete had had enough. I decided to run. I asked a track running friend from high school, also at IU, to meet me at the track. Having no confidence as well as an awkward running stride, he very patiently ran beside me and coached me along until we fixed my form and found my confidence.
Athlete Girl Stage Four: Athlete runner girl.
Running. I was good at it. I wasn’t super fast, but I wasn’t super slow. I had endurance. I liked long runs and short runs. Treadmill running was fine and greenspace running was fine, but I loved running city streets. I liked to run on autopilot and think about things. I liked building my own admirable quad muscles. No more chipping away at myself as an athlete. I was athlete runner girl.
Running was my jam for about three years. When I moved to Chicago, running city streets became less comfortable as something I could do alone. I joined a gym, running less but doing much more strength training and indoor cardio. Then came marriage, a move to Nashville, and having kids; the gym was a very on again, off again thing. But that was my 30s, we were busy and active in general. I wasn’t thinking too much about my body as I recall, but it was healthy, strong enough and serving me well. I was lulled into the myth that since my body looked pretty good, it must also be in good shape.
Athlete Woman Stage Five: Life happens. Butts fall. Reclaim athlete woman.
After a particularly horrifying few minutes trying on a bathing suit in a dressing room with a 360-degree mirror, I learned a sobering lesson. At 41, my neglected butt muscles had lost the strength to hold my one decent curve in place. No longer was there one smooth line from my spine to the back of my knees. Just below the bathing suit bottom was the dreaded horizontal crease, also known as sagging butt. If my gluts had gone soft and could no longer defy gravity, what else was withering away? Goodbye every other week step aerobics, hello at least four times a week strength training and serious cardio sweat. My butt eventually recovered its ability to conquer gravity. Hallelujah.
Athlete Woman Stage Six: In the glorious 40s, athlete woman kicks ass.
A couple of years later, I joined a boxing gym. I was divorced but happy, in good shape, and ready for a new challenge. The boxing gym was expensive and I paid for the first 6 weeks up front, no turning back. Good thing! This mother of a workout kicked not only my butt but my everything. Pretty soon I could finish the hour without wanting to puke. I was practically a superhero.
A couple of years into boxing, several of us had become friends and started cycling in the warm weather months and rock climbing in the colder ones. In the middle of all this, closing out the decade of my 40s, I met a man. He was training for triathlons, so I thought, what the hell, let’s see what that’s like? Running again and learning to swim (more difficult for me than boxing!) and cycling for performance meant letting go of the boxing gym.
Training for triathlons was painfully good. Good for my muscles, my heart, my brain. Competing in triathlons, not so much. I had panic attacks during the swim. Not unusual because it’s weird swimming in a crowd. I thought it would get better, but it got worse. During my second event, I had panic to the degree I literally couldn’t catch air. Stopping every 10 strokes to tread water and breathe, makes for a very poor rank in the final standings. I decided my emerging career as a triathlete wasn’t meant to be. No regrets though, the onset of my 50s found me cycling several times a week, rock climbing a couple of times a week, and I’d started practicing yoga. I remained solidly athlete woman.
Athlete Woman Stage Seven: That killer core strength? Don’t take it for granted!
I’ve taken good care of my body (for the most part), my weight has fluctuated little and I think I exercise more than average. In return, I secretly expected I would always outperform most people my age, my body would take whatever level of exercise I was able to give it and respond as if I’d been training for the Olympics, and it would successfully resist any effect of gravity or any age-related metabolic slowdown. At the same time, I gradually traded seriously sweaty lung burning cardio for extended walking and eased off regular muscle screaming strength training. But, still in the gym 5–6 times a week, (but at about 80% intensity compared to 5 years ago), I continued to claim athlete woman.
In September of 2016 and July of 2017, I had cycling accidents, resulting in first a broken wrist and then a concussion. I did what I had to do to recover and carried on. What I have only recently acknowledged to myself (and now you) is the toll these events took on my late 50 something athlete woman. It isn’t that I didn’t fully recover, it’s that the recovery masked a slide to mediocrity. It felt so good to be able to ride again and climb again and do yoga again, it was too easy to claim the return to sport alone as a victory.
I could only ignore my fading endurance and visibly softening muscles for so long. A few weeks ago I went to a spin class. It was puke worthy. So I went to circuit class. Brutal. Running on the treadmill instead of walking. Hard! Strength training. Muscles so sore you’d think they’d never encountered a dumb bell before.
Athlete Woman Final Chapter: Decision Time. Athlete Woman for Life or Lily-livered Wimp Woman?
I have to get used to performance for performance sake and not how it looks on me. Historically, motivation was self-perpetuating because when I worked hard, I was motivated by the visible result. Working out meant a strong heart and good cardio endurance but I didn’t think about that as much as having flat, strong abs, muscles in my arms and back, and defined quads. I don’t know all the science around aging and our bodies, but I do know the way my skin covers my muscles looks different now. Let’s just say it’s not as motivating as it used to be.
