Looking My Age

Since we’re all pondering the passing of time tonight, here’s a poem I wrote about aging, followed by some musings.

**

The Grottos of My Face

Lines I expected, around
the eyes and mouth, a deepening, settling
in of my features. This is how I aged
in my mind, at twenty, when I thought of aging
which wasn’t often, but enough
so that the image held fast, is there still
decades later, when I hit the snooze
each morning, until the second alarm
propels me through the shower
to the mirror, comb in hand. The third alarm
is the surprise that meets me there
new every day: the grottos
of my face, the shifting of the landscape.
No steady etching, as from
the river time is supposed
to be, according to the poets I’ve read.
Now I begin to see that age
is not a settling but an upheaval
unpredictable,  seismic.

**

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For most of my adult life, my appearance has been deceiving. I’ve looked younger than my actual age. Once, when I was in my early twenties, I was checking out books about writing from the library and the lady behind the desk asked “Are you hoping to be a writer when you grow up?” Umm.

I got ID-checked for 21-and-over activities right up to about age 40. But after age 45 or so, it the years started catching up with me and it seemed I could tell a difference in the mirror from one day to the next. I remember the morning I woke up with jowls. It was like having one of those tricky balloon mortgages where people float along complacent for years and years with their manageable payments, until suddenly one day – boom – they owe tens of thousands of dollars all at once.

I’m 51 years old now and I look it. I have a couple of gray streaks in my hair. I don’t plan to dye it, as I know myself too well to entertain the idea I’d ever keep up with it. Besides, I like gray hair, and the shade of gray I’m getting goes well with my blue eyes. I have creases in my face and the newest development is turkey neck.

I tell myself I’m okay with it. There’s nothing wrong with looking my age or being my age. As Sarah Silverman put it, about people mocking her for being “old”:  “I feel like your joke is that I’m still alive. My crime is not dying.”

For the most part, I don’t think about it much. I’d be lying if I said I feel like I have as much energy as I did fifteen years ago. Yet, I have hung drywall in the not-too-distant past. I’m not exactly decrepit. Also, I haven’t even gone through menopause. That’s right — my husband and I still have to be watchful not to pull the old Abraham and Sarah routine and produce an infant in our twilight years.

There are times I let it bother me, and those times generally hang upon the words of someone else. Those times I worry that I look even older than my age. (Though, what would be wrong with that?) Then I wonder if it’s because we have constructed such an artificial idea of what aging looks like in our society. Do I really look older than 51, or is it that people have no concept of what an undyed, undisguised, unreconstructed 51-year-old looks like?

You know how to make a woman feel old and feel bad about it? Patronizingly call her “young lady.” This happened to me twice recently. The first time it was a waiter, and he looked to be quite a bit younger than I, so I’m going to forgive him and allow that he has time to learn the error of his ways.

The second instance was a grocery store clerk, who appeared to me to be around ten years my senior. He not only greeted me with a hearty “How are you today, Young Lady?” (emphasis not mine), but he also instructed the bagger not to fill my bags too full because they would hard for me to lift and asked if I had anyone at home to help me unload them. Good grief. I know I was short on sleep that day, but did I really appear a full 100 years older than my actual age? I overruled him on the bagging, telling the woman she could fill them pretty full because my canvas totes are sturdy. Then I answered his question, “No everyone else is at work or school right now, but I’ve recently been hanging drywall, so I think I can handle a few sacks of groceries.” Either I put him in his place or he assumed my visions of hanging drywall were a product of my senile mind.

I nearly turned around as I was pushing my cart away. It occurred to me to tell him, “Those tampons I just bought? They’re for me. I still ovulate.” I stopped myself, though.

As a girl, I always responded to assumptions about what girls couldn’t or shouldn’t do with a “challenge accepted” attitude. This girl climbed trees higher than the boys did. This girl loved math classes and not so much home economics. This girl was simply herself, whether or not it fit the social narrative or was considered feminine. I want to hold onto her when it comes to age. I want be the woman in her fifties who is okay with being in her fifties. Instead of trying to pass for younger, I want fifty and then sixty and seventy, and beyond to be acceptable and not narrowly defined.

If I ever do dye my hair, I’m pretty sure it will be purple.

 

Every Day for a Year

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For the past decade or so, I’ve noticed a spate of books and articles in the vein of “The Year of…” fill in the blank. “The Year of Living Biblically.” “The Year of no Internet.” “The Year of Eating Only Locally Grown Foods.” I keep thinking I could write one called “The Year of Doing Nothing Much Special.”

