Monday, December 30, 2013

ANNOUNCEMENT



I established the Decrescendo blog site in October 2010, putting up a post weekly. In August 2012, I knew I couldn’t continue with at that pace and dropped back to two a month. I had already decided to make another change in my self-imposed deadlines when I heard Alice Munro being interviewed after she won the Nobel Prize. Now in her eighties, she said she had retired from writing, explaining that writing takes energy and she doesn’t have much energy anymore. Somehow that summed it up for me.

Based on my own reaction to blogs I have visited where new posts are erratic plus the information I patterns I saw in the traffic statistics for Decrescendo, I’m convinced that my dependable schedule has helped build my readership. This past year it has been difficult for me to write on a schedule (for reasons unrelated to the creative process).

Another frustration for me is the undependability and constant tweaking of Facebook, which I use to alert friends to new posts. While I appreciate that the Internet has given me this easy platform to share the memories that shaped my life and my observations about aging, I am not relaxed in that universe, and I want to reduce my direct involvement with it. I find my comfort level in the mail programs.

In all aspects of my life at 82, I have noticed that I don’t do well with pressure, deadlines, or hurrying. I get flustered! I considered following Alice Munro and retiring from writing. However, I’m not ready to do that. I’ve always thought I would go on writing until I was no longer able or had nothing to say.

So here’s the plan. Robin has set me up on Mailchimp and I’ll be sending my essays directly to welcoming inboxes by email. I will leave the blog intact so that interested people can have access to the archive of essays. (There is steady traffic to earlier posts coming through Google and other search engines.) Meanwhile I will send out a Decrescendo email essay about twice a month. I won’t have a specific schedule and will be able to take a little more time for rereading and final fact checking. When a post is ready, I’ll send it, and if your name is on the list you’ll get it in your Inbox. I expect to send the first one from Tybee Island in mid-January.

If you are interested in continuing to read what I have written, then please use the link below to add your email address. I won’t be sharing the list or doing anything with it other than sending my posts by Mailchimp. I’ll make a few changes to the blog site, but will leave the archives in place. I’ll also post the new essays that I’ll be sending by e-mail by so they’ll be available to drop-ins or folks who don’t use email, but the timing will be random and there won’t be Facebook reminders. If you are currently on the Decrescendo email list, your address has already been added to the Mailchimp list.

To subscribe to this ongoing distribution, click here. 

My thanks to all of my readers—the regulars, the drop-ins, and the seekers sent my way by Google et al. Please join me as I try to find a better routine and an easier schedule.

Donna Jean Dreyer, December 30, 2013

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Hinges of Human Experience


When I look in the mirror each morning I see an old face. Sometimes I study it looking for traces of the younger face that met my gaze for so many years. I look at the coarse, unruly gray hair; the deep wrinkles; and then at my eyes, which fortunately are still the same. In a time when nearly everything we do is documented, my emails often bring me pictures that friends and relatives have taken of me, sometimes with Nigel. They always do justice to the dog, but I am seldom satisfied with how I look. Somehow they don’t capture the old lady I see in my mirror. But this picture with Karik looks just the way I see myself, and it makes me happy.

I was twenty-one when Bill and I got married. Now—sixty years later—I have gotten a bonus from our early start in the form of five great-grandchildren. The grandmothers of these children are filing that role with generosity, love, and good humor. That allows me to have minimal responsibility and the maximal pleasure of watching them grow and give hints of the kind of people they will be.

I’ve spent some time this fall with a book called “Here If You Need Me” by Kate Braestrup, who is a chaplain to game wardens in Maine. She is often called upon to go into wilderness areas with search and rescue missions that don’t always have happy endings. She relates a conversation she had with one of the wardens after they had found the body of a person they were hoping to rescue. Part of Braestrup’s job is being with the families of the deceased at such times. The warden commented that they work “at the hinges of human experience when lives alter unexpectedly.”  I was struck by the use of the word hinge and went straight to my dictionary. The third definition is “a central point or principle on which everything depends.”

I faced such an experience when Bill died; at the time Robin said to me, “The whole structure of your life has turned upside-down.” Then my time on that hinge was lengthened by my own illness, which was diagnosed about three months later. Among my close friends and family there is often someone going through an upheaval. One of my friends, whose husband died earlier this year, may eventually be facing a move as well.  For my brother, the central point on which his life hinges is his ability to care for his wife at home and keep her safe as she heroically struggles with Alzheimer’s. I imagine that the experience of many of the long-term unemployed is that everything depends on their ability to piece together a living.  Life can also alter unexpectedly with happy experiences like the birth of a baby or a new job that brings greater res ponsibility. No matter what causes these hinge moments, lives are changed by them.

Once again I feel that I’m at a hinge of my own human experience. It is certainly not as profound or challenging as the death of a loved one, but nevertheless it has been the focus of my thinking. It has to do with a convergence of the very issues of aging that I have been exploring in my essays on this blog. Giving up nearly all my driving has been the underscore to recognition of my physical and emotional vulnerability. My current examination of myself includes noticing the excessive caution that flowed from my fall a year ago. It causes me to feel timid when I go for a walk and is further compounded by the vision problems that were at the heart of my decision about driving. Finally, I have to constantly plan my time with my limited stamina in mind. Last week Brene Brown, the guest on Krista Tippit’s program On Being, talked about the courage to be vulnerable, which she described as “whole-hearted living.” My challenge is to find within the circumstances of aging the quality of being that Brown described.

It has been my experience that simple words often break up a logjam of emotions and thoughts that are going nowhere. In this case it was an offhand comment from a friend of long-standing. He and his wife call me about once a year for a long visit by phone. After we shared family news, I asked him when he was going to retire. He told me that he had no current plans to stop working and gave me his reasons. I responded that I hoped I would live long enough to see him retire. “Well,” he said, “you just need to make it your goal.”

That casual remark sent the logs rolling swiftly down my rivers of thought as I started to imagine what it would feel like to make living a long time a goal. How would it change things?  Then I reminded myself that I actually have a different goal, and that is to live an expansive life for however long it lasts. I already know that the secret to aging well is balance. Not just the physical act of staying upright, but also in in the use of time and energy. Getting mired down in feeling old doesn’t help a bit, and maintaining the right balance of rest and activity can help you remain vital.