I still want to look good and be strong. I still would like to find a magic wand and tighten up all the skin. Let’s be honest. But I think to fully embrace my inner and outer athlete woman, there has to be a shift in what motivates me. It probably needs to be some crazy training goal. Half marathon. Marathon. Mastering explosive plyometric moves that I have never been able to do. Return to boxing. Something. Kick it up.
I worked too hard to earn her. Not giving up now. Athlete Woman forever.
First published in Medium via Publishous. https://medium.com/publishous/a-ten-part-journey-to-peace-with-aging-ea7d65cb0ce9
I'm not always so good at being present in the moment in my own life but I'm almost always excellent at paying attention to what's going on around me in the lives of perfect strangers. I love the way people look and talk and interact. Watching and listening make me happy. It's like reading short stories without having to check out the book. Vignettes of lives that are disconnected from mine until I connect them by observation or overhearing. For the record, I do take only observe or listen to what is available in the public space around me; nothing sneaky or creepy!
I've heard great snippets of conversation standing still in a crowd, waiting in line, walking by people, or even riding my bike. Once I rode by a woman sitting on a bench and talking on the phone. I heard her say with great volume and emotion, "c'mon, he's not that bad...this is my dad we're talking about!" I think of it as serendipitous listening as opposed to eavesdropping. I've often thought I could write a book about the best things I've overheard. This is one of my favorites:
I was in Chattanooga standing in heavy rain waiting for my boyfriend to finish the first leg of an Olympic triathlon, a mile swim in the Tennessee river. Beside me were a woman, her sister (I don't remember how I knew, but I clearly remember they were sisters), and her two young daughters. We were all under umbrellas, happy to not be the ones in the river on that particular day. I gathered from hearing the women's conversation they were waiting for the woman's husband to also finish the swim.
"I'll be so relieved when he comes out of the water."
"When I told you earlier that he really doesn't swim, I meant it literally. He really doesn't swim."
"What do you mean? It's a triathlon...there's always a swim. Of course he swims."
"This isn't his first one, right?"
"Well, yeah, but this is his first mile swim and it's his first river swim. He usually fakes his way through with dog paddling and stuff. He hates swimming so he doesn't train for that part."
"Uh, he'll be fine? (several seconds pass) How worried are you?"
"Feel like I'm gonna throw up. I just feel like he should be out by now."
The girls are oblivious to all this, under a separate umbrella, giggling and running around in the mud. Some more time passes.
All of a sudden the woman says, almost yelling and very animated, "Girls, look, girls, look! It's daddy! It's daddy! Daddy didn't drown!" By the somewhat startled look on the older girl's face, it hadn't occurred to her until then that drowning was an option.
I love these glimpses into the lives of others. It's usually enough of a story to imagine the whole of it. The conversations they must've had about this damn event. Him complaining about the swim, her incredulous he wasn't going to train for it. "I hate swimming." "You're a husband and father, you could drown!" "I'll be fine. People hardly ever drown in these things." And on. It was also easy to hear from her words to her sister (really, how do I know the other woman was her sister??) that she was worried but not angry. The snapshot of their relationship one of affection. As he hurried up the hill to transition to the bike, she was jumping up and down to get his attention..."you're alive, you're alive!!!" Sweet.
I'm not positive why I enjoy snatching bits of conversation or watching an interaction so much. There's some thinking that eavesdropping originally emerged as a behavior to discover social norms or learn the location of the best food or the most secure shelter. Makes sense. Though I'm pretty sure that's not why I enjoy it. I think for me it's the story. I like re-telling the story of what I heard or saw. I like seeing the world through someone else's lens. I like hearing stories different from mine and maybe learning something.
Standing beside two women and two little girls for fifteen or twenty minutes that day told me a story of adult sisters who are also friends, of a family who support each other for important events even if in driving rain, of little girls who are growing up happy, of a man who loves a good adventure but doesn't take it too seriously and of a woman who lets him make his own damn mistakes even if it worries her a little.
It was a good story for a rainy day.
Part One: Things that are Horrifying: Mirrors, Wrinkles, Mortality
One of the freakishly horrifying things about aging is realizing the truth of mortality. Freakishly horrifying because most horrifying things are rare. Getting mugged. Being in a plane when it loses an engine. Skydiving for the first time. Bringing your firstborn home from the hospital and starting to realize what you’ve gotten yourself into. Those events, whether unexpected or intentional, don’t happen very often. The fear, sometimes paralyzing, is time limited. Whether there’s a good outcome or a bad outcome, the panic of it comes and goes fairly quickly. Even bringing that baby home, the horrification is short lived (even if it does revisit you periodically over the next many years).