Ah, but 2014 was the year I celebrated my 50th birthday, and I did set myself a goal for the entire twelve months. It wasn’t a hugely transformative change, nothing like learning to make my own clothing from organic cotton and then wearing only things I produced myself, or moving to a cabin in the woods with no electricity or indoor plumbing. My goal was simply walking a minimum amount every day.

I wanted a number that was meaningful in terms of my age milestone. I wanted to make it attainable and not too overwhelming so that I wouldn’t give up and not do anything at all. With two teens at home, managing things for an elderly parent, plus my day job, my life often resembles a frantic game of Whack-a-Mole. Time is a real issue. And money’s an issue. I can’t commit myself to something if it requires a lot of equipment. But I didn’t want to make it too easy. I wanted to have to make some effort and get enough exercise to benefit my health. I settled on 5,050 steps per day minimum. With my stride length, this works out to about 2 1/4 miles.

I’ve been writing down my numbers in a little journal, like Rain Man with his notebooks, each night before I go to bed. Date, steps, miles. I’m not sure why I need the documentation, but I have it.To be honest, I figured I’d have a at least a few off days where I didn’t quite make it. But I was wrong, peeps! I’ve met my minimum goal every single day for 365 in a row – January 1 through December 31.

Many days were easy. If I didn’t have to drive my son to school, I could walk to work. And once there, I’m often on my feet. I work split shifts two days a week, which means two round-trips on those days. If I’m able to walk both times, I can break the 10,000 mark without much extra effort. On days when I didn’t work and the weather was terrible (I’m talking ice storm terrible), I found myself doing things like walking in place as I stirred food on the stove. As my 16-year-old observed, “You can get a lot done if you don’t mind embarrassing yourself.” The biggest challenge came in early April when I had a terrible cold. But I made myself move. I’d get up off the couch every half hour or so and walk circles in my house while heating a tea kettle. Then I’d collapse and remain in a heap for another half hour while sipping tea.

I have an old friend who does nothing by half measures. One of his obsessions is physical fitness. As a friend, he’s 95% wonderful and 5% completely annoying. The 5% reveals itself when it comes to the topic of out-of-shape people. He used to be a little chubby himself, and you know how nobody is so fanatical as a convert. Several weeks ago, he posted a rant on Facebook about people using pedometers and how 10,000 steps a day was nothing as far as exercise. 10,000 steps should be a baseline and you had to do something else in addition to walking, he said. I started to respond with something along the lines of “Come live my life for a few months and then we’ll talk.” But then I realized this kind of thing is the reason there’s a “hide this post” option.

Yeah, 5,050 steps isn’t a huge number. But’s not nothing, either. It’s not even next to nothing; it lives in a different neighborhood. Yeah, my weight hovers on the line between what the current medical charts call the “normal range” for my height and what they call “overweight.”  But I had all of my middle-age tests done and got excellent numbers on my report. Cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure – all great. My doctor actually used the word “optimal” and said she wished her numbers were as good as mine. So I figure whatever a bathroom scale has to say falls into the “hide this” category along with my friend’s fitness rant.

It feels good to have stuck with it. I find value in making myself  keep going, even when I don’t feel like it, in order to meet a bigger goal. And no matter how little in the mood I am for walking, once I start I always remember that I love it. I love walking. There’s a however coming, though…

However, for 2015, I’m allowing myself an occasional day off. I’m upping my overall minimum steps goal, but measuring it in weekly increments. I plan to count weeks Monday-Sunday. If I have my steps in by Saturday, I can relax for a day. If I’m behind, Sunday is a good day to catch up. My target for the new year is 45,000 steps per week. If I meet it, I will have walked 1,000 miles by the end of the year.

Goodbye 2014. I’m closing the book on you.

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Onward to a new year.

 

 

Facing 2013: the Daily Checklist Project

I tend to shy away from major resolutions at the beginning of a new year. But I do like the opportunity for reflection, and the idea of a fresh start, the prompt to decide how I want to live the next few months of my life.

This time around, I’ve started my New Year’s plan early. I decided to make a daily checklist of things that are important to me, with the goal of accomplishing most of the items on most days. Here it is:

1. Exercise
2. Studies/classwork
3. Creative writing
4. Something to improve the house/keep the household running
5. An act of love for someone else
6. An expression of gratitude

Some of these can overlap. Buying groceries can fall under headings 4 and 5, for instance, especially if I make an effort to find one special item for each member of the family. I have a few more specific thoughts about each goal I listed.