The first definition of hinge is the mechanism that opens and closes a door or a gate.  Keeping that analogy, I want this hinge in my life to bring me the opportunity to open wide my gate to let in the joy of the kind of whole-hearted living  I see in my two-year-old great-grandson Karik as he engages with every other person in the room.


Change is coming to Decrescendo

I plan to keep on writing about my life and the issues of aging along with the occasional memoir pieces. However, sometime in the New Year I will be doing it in a different way. It’s part of maintaining the balance I’m seeking. My next post will be on December 31 (which is a fifth Tuesday). I will share my plans, my reasons for making this change, and how you can continue to join me, if you would like to do that.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Thinking About Dreams and the Family Archives


We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep. (Shakespeare’s The Tempest)

I’ve been thinking a lot about dreams lately. I knew from experiences with my mother-in-law that dreams can be problematic as you get older. Changes in the brain make it more difficult to separate dreams and reality as you waken. Nevertheless it was startling the first few times it happened to me. Armed with a little understanding I concluded that the best remedy when I wake up dragging the ethos of a dream is to turn on the light and focus on the familiar surroundings. Some schools of thought give weight to emotions that influence dreams.  Meanwhile, scientists are investigating the kind of work that brain cells accomplish while we sleep and what impact that might have on dreams. I have a mental image of little file clerk brain cells sorting through piles of new bits of memory and putting them in the right file bins so that my daytime brain cells can retrieve whatever I need. Sometimes they drop a bit of memory and it leaks into my REM sleep.

Although I seldom ever have nightmares, I do dread visitations in the night by dreams that are disturbing, usually involving some kind of responsibility that I’m not up to. Still after all these years without him, I occasionally dream that I have to fulfill some obligation that Bill incurred. In one such dream I was expected to play the organ for a wedding Bill had agreed to do before his death made it impossible. I wakened as my dream avatar was saying “But I don’t know how to play an organ.”

My brain likes to make connections. Therefore, it puzzles me why the English language uses the word dream to describe three different experiences: nighttime REM-sleep images and sensations that we call dreams; contemplative daydreams; and aspirational dreams, which are desires or goals that seem improbable. It’s also used as an adjective meaning perfect. (Think dream team.) What qualities connect these very different experiences? Perhaps they are all more ephemeral than daily life or maybe it has to do with the way brains work.

 I make an attempt to control my night dreams by paying careful attention to what I eat, read, watch, or contemplate before bedtime, allowing my evening to provide a peaceful path to sleep. In contrast, I encourage myself to daydream and always have. It is a time when I gaze out the window, or at the sea, or at a beautiful view. Then I let go of directed thinking and just let my mind wander. As a mother, I tried not to interrupt the daydreams of my children because I think of it as an informal or casual kind of meditating.

There is a lot of variation in the origin or character of aspirational dreams.  As Robert Browning wrote, “Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?” Indeed, the moment that a goal is deemed beyond our grasp, it becomes a dream. Bill had long aspired to direct Carousel, his favorite musical. He kept trying to make it happen without success. Unexpectedly much later in life, the man hired to direct that particular musical at a theater in Greenville, SC got sick and withdrew. The producer contacted Bill and asked him to step in and direct Carousel. That was most certainly a dream come true, and the production was a well-heralded success with very fine reviews.

We also use the words “dream come true” about a moment in time, a gift or even purchasing a desired object on sale. Probably these are not things dreamed of in advance. Rather we want to express our pleasure in a serendipity. I celebrated my sixty-fourth birthday in London and had a magic moment during the intermission of a performance of “Swan Lake.” Bill and I went out to the roof terrace at the Royal Festival Hall, which overlooks the Thames. A full moon had painted the river with gold and illuminated the buildings on the opposite side of the river. Bill took me in his arms for a birthday kiss, and I declared the evening a dream come true. The truth is I didn’t know there was a roof terrace or a view of the Thames and had never painted that lovely picture in my imagination; but I wanted to acknowledge the sense of fulfillment that emanated from a memorable moment.

About three years ago I decided to sort through all the boxes of photographs, letters my mother had saved, the archives of Bill’s professional life and mine, and all sorts of souvenirs, diplomas, certificates, and clippings of weddings and obituaries. There were also boxes containing keepsakes from earlier generations that had come to us after the death of each of our mothers.

I managed to sort all the photographs in time for my eightieth birthday celebration when I was able to distribute some of them to my children.  During that same time period I had packed up and labeled everything from Bill’s life in the theater. But many other artifacts remained in the attic.

This fall Tammy assembled in my lower room all such remaining boxes from the attic. I was determined to finish the task. As the present custodian of these precious moments or the search for them, I decided to weed out dusty things that have suffered badly from the degradation of time, silver fish, mold, or mice, and protect the rest in plastic storage boxes. It may happen that among my grandchildren and great-grandchildren there will be someone who wants to know the family history and this material may be the start of a search.

Dealing with these final boxes came on the heels of a month of sorting and distributing the contents of three large storage boxes of clothing, costumes, and bedding. There were handmade quilts and shawls from several great-grandmothers. Tammy took the boxes of old financial materials and drafts of my book to the shredder during the week that the Credit Union offered this service.

As I plowed through the once precious items—including the ones that were shredded or distributed to other family members—it occurred to me that these items, some of them dating back to the nineteenth century, are the memorabilia of dreams: those that came true and those only hoped for. For that is what we save.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

My Day at the Opera


My friend Janey and I went to the Metropolitan Opera in Asheville on November ninth. We were part of a full house of mostly gray-haired opera fans who came to see the simulcast of Puccini’s “Tosca,” which has one of the most dastardly plots, opera’s worst villain Scarpia, and some of Puccini’s loveliest music. Members of the board of the Asheville Lyric Opera served as ushers and cheerleaders.

I was frankly not certain I would have the stamina to make the trip, miss my lunch and nap in order to get there early enough for good seats, watch a movie for three-and-a-half hours, go out for supper, and then make the trip home. But I was determined to try. So I emptied my roomy knitting bag and filled it with my water bottle, high protein and high fiber snacks, my travel pillow, and a few other things for my comfort.

These simulcasts have been going on for five years and although I am devoted to opera, listen faithfully to the Saturday Met broadcasts, and have been to major opera houses in various parts of the world, this was my first time at the Metropolitan Opera Cinema. I had been aware of the dates and operas being offered earlier, but somehow I could never make it work.