The difference with aging is that it happens every single day. It’s typical. It’s inherent in breathing. It can’t be avoided. It’s desirable when you stop to think about it. It’s a source of daily gratitude to a benevolent god. Hand in hand however, it too often also feels…or looks…like the slowly evolving work of a dark magician. Forces of good fuel the earth’s rotation, keeping the sun and moon on schedule and gravity doing its thing. The dark magician using those same rotations day by day to remind me when I look in the mirror that the passage of time and gravity have a price. Horrifying.
As someone who has almost nothing of true significance to worry about day in and day out, having any level of angst about how well my skin doesn’t fit anymore is wasted energy. My life has been so fortunate damn it and who knows what I did to deserve it? Perhaps I weathered 50 prior lives, the first one as a soulless poison dart frog, and had to slowly earn this life. However it happened, the life I ended up with came complete with parents who told me every day how much they loved me and I could be anything I wanted to be. Throughout this life, opportunity just kept coming.
I’m not saying I haven’t worked hard, overcome obstacles, endured some trauma. I have. But not as much as so many on the planet. My world does not look terrifying, it looks like a big ball of happiness. I would love to say all this happiness keeps my perspective balanced and I only feel gratitude for every passing day. But no. I look in the mirror and fret. Sometimes I even feel horrified.
There is an ongoing conversation about the damage done to girls and women in our culture as we learn to measure too much of our value based on beauty, determining our own value by comparison. Beauty becomes a competition by middle school if not before. I always ranked in the middle. I wasn’t one of the pretty girls but I was one of the smart girls and “cute-ish” girls, so adolescence was survivable. And yet, I still catch myself wondering how I rank among other 50 somethings.
I don’t think it out with this many words in my mind, but the gist of it is this: how does the falling of my face, the long lost visual desirability of my thighs, and the growing crepey-ness (eww…crepey is such a creepy word) of my neck and arms compare? So counterproductive! Pondering my fading cute-ish-ness, besides that it’s crazy, is such a waste of time. These are the words that should be in my mind: I’m healthy and strong. I have happily grown, independent sons. I am financially secure. I travel. I work. I create. I have great friends. And on and on.
It’s not really the reflection in the mirror that is horrifying. It’s the reminder of mortality. Mortality grows ever more real in my consciousness as my reflection grows more “mature”. As the decades pass, there’s been a weird disconnect between the maturity of mind and spirit and the maturity of body. Away from the mirror, it’s so clear my very mature and very evolved mind and spirit are full of ridiculous wisdom and grace because I have mastered about a thousand life lessons and survived at least a million more. Stepping back in front of the mirror invites a different reaction: “Oh shit! Look at me! I have less than half a life left!”
What to do? Building a world wide campaign for the prohibition of reflective surfaces does not seem realistic, nor a good use of my remaining decades of my life. Perhaps responses less rooted in denial would include:
Aging is hard. I think about it, not obsessively, but too often. The plan is to write my way to a better place. So be on the lookout for part two. My hope is that other women will join me and share the horror and the laughs and failures and successes to an eventual place where the wrinkled, but supremely at peace, warrior goddess rules.
This was first published in Publishous on Medium. Find it here and wander around for other great reads at https://medium.com/publishous/a-ten-part-journey-to-peace-with-aging-796a824bda88
My bathroom mirror says, in pink chalk marker, "if you want to be strong and brave, be strong and brave". I'm not someone who sticks inspirational post-its around the house, but I heard a female athlete say this after she'd failed her course attempt on American Ninja Warrior (yes, I love watching American Ninja Warrior). Her response to whatever the interviewer's inane question was struck me: "well, if you want to be strong, be strong!", so I wrote it on the mirror. I added brave because I could benefit from a bit more bravery.
I'm a glass-mostly-full kind of person and I love big ideas but I can get stuck in making the leap from big idea to big life. As much as I would love not to admit it, there's a fear factor. I have a longstanding list of big ideas that I haven't pursued. The reasons usually sound like I'm too tired and I'm too busy and I'm too old and I'm happy enough already. Um, really? Unless it's something that has to be planned for financially, like travel around the world for 3 months or truly isn't possible, like be queen of the world...let's be honest...the reason for not trying is some kind of fear. Fear of failure. Fear of looking stupid. Fear of too much work.
Although I don't make resolutions, the New Year seems as good a time as any to decide to be strong and brave. Time to do some scary things and discover whether the worst thing happens...or not. Because, I remind myself, the worst thing won't happen. The less than optimal might happen. So what? Learn. Grow. Be strong. Be brave.
On my list...
What will you do? What are your big ideas, even if scary? What will you write on your mirror? (These aren't just questions to wrap up this blog story; I'd truly like to hear...)
*Not to do advertising for Nike, but I downloaded the Nike Run Club app yesterday for a 1/2 marathon training plan. Very easy, lots of features...I think I'm going to like it.
Hi, I'm Donna. Long time artisan/creative. Full time work in nonprofit world. Mother of two adult sons. Currently, also mother of two cats.
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