While I’m Talking about Aging

11_11I thought of titling this article, “While I’m Talking about Death,” but I changed my mind. Aging is a difficult enough concept in our society, but death is almost an obscenity. Too many might turn away without reading. We all hope to age one day, even though we presume that day to be farther away than it probably is. Who hopes to die?

And yet, the older I grow, the larger death looms. Inevitably. A bout with cancer added to the three-quarters of a century I have been on this earth has brought death into my daily consciousness. Not necessarily in a bad way.

Death means limitation. Just that. And every artist of every discipline knows that limitation is power. Knowing that I will die, knowing it not only in an intellectual way without really believing it, but knowing it in my gut, changes the quality of my days. They have become precious, pearls strung on the most fragile of threads. I often pause and think Now. Now. This moment. Hold it. Treasure it. It will not come again.

I remember hearing in high school literature class about some old guy—was it John Donne?—who slept in his coffin. As an adolescent, all I could think was Weird! But now I understand, deeply, fully. He was reminding himself every time he entered the “little death” of sleep about the preciousness of his life. What could be more affirming?

My gratitude for my career as a writer in this late stage of life is boundless. I have work that calls me every day, work that I love to do, work that feeds me by connecting me with others. And yet I can do it at my own slower pace. I no longer take on deadlines. I no longer even create deadlines for myself.

My discipline is the discipline of doing each day what I most love to do, whatever that may be. Sometimes it’s writing. Sometimes it’s a day spent with my daughter and my grandchildren. Sometimes it’s a Pilates session followed by lunch with a friend followed by grocery shopping and preparing another meal for myself and my partner. (I’m one of those who loves grocery shopping and food preparation. It’s only putting the groceries away that annoys.) Sometimes it’s doctor’s appointments, of course, or other unpleasant necessities, but whatever else I’m doing, each morning I rise knowing the writing waits. And I always turn to it with gratitude.

Recognizing the limitation of my days, however, has prompted me to reconsider the choices I make about what to write. I stood before my book shelf one day and counted the books that bear my name. It will be one hundred very soon. And I said to myself, it will be nice to keep writing. I hope to continue to publish. But it’s clear, whatever I write, that the world doesn’t need more Marion Dane Bauer books. And so, though I was fully engaged in Blue-Eyed Wolf, a young-adult novel that I found challenging and fascinating and satisfying to struggle through, I put it aside for a different project . . . a memoir in verse.

This . . . this is what I most need to write. I need to write it for my daughter and my grandchildren if it reaches no one else. And I need to write it for myself. It’s a way of parsing my past, discovering its shape, finding its meaning. It’s a way—returning to the opening of this piece to create a writerly shape—of preparing for my death.

I think the memoir will be called Writing a Life, and it is another gift delivered to me by limitation. It would not have occurred to me to do this in middle age. I do it—and do it urgently—precisely because I know my time grows short. Maybe another twenty years short. Who knows? Maybe much less.

And what I could not have known when I was young and repelled by the idea of an old guy sleeping in his coffin, the urgency brought on by Death fills me with joy!




31 thoughts on “While I’m Talking about Aging

  1. Norma Gaffron

    I like your new title. Much more inclusive. Mature.
    (There was something else I was going to tell you, but I forget. Another problem typical of my ageing…)

  2. Pam Turner

    As my 60th birthday looms I find myself thinking similar thoughts. Every momment I get to do what I love is a gift. I look forward to your 100th book and think you should title your memoir “That’s my story” 🙂

  3. Anna Marie Black

    Gratitude–an important word. “An Attitude of Gratitude” was the theme I chose a few years back for the children’s camp program I develop and implement each summer. Maybe it’s our added years that allow to appreciate more and to be thankful for those little joys, for even that awareness of death that in the same way, perhaps, a child dying of cancer is aware. (And joy is not the same as happiness.)

    I’d posted a few blogs back but I don’t think it took because I wondered why you had chosen poetry for your memoir and I didn’t see a response. Perhaps you’ve answered that question. I’m glad you’ve chosen a title, since as poets know, the title often serves to convey much thought, much territory. If you’ve read Gail Sheehy, you might recall her comments about how at our time in life, our age, we can impart wisdom to others. (I quip–If they would only listen!)

    Ah, Marion….like aged wine. Many Years!

    1. Marion Dane Bauer Post author

      Anna Marie, I’m sorry if you have posted responses to my blogs and not gotten a response. I always respond when I see that someone has written, but sometimes I’m not notified that a response is waiting . . . especially if you happen to write on an older blog. (I usually check the new ones through the week.) The reason I chose poetry for the memoir–I wrote about this a while back–is because I realized by doing that I could choose moments and not have to march through my whole life. The problem with marching through my life–apart from its not being very interesting–is that I would have to take other people along with me, and I have always made a commitment not to write about anyone in my life except myself. I can write about those who are no longer here, but not about the living except in the most glancing way. Selecting moments and writing them up in a short verse avoids that.

  4. writersideup

    Wow, Marion, you are definitely a brave and wise soul. I have long lived with a sense of urgency, but aging and losing people close to me has definitely brought mortality more to the forefront than ever. Moments DO become more precious. Though I’ve always lived my life gratefully, I feel too much of my life was wasted in many ways and it’s time that can never be regained, just like never catching up on years of lost sleep. I am more grateful for each day and how it’s spent,more than ever, and I expect it to feel that way more and more with each day, just as you do. Great post, Marion 🙂

  5. Donna Gephart

    I love all your posts, but this might be the best yet. And a memoir written in verse by you? I’d wait in line for that! Thanks for reminding us of the preciousness and finiteness of our days, Marion. And for reminding me to choose what to write . . . wisely and with one’s heart.

    1. Marion Dane Bauer Post author

      I’m honored, Sharon, to know that you are out there listening. And the hazard of talking about any piece in process is that it keeps changing . . . in this case the title. I began to realize that while my blog is all about writing, my memoir is not. My new title, which may even hold, is When Even Grief Lives Far Away: A Memoir.

  6. Steven Palmquist

    Marion, thank you, once again, for lighting the way. I’d love to hear more discussion about how creative folks approach maturity and a changing relationship to art, whatever kind of art that may be. Losing friends and loved ones, and confronting our own mortality, can give an amazing depth and timber to our perceptions. It’s not really morbid…I think it’s honest, fundamental, and more connected to the larger scheme of life. Who knows? Perhaps because of that, our best work is ahead of us.

    1. Marion Dane Bauer Post author

      Thanks, Steve. I do believe I’m doing my best work now, for all the reasons you mention, and that’s a surprise to me . . . and a blessed relief. While I diminish in other ways–inevitably–I gather all of myself more fully into my work.

      1. Steven Palmquist

        I know exactly what you mean about now being more fully into my work. In the past, juggling all my responsibilities was more of a priority than the actual work itself. Nothing like a few tragedies and setbacks to blow away the dross. I’m not really all that different inside than I was at 20 or 25–but I am more intensely “me” now. Sort of like a making a reduction when cooking. What I have to draw upon internally feels more intensified and vital. And reaching across time is not a barrier–it all seems immediate and interconnected.

    2. Joanne Toft

      Steve and Marion – This line from Steve – I’d love to hear more discussion about how creative folks approach maturity and a changing relationship to art – would make for a wonderful discussion. I would love to be a part of that discussion or at least to listen in on it.

      And yes I agree that some time the best work is ahead of us! thanks for the conversation.

  7. Joanne Toft

    Wow- so well said. This is a conversation at our home as well. What does retirement look like for a writer? Knowing that one will always write. What projects are most important now as we get older?
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts!


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