Janey had once suggested that we go together sometime to one of these  simulcasts in Asheville. So when I realized that Tosca was on the schedule, I asked her if she would like to go and if she was willing to drive. And now the day had come. I had in mind the many telecasts I have watched on PBS Great Performances, some from the Met and some from the Philadelphia and San Francisco Opera Companies. I expected that would be the format and wondered if I would be able to see the performers very well in a film made on the gigantic stage in New York.

The curtain rose on the opening scene that revealed the size and power of the semi-abstract set and introduced one of the main plot lines. Then the tenor strode onto the stage and in just a few minutes—with the magic of new technologies—the camera zoomed in for a close-up. Thus began the flawless performance of Roberto Alagnas as Tosca’s lover Cavaradossi. He and soprano Patricia Racette in the title role embodied the glorious love duets with intimacy, humor, sorrow, jealousy and ecstasy playing across their faces and as they punctuated the lyrics with hand gestures. Being able to see the nuance and emotion in such detail made me briefly feel like an intruder.

The biggest surprise for me was the scene with the villainous Scarpia in his private den of pleasure. He is a character who has always seemed to be the incarnation of evil. But here we had George Gagnidze showing us a deep sadness in his consummate portrayal. It almost made me want to add Scarpia to my metta blessing list the next time I meditated. He did not, however, make the chief of police likeable and there were no redeeming virtues as he sang the remarkable music Puccini had written for this nefarious character.

I used my travel pillow as we waited for the opera to start as well as during each intermission when there was nothing on the screen but stagehands changing scenery—eighty-five of them we were told. I didn’t sleep but I did feel refreshed. I also took two corridor walks to keep my problematic knee from getting too stiff. I was well fed and hydrated and I noticed many of the other patrons had a similar bag of sustenance. Others bought snacks at the theater’s food bar, which had much more than popcorn and cokes. You can even get a salad!

At the end, theater patrons clapped along with the audience in New York where the three principles all received a standing ovation and shouts of “Bravo.” Janey and I floated out of the Carolina Cinemas and drove to the restaurant. After we ordered an early supper, Janey heaved a happy sigh and said, “I feel full.” Misunderstanding, I asked if she would rather not have stopped to eat. “I don’t feel full in my stomach,” she said, “ I feel full in my whole being from the opera.”

A few days before we went to “Tosca” I heard an interview with a man who has written a new biography of Bob Fosse, the choreographer and director. So much of what the author talked about was also descriptive of my multi-talented husband Bill. It started me thinking once again about the richness he brought to my daily life for fifty years as he was directing, acting, singing, producing, conducting, and playing the organ or piano. One of his favorite Saturday recreations was to sit at his baby grand piano and accompany himself as he sang tenor arias from all the major operas scores in his ample collection, including those Puccini composed for Cavaradossi. Usually I was his only audience.  Like Fosse, he also wore out his heart and died too young. The Saturday after Thanksgiving will mark the sixtieth anniversary of our marriage, and Bill has now missed ten of them.  But he was right there with me in the theater all the way through “Tosca” even if he was only in my heart.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Facing Challenges and a Moment of Clarity


From the age of seventy on, the pace of change may accelerate and those changes sometimes produce a loss of identity. This past year I have had two such challenges. In 1964 Bob Dylan wrote his song “The Times They Are A-Changin’” as a commentary on civil rights and social change, but I found the first verse particularly apt for the upheavals I’ve been facing in 2013. He starts with a line about admitting the waters around you have grown and you’ll soon be drenched to the bone. Then he continues with advice that spoke to me:

If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

In the ambulance on the way from Tybee Island to the hospital in Savannah after I fell and broke my shoulder last January, I thought of Dylan’s song knowing my times were definitely changing. That fall had affected my confidence, feelings of safety, and sense of self.  I had believed that through discipline, mindfulness, and caution I would never have a fall or an accident with the car. Yet both those things happened in the space of nine months. I was comforted by my ability to cope, think clearly, take needed actions, and stay calm. However after my arm was safely in a sling and my broken big toe protected by a boot, I didn’t recognize the person who was timid about stairs, afraid to go out and walk alone, and unable to imagine ever returning to Tybee without a full time companion.  The fall was a blow to my self-esteem.

The issues were different with the car accident.  In 2011 I had begun to face the fact that problems with my vision meant I needed to curtail my driving and eventually would have to stop entirely.  For many months before I bumped into the end of a guardrail and blew out a tire on September 27, I had been tense most of the time I was in the driver’s seat. That day I was not distracted when I pulled out slowly from the stop sign and I was going only about five miles an hour as I turned too wide. I simply did not see the structure I hit. After I managed to drive the damaged car off the road, I sat quietly for a few minutes inside the car thinking, “I need to stop driving.” The full emotion of the event and its consequences didn’t hit me for about three days, at which point I asked Robin if he could recast the whole thing for me in a more positive light. After a little pause he said, “You’ve had a moment of clarity.”

When the vision problems first began to affect both walking and driving, I saw three different kinds of eye specialists as they sought both to fully diagnose the problem and to answer my question about driving. They all recommended that I not get behind the wheel if I felt uncomfortable and warned against driving in traffic, construction sites or when it was raining. Since then I’ve been driving to Burnsville on the weekends when the crews would not be working on the current major road project. Also I’ve been driving anywhere I wanted to go in Celo. In effect I was managing all aspects of my life except for the medical trips to Asheville or Spruce Pine when Tammy has been driving me. However, I have had numerous near misses and was often afraid because I couldn’t always overcome the double vision with logic, or judge spacial relations and interpret distortions quickly. It was an enormous relief to say that I would not drive anymore (except perhaps to the Celo Health Center).

After several weeks of euphoria and relief, I suddenly became morose again. I needed to arrange some rides and could not face picking up the phone and asking for help even from people who had offered assistance as soon as they heard the news: “Call me, I’ll help you if I can” was a typical response. It felt all right to request a ride from someone going to the same meeting or event, but I was reluctant to pick up the phone to ask someone do an errand for me in Burnsville.

As I got ready for bed, I was thinking about the next assignment for Scribblers (my writing group) on identity, which has certainly been subject to change as I have aged. In this case, I had already admitted that the waters around me have grown and accepted that if I don’t do something I’ll be drenched to the bone. Even so, I felt rough and uneasy emotionally. I was suffering from what felt like damage to my sense of self. I have no desire to get back behind the wheel but I couldn’t see my way clear to ask for help except from my children. 

