Tag Archives: Aging

A Continuing Conversation

conversationLast week, talking further about the effects of aging on my work as a writer, I spoke of now being more successful in “getting out of my own way” when I sit down to write. I said that I find myself far less concerned about what anyone else—friends, agent, editors, reviewers, etc.—will think about what I’m creating and more able simply to let what I find within me flow. And I quoted one of my readers of the previous week’s discussion who referred to the process of aging as being like creating a reduction when cooking, after long simmering our own “me-ness” grows more intense.

I asked my readers for their experience of the impact of aging on their work, and here are some of the responses I got.

I love the idea of coming to an age where writing from the place of story is the thing that makes you feel most yourself. I think many of us get rare glimpses of this place as we move through our careers. I know I’ve been there…and I cherished that space. I’m always looking for it. Maybe, instead, I need to just let that place find me. —Ann

 *

I took great comfort from this post. This idea of reduction is like distillation, which ironically is a process used to create alcoholic drinks—”spirits.” Likewise, our spiritual life after age 60 is reducing life to its essence and saying no to many things that used to concern us. —Doug

 *

I find, as mortality looms ever larger in the window (assuming I have at least another 20 to live), that the mundane things and the pesty demands that KEEP me from what I want to do (write my novels) are more and more annoying, and, “no” is easier to say now, though the biggest thing I need to say “no” to, much more often, is the plethora of online interaction lol  —Donna Marie

*

Thanks so much for this post – It helps me focus my thinking about writing and projects at this time of my life. I loved the line -“I’m simply reaching into myself, into that place where language begins, where story resides, and pulling out whatever I find there.”

This is what I needed to hear to let go of my own expectations to push outward. Now is the time to reach inside to find my stories. Here is a link to a bit more of my thinking —Joanne T.                            

*

These posts of yours have actually frightened me – partly because you’ve expressed my well-buried thoughts, and partly because the concept of not being able to write some day due to age is horrifying. But what I have found with my recent projects casts a happier light on being an older writer: I know stuff. I don’t know where or when I learned it, I don’t remember the research, the study, but there it is – language and detail and nuance. I can bring a depth to my work that I couldn’t have brought to it when I was in my 20s. Count me among those writers who will never retire, and who doesn’t give a fig for the so-called career. All I care about is that my stories get better, that I care about them deeply, and that I keep on writing. —Janet

*

I’ll soon be 74, and my days are among my happiest—rather akin to childhood. 

For many years, I worried about growing old and what it would be like. Such wasted energy! Now that I AM old, I live in gratitude for each day. Every day is different–with a rhythm that feels “right.” Today I did a book signing for my newest PB, Ben and Zip: Two Short Friends. The smile on the face of a three-year old (who had the whole book memorized) filled my heart. 

Much like you, the creaks and squeaks in my joints remind me that I’m old. But my heart has never been more fulfilled. —Joanne L.

Thank you to every one of you for your thoughtful, eloquent responses. I wish I’d been able to use every comment I received. Hearing from my readers makes this a conversation, and it’s the conversation that keeps me returning to the blog!

bauer_favicon

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!

 

bauer_favicon

 

Why I Don’t Want to Die at 75

11_4Recently Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel wrote an article published in Atlantic entitled, “Why I Want to Die at 75.” Not surprisingly, it has caused a stir. And being exactly 75 myself I find myself drawn to the fray. In a recent interview on Public Television the author of the article had this to say in justification of his premise: “I look at 75, when I look at all the data on physical disability, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, loss of creativity, slowing down of the mind and the body, and 75 seems like that, albeit somewhat arbitrary, moment where you get the maximum chance you’re still going to be vital and alive and vigorous.”

Dr. Emanuel is currently 57 years old, a relatively safe distance from which to make such a pronouncement. With my 76th birthday a couple of weeks away, I have—as might be expected—a different perspective.

This is just one man’s opinion, after all. Not a pronouncement anyone is obligated to live—or die—by, but when I consider the fact that Dr. Emanuel has been an advisor to President Obama concerning health care policy in this country, his opinion takes on disconcerting power. Imagine the kinds of public policy that could be influenced by such a perspective!

He acknowledged, as one must, that some people remain vital and creative past 75, and the reactions I have seen to his article have rushed to name such folks. A list like that always points out, in particular, those who are known for their contribution to the arts, as though the arts were, somehow, the gold standard for “vitality” and “creativity.” As though those who tend gardens and nurture grandchildren and simply live, maintaining friendships and families and history, barely deserve mention.

But there is a larger issue here. As Dr. Emanuel accurately points out, if we live long enough, our abilities will diminish. That is inevitable. It doesn’t matter how well we eat, how many supplements we take, how much we exercise, how positive we remain. And the diminishment won’t just be in our ability to run marathons or to wear high-heeled pumps without endangering our spines.