1. Exercise. This is pretty obvious. I need to take care of myself. I walk to work, which helps me meet this goal. However, it’s only on five-minute walk, if I take no detours. Then again, some days I work split shifts, so I make the round trip twice. On those days, that’s 20 minutes of walking. If I can manage to leave the house a few minutes early on workdays, I can add a loop around the park and end up with a fair number of steps. Days I don’t work pose more of a challenge, as unintuitive as that seems. But I find I’m trying to run all of my errands and catch up on other things, so the opportunity for exercise isn’t automatically scheduled in. I’ll have to remind myself to make the effort on those days.

2. Studies/classwork. I’ll write about this in more detail in a future post, but I’m pursuing a course of study that has me taking one on-line class right now. I might bump it up to two at a time after I finish this one, depending on how my schedule is feeling. Nevertheless, it requires the discipline to make myself show up and do the work.

3. Creative writing. I have a theme in mind for poetry for the coming year. I’m thinking in terms of a chapbook, so I don’t want to divulge too much detail at this time. I’m also about 30,000 words into writing a novel.

4. Something to improve the house/keep the household running. There is no end to the number of home improvement projects that need done around here. A couple I plan to tackle that will probably require the use of vacation time. We have a new accessibility ramp, and we can’t put any finish on it yet. Around March or April, though, it’s happening. We also had a new back door put in, and I need to paint the door frame. Same project more or less. My husband and I tentatively plan to repair and repaint the walls in our entry room as well. Beyond that, I need to get a better handle on housework. If I can even just clean a sink on days I’m super busy, that will be better than nothing.

5. An act of love for someone else. The older I get the more I think love is defined by how you act, rather than how you feel. I hope I don’t disappoint myself on this one. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Listening with genuine interest to one of my kids talk about something that excites them, or taking some supplies to my mom, or getting a cup of coffee for my husband. I just want to make sure I’m remembering to be part of the world around me.

6. An expression of gratitude. Another one that can be accomplished in mere seconds, yet I can forget it some days. It can be as brief as noticing that – yay! – our water heater still works. Or  a sincere thanks to a store clerk.

That’s it. Nothing huge. But daily attention to the basics feels about right.

A Writer’s Resolutions for 2010

I’d like to announce that I’ve already made progress on my writing-related goals for 2010 by improving my blog, however slightly. Look over to the right.  I finally have a “follow” button and have also add an RSS feed option.

My writing goals for the coming year and beyond can be summed up under one umbrella resolution: Treat my writing more like a job. This means I will establish regular office hours and I can’t take off from work willy-nilly. If I need to miss work, then I’ll need to make up the hours.  With the demands of my “real” job, my old house, my two children, my pets, etc. I find it all too easy to sacrifice my writing time to dentists and veterinarians and school staff who need volunteers to help with a project, not to mention all the time I spend at the hardware store. Since my regular job is part-time, in theory I have a couple of days a week when the kids are in school that I should be able to devote to my writing. In reality, those are the days I end up doing all of my appointments and errands. Then I try to fit in the writing around all the rest. A lot of times, the writing doesn’t happen. I aim to change this.

I’ve broken down my general intention into smaller, specific goals. From past experience I’ve learned I need to keep my goals limited to things I can control.  So my list doesn’t include the goal of having someone else publish a piece of my writing, but it does include how many pieces of writing I want to finish and send out during the year. The hope is to have them published, of course, but since I can only control my end of the process, that’s where I need to focus.

My list of writing goals:

Set regular office hours and stick to them, at least five hours per week.

Finish the rewrite on my novel and offer it for consideration to at least ten outlets (publishers and/or agents) before the end of the year, unless someone accepts it before I reach ten.

Write at least four short stories and send them out into the world. I decided on four for the year, because I have four ideas floating in my head right now.

I currently have a book of poetry entered in a contest. If I don’t win that, I will offer the manuscript for consideration to at least ten other outlets or until it is accepted for publication, whichever comes first.

I will not let a month end without sending out at least one item.

I’ll update my blog at least three times each month. I figure once every ten days or so is a minimum. I will learn more about the nifty features of my blog and attempt to improve it.

Happy 2010 everyone! Let’s get some writing done!