The next morning I wakened with a new understanding and quickly wrote it down in my journal: “Buried deep inside me is a guiding principle of my life that had been instilled by my parents. I believe I should pay my own way, do my own errands, and drive my own car.” I have managed to maintain this attitude into my eighties without understanding it was a part of my identity. Once I recognized that, letting go was easy. But first I wanted to test the parameters of driving that I thought were reasonable for me.

There is something of a campus in the heart of Celo where the Health Center houses not only a medical clinic upstairs but also an acupuncturist, massage therapist, a Feldenkrais practitioner, and a large room for exercise classes downstairs. Across the driveway is the Celo Community Center where many activities, meetings and events take place. I wanted to continue to drive that far (about a mile and a half). So on a Sunday afternoon—three weeks after the accident— I asked Robin and Tammy to go along with me as I got behind the wheel and drove to the Health Center, telling them what distortions I was seeing and pointing out places that made me nervous. Their suggestions and affirmations enabled me to feel I could safely continue to drive to appointments on both floors of the Health Center plus interesting events in the community gathering place. The next morning I called several friends until I found someone going to Burnsville who could do my errand.

Clearly both my times and my identity are a-changin’ and I’m still on dry ground learning 
to let go of old habits and attitudes gracefully and maybe even singing a song.

Next Post:11/19/.2013



Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Living My Life: A Letter to My Readers


Karik

Dear Reader,
I’ve had no time to write an essay this past weekend because I’ve been too busy living my life. You know, trying to be present to every moment—even the tired ones. My granddaughter Maya, her two-year-old son Karik, her hound dogs Zoe and Marley, her amiable husband Wes and her father-in-law John all came on Friday night and filled up all the floor space in my guest house. “Pappy” (Karik’s grandpa) slept in the loft.

Wes and John are trout fishermen, and they occasionally come my way to fish in Spruce Pine and Bakersville. They left at dawn on Saturday morning; Maya and the budding young fisherman Karik followed to watch for a couple of hours. After that, they mostly hung out with me. The presence of relatives of course leads to multiple family visits. Robin and Tammy were at my house chatting with Maya and drinking tea in the late morning. After naptime, my granddaughter-in-law Polly and six-month old Ginger arrived for lunch and more visiting. The two little cousins paid great attention to each other, and their young mindfulness was inspiring. Karik stays in a day care while his parents work and is used to being around babies. He was gentle and attentive with his little cousin. She in turn was responsive: smiling, giggling and watching with her amazing concentration.

I sat in a chair nearby and luxuriated in being a great-grandmother to these two beautiful, intelligent and amiable progeny. The two mothers chatted around the edges of the required parental duties: nursing, changing diapers, speaking words of caution or praise. Both mothers were lavish with the hugs and kisses (even to me). My dog Nigel wisely retreated to a safe spot under the dining table in close contact with my feet. His reward came later in the afternoon when he got to romp and run with the hounds in his fenced-in yard. While Maya monitored the activity, I sat on the deck and laughed.

The weekend wasn’t just about family; it was rich in community contacts as well. Saturday afternoon there was a workday at the local food co-op and Robin, Tammy and my grandson Miles all pitched in. At supper time Maya and her gang (except for the dogs) went off to Spruce Pine for pizza. I joined Robin and Tammy at the Celo Community Center for a pasta supper —a fundraiser for the Celo pre-school. The food was good, but the real attraction for me was the chance to talk with neighbors and friends that I don’t often see anymore. Just as I luxuriated in watching the eager faces of the little ones in the afternoon, I loved looking at the relaxed middle-aged faces of people I’ve known for thirty-five years in some cases.

On Sunday morning, the fishermen took off soon after sunup and planned to be back by about four. After morning tea Maya and Karik and I set off to visit a few craft studios that were open as part of The Highway 80S Art Hop. We went to see the work of several of our favorites and even did a little gift shopping. Once again we all took naps, and then I made a risotto with peas, manchego cheese, shallots, and parsley for lunch. Soon the fishermen returned and after a whirl of packing and checking to make sure nothing was left behind, they headed down the mountain for their respective homes.

The richness of my life is a constant source of wonder to me, and I find it is easy to live in the now moments when they are made precious by the presence of family, friends of long standing and interesting neighbors. However, much as I love the hustle and bustle of Celo weekends with occasional houseguests, it is the quiet and solitude of my daily country home that sustains my spirit and my health.

All the best, Donna Jean


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

My Transition to Fall Starts with the Iron


On workdays my father wore a fresh, clean shirt, crisply ironed by my mother. She was proud of her ironing skills and started teaching me when I was nine. I began with napkins, dresser scarves, runners, and antimacassars. The following spring, Mother was sick and called me to her bedside to say that I would have to iron Daddy’s shirts. I was nervous because I had never ironed anything so complicated. I called Mother’s friend Ruth Reber and asked for help. She told me to bring a few shirts and come on over to her house. Patiently she taught me how to iron a tailored shirt and then watched and corrected me as I finished the ones I had brought. Two months later my mother’s illness was called a nervous breakdown, and she went to stay with a friend who had the time and space to take care of her. She was sick for five months in all, and I became proficient at ironing shirts.

Last week I changed out my seasonal clothes, putting away the summer sundresses and other garments and getting out jumpers and tailored blouses—my winter wardrobe. Then I set up the ironing board and ironed my blouses, which are made just like my father’s shirts but in feminine fabrics and colors and a little more ease in the front. Remembering Ruth Reber, I picked up the hot iron and began to smooth away the wrinkles, following the same instructions, and enjoying the transformation from wrinkled to pristine collars, back yokes, fronts, backs, sleeves (giving special attention to the little tucks) and then the cuffs.

Lately there’s been a change in the air, the light, and nighttime temperatures, which have been consistently lower. It’s time to put away the anklets and fill that drawer with knee socks. Soon I’ll exchange the cotton sweaters for the wool. Yesterday I walked by the river and noticed the changing leaf colors along the road. The intense hues of dahlias and chrysanthemums are matched by the amazing display of goldenrod this year. In the early morning there are many more squirrels darting across the road and chattering in the trees. Walkers and runners pick up the pace in the cooler air, and trucks loaded with split logs for fire wood are going by my house on Grindstaff Road.