Our brains will slow. Our memories will show gaps. (I am often reminded, these days, of the statement, “I have an excellent memory. It just happens to be extremely short.”) The most common words will slip from our grasp. (I have been intrigued to note that I can easily find myself searching for an obvious word when I am talking, but rarely when I’m writing. I can only assume writing uses a different, more reliable part of my brain.) Our senses will be less acute. Our comprehension will come more slowly. (I wear hearing aids, and they work as well as hearing aids can, but my problems deciphering speech are confounded by the fact that my brain sometimes takes an extra beat to register what I have heard.)

And that doesn’t begin to touch on failures of joint and muscle, of heart and digestion, of strength and balance . . . or, of course, remembering my own bout with cancer three years ago, our greater vulnerability to disease.

I would seem to be agreeing with Dr. Emanuel’s argument, but I’m not. He has a right, certainly, to value his own body, his own life only for its agility and productivity. And I am more grateful than I can say that I continue to create and to publish as I pass the three-quarters-of-a-century mark. But Dr. Emanuel and our society as a whole makes a huge mistake not to value life for more than strength and acuity.

My knees creak when I rise from a long sit at the computer. Words I know slip away in conversation. But my life is richer today than it ever has been. I am content, not just with the harvest I have gathered, but with each moment that presents itself. More content than I have ever been.

Do I want to go on living when my life is reduced to pain or to a radical loss of comprehension? Absolutely not. And that is, no doubt, part of what Dr. Emanuel was reacting to, our medical system’s ability to keep us alive long past the time when we are of any use, not just to the world around us, but to ourselves. It is a profound problem and one we must find better solutions for.

But while I hope we work seriously and with deep love on that failure of our medical system, I also hope we don’t forget that life is about more than being useful. We are important, each one of us, simply because we are . . . even when it is time for us to receive more than we can give.

Because receiving is another way of giving. The giver grows in the giving. And that’s a truth we all need to hold close at any time of life!

bauer_favicon

 

A Gift for a 75th Birthday

birthday giftAging has been on my mind lately—passing a 75th birthday can do that to a person—though I recognize it’s not a hot topic out there in the world. Nonetheless, it’s a reality we will all deal with one day . . . if we’re lucky.

I am entering an era of last things.

I just purchased what I’ve told my partner and my family will probably be my last car. They laugh at me a bit. But the car is new, of a sturdy make, fulfills every transportation need I can imagine having, and comes with more bells and whistles than are entirely useful. Also, I usually drive my cars for ten years, and I am skeptical that another new car when I’m 85 will be high on my list . . . unless by then the ones that drive themselves are available and I can afford such a thing.

I’ve also just returned from a three-week trip to New Zealand and Australia. My daughter and I were visiting two former exchange students that were part of our family many years ago, and we loved rediscovering these women in their adult lives in the midst of their families, seeing their homes, exploring their worlds. But I was conscious with every step that this was a once-in-a-lifetime trip for me. No doubt my daughter will return one day, but I’m certain I won’t.

I have been working for what is beginning to feel like too long on a young-adult novel. Blue-Eyed Wolf is the biggest challenge I have taken on in my career. It is longer and more complex than anything else I have written. (The truth is I have been setting it aside as much as I’ve been working on it, the reasons varying from last winter’s broken arm to having contracted other work. But I’m ready to return to it now.) I am very conscious as I work that it is unlikely I’ll ever take on such a challenge again. There are days when I ask myself whether my brain—and my expertise—are even up to what I’ve embarked on. But mostly I enjoy discovering new dimensions of my own craft, of my own psyche, and am content to know it’s unlikely I’ll want to do anything like it again. Other, less challenging work, of course. But not anything of this scope or complexity.

And how do I feel about the lastness of car, of travel, of taking on almost-overwhelming writing projects? The truth?

Content. Deeply content.

My mother, who died at 97, used to say of being old, “But you don’t feel any different!” And I agree with her. The child you were, the young adult, the in-charge-of-the-world mom with kids and pets and career are still tucked away inside this too obviously crumbling shell. These former selves are there, intact, and none expects what they see when they look into the mirror.

And yet in another way—as was often the case—I don’t agree with my mother at all. I do feel entirely different than any of those younger selves.

Mostly, I feel better than I ever have. Not physically. Those challenges mount. But I am more accepting of myself, which means I’m more accepting of others. That doesn’t suggest this deep introvert can now walk into any social situation and know I belong there. Far from it. But it means that I rarely challenge my own right to exist.

It also means I am accepting of the life that stretches out behind me—monumental mistakes and profound loss included—and am content with this moment. This moment of sun- sparkled snow just beyond my study window. Of a small dog sleeping beneath my desk. Of this breath filling my lungs.

And this one.

And this one, too.

I wake each morning knowing I have little need, if any, to prove anything . . . to myself or to the world.

That is the true gift of a 75th birthday!

And a great place to be as I enter a New Year.

A blessed New Year to all my readers!