In my yard the plants that will delight my eyes late into the fall are getting ready. The plumes of the Pampas Grass are fluffy and full, the bulbous lime green hydrangeas are radiant as the angle of sunlight changes, and the sedums have finished their progression from pale pink to brick red. Nature kindly gives us the gift of gradual change from the sometimes-intense heat of summer to the biting cold of winter.


For nearly twenty years Margot Rossi* has helped me stay healthy with acupuncture and Chinese herbs. At the same time she has taught me a lot about the very different way the Chinese approach wellbeing. Her comments often included thoughts about the effect seasonal change has on us. Recently she connected a health concern I had to the coming of fall. When I decided to write about the change of the season, I asked her to come up with a sentence or two that captured her thoughts. She sent me a little essay which started with winter, moved through spring and summer and finally to this lyrical explanation of the impact of fall.

The transition from summer's bounty, communion, and warmth to fall's release is a difficult one particularly for those of us who relish the joys of being together, connected, alive, active, and blossoming. Fall is a time of tuning inward, turning away from all that outward display and energy, attending to what is essential and letting the rest go. We end up drawing down into our roots and reconnecting with our own selves. For some this is a daunting process: what if we can't accept and cherish ourselves the way we are? What if we discover we don't really know who we are, why we are here, what's the point?

Of course the beauty of letting go of the material world and the distractions of an active, extroverted life is that we can come inside to reconnect with our essence, our most precious resource. This can give us inspiration and encouragement (also an attribute of fall) to start anew and live into heaven. The autumn of one's life has the same purpose— extract the essence: who am I, truly; what am I about; how have I lived; what shall I pass on to future generations in order to lift them up; how can I spare my family the karma to resolve what I was not able to resolve; how can my life help my community evolve; how has my life helped my community evolve thus far?

When I fell last January on Tybee Island I thought I’d never go back, but even though my recovery is not complete, I have rented a charming house for six weeks. Being further south and on the ocean mitigates the winter blast and keeps me walking. Yet no matter where I am I enjoy the reduced options of fall and winter, and the increased time available for solitary pursuits.  I feel the need to adjust some of the patterns and circumstances of my life in order to maintain an expansive feeling in the face of contracting physical resources. The contemplative season of earlier dusks, later dawns, and inclement weather encourages me to stay inside and think; it gives me the mental and spiritual space to do that work.

As I ironed the blouses and corduroy jumpers and folded the light fabrics of summer to put in the empty storage boxes, my heart was singing a softer, slower tune. Happily I began to feel the seasonal change inhabit my body.


*Margot Rossi’s website
Possibilities website

Next post: 10/15/2013




Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Evolving from Journalism to Memoir


Susan Larson starts our program at the Literary Festival.
Annually in September Carolina Mountains Literary Festival takes over the small town of Burnsville, our county seat and nearest commercial area. For two days there are writing workshops, authors reading from their books, and presentations on many literary topics in shops, galleries, the Town Center and other venues. This past weekend I spoke at the Festival as a part of a program on writing groups and how they contribute to a writer’s life. Our group traces its history back thirty-five years to a writing class which just kept going after the professor retired. Somewhere along the way we picked up the name Scribblers. In addition to sharing how the group helped us, we each read either from the “Toe River Anthology,” (a collection of poems, essays and memoir published in 1979 by the class) or some of our more recent work. Three of the presenters were in that original group. Our youngest presenter is a poet who joined Scribblers twenty years ago, and I have been a member since 1999. What follows is my description of the evolution of my work from journalism to memoir with the help and encouragement of the Scribblers. I was the last speaker so I also did the wrap up. Here are my remarks.

I wished we could call this program Four Golden Girls and a Baby Boomer but I was worried that you’d come expecting a comedy routine. In fact, although we have a lot of fun together, we are serious about our work. I find my greatest personal satisfaction in writing, in choosing words that exactly express what is in my mind.

I was schooled in journalism, first in my high school, where it was an elective, then later in graduate studies. During my years in the work force, I wrote constantly—either press releases and publicity, or grant proposals and program documentation and even personnel policies. With that kind of training and experience I had never thought about joining a group. So when my friend Liz Golibart invited me to join Scribblers, I told her I didn’t do fiction or creative writing. She replied, “Scribblers isn’t like that.  I think you should try it.”

 I did try it and it changed my writing life.

Briefly, I’ll tell you how. In Scribblers we meet in homes and usually the hostess sends out a writing assignment in advance. (But we always have the option of “Writer’s choice.”) After some refreshments we read our work aloud and there are many distinct takes on any assigned topic. Through that process I explored writing about different subjects and sometimes aspects of myself. I also learned  by listening to the different styles and noting my own reactions to the work of others.

The second impetus for change was the feedback both in how they reacted to my writing as I was reading it aloud, and from their comments afterwards. As you might imagine, over many years of sharing together and talking about writing and the work, the Scribblers have developed deep and lasting friendships.

So that leads to the third way it changed my work. After my husband Bill died, I decided to write a book about caregiving and I rather quickly produced a draft of about fifty pages, which I asked several of these good Scribbler friends to read. Their comments might have been ego-crushing if they hadn’t been such good friends. I realized right away the topic I had in mind was of interest, but the style of the writing was killing it. I understood that readers liked my stories but not the structure and formality and everyone said some variation of “Don’t write a how-to book, write a memoir.” I also got the message that I had to share myself—my feelings, what gave me joy, what caused me pain, and how I dealt with both. I needed more description and dialog, and less exposition. I started to read lots of memoirs and used a notebook and pen to explore my feelings with a stream of consciousness technique called Freewrites. Gradually I made a transition to the memoir style.

The challenge in journalism (my old style) is to be interesting, complete, and accurate but not personally present on the page as you pursue the five questions of Who, What, Where, When and How. A good journalistic piece tells a story and can even pull some heartstrings, but it is not about the person who is writing. I soon learned that while you may need the background found in those five questions, in memoir, it is all about the writer and the interaction with the other characters that emerge in your stories. I had to answer other questions: How did I feel? Which of my senses were engaged, and how? What was the long-term effect? How did I change because of what happened?

It had taken me a few months to produce that first draft—the one I threw away. Then it took four years to complete the memoir as published. It was a hard road to my new approach to writing and it was the Scribblers who took me there and gave me the courage and confidence to make the journey. If you have a writing itch, join a writing group or gather up a few like-minded folks and start your own. It might just change your life.


To illustrate the memoir style I developed, I read a short excerpt from my book, “Decrescendo: A Memoir of Love and Caregiving”. To begin a poignant chapter about Bill’s rapid decline called “Losses” I chose a context for my feelings that dated from the beginning of our relationship.

“A small oil painting catches my eye as I move about my kitchen preparing meals. It was given to me in 1952, before I knew I was in love with Bill, although he was already a commanding presence in my life. I had gone to Charleston, Illinois, to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with a DePauw classmate. The artist Paul Sargent had lived near her family’s home until his death in 1946. Thinking it would be a nice outing for me, her parents arranged for us to visit Sargent’s cousin, who had inherited the artist’s homestead.
The old farmhouse had a generous lawn and big trees. The conversation was lively and I was interested to hear all about this Midwestern painter’s life. When it was time to go, our hostess led us to a storage room, formerly her cousin’s studio, where there were dozens of framed paintings of all sizes. For half an hour we studied them, marveling at the color and detail. As we turned to leave, she pointed to a group of smaller canvasses and said that we could each take one. I had already been coveting a small painting that reminded me of Bill, so I chose it. She smiled and said, “I’ve always liked that one, too. I think that man was a hobo.” Maybe so, but I knew it was really Bill.
Although Sargent was primarily a landscape artist, he also did occasional portraits. My painting, dated 1928, depicts a man wearing a soft-brimmed shapeless hat, sitting on the ground with his back resting against a tree, patches of sun all around and a river flowing behind. I consider it a portrait of Bill because the physicality of the seated figure captures him so well. The man’s body is relaxed except for his arms, which are stretched out to his knees, wrists loose and hands dangling in the air. The painting speaks of living in the moment, of being adaptable, of connecting with nature.
Today it brings Bill back to me whole, undiminished. He is relishing the moment, at home in that place, at home in himself, comfortable but with just enough tension in those arms to suggest a readiness to move on when the time is right.”


Next post: 10/01/2013





Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Daddy's in That Crowd


August 28, 1963, High Point, North Carolina

Let me set the scene: On the day that 250,000 people marched in Washington my husband Bill was there, and I was at home with our children. We lived in a small corner house on Gordon Street, a main artery from the Montlieu area to downtown High Point. The side street was one long block to a cul-de-sac, lined on both sides with bungalows. Behind the houses on the far side of the street was a chain link fence separating our white community from a sprawling black neighborhood. We liked our house with its large yard (front, back and side), and a small deck where we could catch the evening breeze.

I was the only fulltime stay-at-home mom on the block. Two of the other mothers were beauticians and all the rest worked shifts in one of the furniture factories; their husbands worked different shifts at the same places. This meant that most of the houses had a sleeping parent at home during the day. There were eighteen children on the block including my three, and during weekends and vacations I often had six or more playing in our yard. We were teaching our children about nonviolence, and no fighting or bullying was tolerated in our play space. I dispensed lemonade, Band-Aids, and a little tender care as needed. My eight-year-old son Kevin was a take-charge kid who often directed the games and was quick to call me if there was a problem. In June Melissa had broken her leg and just recently gotten off her crutches. She was an organizer even at four-and-a-half and convinced the neighborhood kids to pull her around in a wagon so she wouldn’t miss anything. The summer of 1963 was hot and exhausting, but peaceful in the back yard of 600 Gordon Street.

Bill was on the staff of the regional office of the American Friends Service Committee. His job involved coordinating work with high school students in nine southern states. In addition he was meeting locally with both white and black teenagers to prepare them for desegregation. During July and August Bill had been traveling to youth workcamps and conferences throughout the south. He was in Maryland directing a World Affairs Camp the week before the March and planned to attend it before heading home.  There was a bus going to DC from High Point ($10.00 round trip) and I wished I could go and join him .

Instead, I rented a TV, which made a bigger impression on the children than the March itself. However, it did underscore the importance of the event. We had it on all day to catch whatever coverage there was. I heard many of the entertainers and some of the speeches, and the children kept pointing to blond men with glasses, but a closer look never revealed their dad. When they got bored, Kevin and Robin went outside to play for awhile and then came back to watch again.

Melissa didn’t want to get dressed, and I let her stay in her nightclothes. At one point there was a marching band and she was bursting with exuberance. I turned my back, and she disappeared out the door and started running down the block with a little hitch on the injured leg.  Dressed in her nightgown and panties, she was yelling over and over at the top of her lungs, “My daddy is in the March on Washington.” I was torn between reveling in her joy and wondering what emotions it might stir up in my neighbors. A few months earlier Bill brought one of his black co-workers home for lunch, and we had gotten threatening calls from the people across the street. Rarely did anyone on the block speak to us, but they didn’t stop their children from playing in our yard.

I caught up with Melissa and brought her home saying only that she had to get dressed. I doubted that she understood what was happening that day but she had absorbed the excitement. Our children were familiar with demonstrations, and once we had taken them along to sing outside a jail where black college students were being held following their arrest at a sit-in. But what all three remember about that day is renting the television.

After the march concluded, Bill phoned to report and I made these notes, He said it was an amazing experience, and he was particularly thrilled by Martin Luther King. It was like a family reunion with people greeting people. He saw some from New Hope, some from our workcamps, some from High Point, and even an old army buddy. I remember that we talked for hours when he finally got home. He had tried to hang out near the musicians and had seen many of them up close. But more important the speeches gave him the courage and determination to keep on with his work and his personal participation in the Civil Rights Movement. Because of the children I rarely joined him but I supported his efforts in every way I could.

The public announcement from our little town crier had the immediate effect of reducing the traffic to our backyard as a number of the neighbor children were forbidden to come to play in our yard. School started again and things soon went back to normal. A few weeks later one of the beauticians invited me to come for coffee. It was the only time I was ever inside one of the houses on our block. She was very pleasant and there was no reference to the March or our black visitors. Instead she said her son told her that I had a typewriter, and she wondered if she could come and look at it because she had never seen one. We chatted about our children, laughed at funny stories, and I asked her questions about her work. I told her that her children were well behaved at my house, and I enjoyed having them come and play. And of course, I invited her to come see the typewriter.

On Gordon Street, I learned first hand about the barriers of race and class, and the severity of life below the poverty line—not only for black families on the other side of the chain link fence, but also for my blue collar white neighbors, who barely scraped by on two meager salaries.

I recently asked my children about the day of the March and Kevin responded, “I only remember being aware that somehow dad had changed when he got back from DC.” The nation had begun to change as well, but today the food service workers are telling us we haven’t changed enough. 

Next post:  09/17/2013

 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

My Writing Brain: Behind the Scenes


I was half listening to NPR while cleaning up the kitchen when I heard a singer-songwriter named Valerie June refer to “receiving a song.” The interviewer asked if it came to her in her own voice. She responded that songs come in many different voices. Warming to the subject, she added that she hears songs in her head all the time and tries to write them down. “If you just write every one down, you get to the good one.”

I was fascinated because my brain is often writing something if I have not otherwise engaged it. When I am meditating and trying to focus on my breath, my most common stray thought is something being written. Although my typical message to my brain is “Let go,” I sometimes find myself saying,“Stop writing.” I often have to use those words when I am trying to go to sleep and my brain is composing something new or reworking a sentence to get it right. If I tried to capture every bit of writing my brain does without my conscious motivation, I’m afraid the dirty dishes would pile up, my walks would include many stops to make notes, and getting to sleep would be a chore.

The author John Ehle once pulled a notebook from a shirt pocket to write down something my husband Bill had said and what it triggered in John’s mind. He chuckled the whole time and said all writers carry little notebooks. My nephew-in-law Joel Garreau, also a writer of considerable repute, advised me to have a notepad by the bed to capture writing thoughts in the night. “You won’t remember them in the morning,” he cautioned.

When I am walking with Nigel and see an unusual cloud formation or a deer peeking out from behind a Fraser fir, my brain starts writing a description and sometimes  a little story. I try to remember the idea until I get home and can write it down. Similarly, at night when I have said my usual thanks that I have a good bed and can go to sleep, I don’t want to rouse, stop the CPAP machine, unhook the mask, turn on the light, dash off some words in a notebook, and then reverse those actions to go back to sleep. Instead I issue my preemptory command hoping to silence that soft voice relentlessly dictating. Once in a while I give in and turn on the light so I can scribble a particularly intriguing sentence or thought.

When I’m involved in a specific piece of writing, the off-duty work of my brain might recast a sentence or paragraph that has been problematic or just won’t flow. If it sounds pretty good to my suddenly attentive mind, then I do interrupt the sweeping or the ironing or the nap and write it down as fast as I can so I get it all. Another thing I don't ignore is a new idea for an essay that will often come as an opening sentence. I know I’ll regret it if I don’t jot down this fuse that when given my full attention will ignite an explosion of ideas.

 I find that anything transmitted to my brain from my five senses can become grist for the mill of my grinding neurons. One thing I can’t do is sit myself down and think up a topic to write about. The ideas usually come unbidden, but I can discern what sensory trigger spawned them.

My writing process is separate from the idea formation that my brain does without my direction. If I go to the computer to write a first draft, it will often be a tiring session as I lay out and develop the text, and then start revisions. If the seminal thought did not come to me in a full-throated voice, I will choose first to do a “free write” by hand. I sit with my journal and record the thought delivered to my consciousness from my deeper brain. I will then write whatever comes into my hand for fifteen minutes. When the timer goes off, there is usually something on the page that I can work with. I then begin transforming the first creative blush into a crafted piece of writing that I deem worthy of sharing.

Now for those who think literally, I want to assure you that I know my subconscious writing brain and my active working brain are one and the same. However I’m trying to describe the way I experience these different modes. The first—which can be annoying— is when I’m the audience for a creative process I don’t summon or direct. The second is when I grab hold of one of those ideas, images, or insights and run with it.

The part that brings me the greatest joy is when I feel that I am in a dialog with the brain cells that work around the clock. I stare at a sentence that doesn’t sing and from nowhere comes a new melodic iteration of the same idea. If it is a post for this blog, I send it to Polly, my sharp copyeditor, who finds the typos my old eyes don’t see, and makes sure attributions and facts are correct. If her brain comes up with a better idea about the flow of a particular sentence or paragraph, she’ll write a comment such as “Try reading this aloud” or “Perhaps recast this sentence” or “Consider reversing the order of these two words.” Her hints or questions give me a nudge, and I take it from there.

The sensory trigger for this exploration of my writing brain came from Valerie June “receiving” songs in many different voices. I recognized a creative process similar to my own. Later that day during a nap, my writing brain wakened me, and this time I got up to write a note of my own.  A few days later, I sat at the computer and lit the fuse.

Next post: 09/03/2013

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Obama's Remarks About Trayvon Spoke to Me


Never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins. I learned that as a child, perhaps in Girl Scouts (where we studied what was then called Indian lore) or Sunday School. I remember wondering how I could walk even a few steps in some grown-up’s shoes. Of course eventually I understood what it meant and in fact, in a gender-neutral form, it became part of my worldview. I tried to understand people who were different by nature or had challenging personalities by learning more about their daily life and history.

When I heard President Obama’s remarks about Trayvon Martin during the July 19 press briefing, I began to think about my life and whether I had ever had any remotely similar experiences to walking in the moccasins of a black man. Suddenly I remembered a time in Istanbul in 1978. My husband Bill and I arrived at night following a grueling twenty-hour ride in a bus full of smokers. We easily found our modest hotel recommended in Frommer’s “Five Dollars a Day” guide, but the electricity was out, and we had to make do with a small flashlight and candles. The next day Bill was quite sick, probably a result of the food we had eaten at rest stops on the trip. He was running a fever and had beaten a path to the candle-lit bathroom all night. Our sightseeing plans were obviously on hold, and I decided to go to the central market and buy produce we could peel or scrub and eat in our room. We had a well-supplied medical kit with remedies we had learned to use in Guatemala, and I felt it was safe to leave him.

The concierge looked askance when I asked about buses, but gave me the needed information and pointed out the stop in front of the hotel. My trip was simple. It was a fifteen-minute bus ride and then a short walk to the market. I went first to the fruit and vegetable stalls. Then I found some freshly baked bread, local cheese, and a bottle of water. Everything fit in the expandable string bag we had bought in Paris where we first encountered them.

From the time I stepped out of the hotel until I returned an hour and a half later, I was aware of men and boys watching and sometimes following me. A few made lewd gestures and called out words that I didn’t understand although their meaning was clear. Twice a man deliberately brushed against me. I attempted to imagine myself in armor and walked tall, strong, and purposively. There were other Europeans or Americans in the market but I realized that there were no other women alone. Everywhere I looked I saw either married couples or groups of women, some with a young man in their midst. I shopped as quickly as I could and headed back to the hotel, stopping in a restaurant to buy a container of hot cooked rice. I was happy to see a policeman in front of a bank on the corner where I waited for the bus. For the next twenty-four hours, I stayed in the hotel room and read or wrote postcards to send home. Finally we ventured out together to the famous Pudding Shop where Bill relished a bowl of rice pudding.

Two days later we visited with Turkish friends of Bill’s brother. They gave us a quick course in the mores of our host country and told me that some men would assume any woman out on the street alone was a prostitute or at least unworthy of respect. I’m quite sure I looked like a tourist but obviously that was no protection. It’s a small comparison to Obama’s story of being followed; nevertheless I had experienced feelings of fear, anger, and even shame that I can still recapture.

When I was seventeen, I had a few dates with a handsome African-American teenager named Michael. We had met at an interracial family fellowship group I attended weekly with my parents. One Saturday Michael and I went into Philadelphia for a similar event for high school students and on the way back to the train station (a mile-long walk), we sat down on a park bench to rest a few minutes. Almost immediately a policeman walked up to us and looked directly at me, ignoring Michael, and said, “Are you all right? Do you need help?” I told him I was fine and we were on our way to the Reading Terminal. We immediately got up, and the cop followed us for a block or two. I apologized to my friend who shrugged and said that it happens all the time.

I had another memory that had saddened me even at the time it happened. It was in 1985 when I was the interim director of a paralegal program in Miami for undocumented workers. My assistant warned me to keep my rental car locked with the windows up when I was driving around town. She explained that often a man would rush up to your car at a stoplight, quickly clean the windshield, and then ask for money. If you rolled the window down (I was told) he might grab a visible purse, or even attempt to hijack your car. Apparently these men were mainly homeless Vietnam vets—white, black, and brown. Indeed I saw the window-washing happening several times to other female drivers. Sometimes I forgot the precaution, and then I would be the person Obama described who pushed the button to lock the doors with an audible kerplunk when I saw any man near the intersection as I slowed for a red light. More than once I saw a pained look on the face of an African-American male who was merely crossing the street.

Trying to recreate the mile in the moccasins by reading or talking to people—asking them to tell us their stories and listening with our hearts—hones our empathy and invites our compassion for those who suffer from thoughtless profiling, not just from the police. We also need to be willing to share our own stories and to examine our knee-jerk judgments.

Further debate about the laws and circumstances around Trayvon Martin’s death will be the job of attorneys, legislators, and advocacy organizations. Someday I hope there will be changes as a result. But I believe in the near term we can increase the empathy quotient in our communities if each of us makes an effort to walk vicariously in the shoes of people whose lives we know little or nothing about.

In this blog I’ve tried to let my readers walk in my SAS Free Time size nines and get a little feel for my life in these final decades. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I did know that’s what my stories are about. I feel certain there must be people writing for the Internet about the  miles they’ve walked wearing hoodies. I am grateful that President Obama set the example by linking his life experience thirty-five years ago with Trayvon’s short life. I hope many others from all backgrounds and ages will start sharing their stories, as we strive for greater acceptance and compassion for all.

Next post: 08/20/2013

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Who Am I Now That I'm Not Who I Was?


Ann writes to Emily, “ Do you feel…as strongly as I do that you don’t get any older inside but are always who you’ve been since birth?” She goes on to say she feels about eleven years old inside, then adds, “Who’s that old stranger in here with me?” These women are characters in my book club’s August selection*. Ann was stating something my mother had said to me when she was in her eighties. We were chatting on the phone, and I asked how she was feeling. Mother said, “My problem is that I have this sixteen-year-old girl trapped in my old body.” She went on to explain that inside she was youthful and full of life, but didn’t have enough energy to sustain that spirit. Although I understood what she was telling me intellectually, I certainly couldn’t feel what she was feeling. Now that I am in my eighties, I know I wouldn’t want to have the spirit of the sixteen-year-old girl I once was trapped in my body; that had not been a happy time for me.

Was there ever a moment when I felt any discontinuity about my aging body and a more youthful spirit?  If so, I don’t remember—maybe I wasn’t paying attention. There are similar questions I ponder. “Who am I now that I am old and have to give up things I used to enjoy because they’re no longer worth the effort they take? What supports or defines my identity?”

I like lists; in fact for most of my life I was addicted to them. As part of my process of working through grief and figuring out life as a single woman, I made lists of things I liked to do that didn’t require a partner. I love words so it is not surprising that my list included writing, reading (sometimes listening to audiobooks), and word puzzles. I greet a new crossword puzzle with glee and sometimes use it as a reward for something like cleaning the kitchen. “I’ll  wash these dishes and then I’ll go work on the puzzle.”

Drinking tea in the afternoon—especially with a friend—never fails to bring me joy. When I sit on my deck and eat a meal I’ve just prepared for myself, I feel a nice glow of satisfaction. Here I sit in the company of my dog, the birds and an assortment of squirrels, bunnies and chipmunks. In the busy years of youth and middle age, I relegated contemplation and prayer to bedtime, mealtime, and Sundays. In recent years I’ve had the luxury of enough time for meditation and reflection all week long.

At the top of my summertime pleasure list is puttering in my garden until I’m tired and then sitting in a comfortable chair in the shade and enjoying the view. Although I miss hiking through the woods nearby or following lonely paths on the other side of the river, several times a day I set out with my walking stick in one hand and Nigel’s leash in the other and find fulfillment on a paved country road.

After Bill died in 2003, I spent seven or eight years struggling with the meaning of my life without him to take care of and no desire to go on trying to save the world from terrible laws, congressional inaction, wars, and injustice. One day I had this small realization that I’m old enough to leave those problems to my children and grandchildren.

When I gave myself permission to step away from activities that required me to leave my home, I spent time reading the wisdom of mystics, meditators, and deep thinkers (Quakers, Episcopalians, Jews, Buddhists). I kept finding the same simple truth: it’s not so much what you do that matters, it’s who you are, and how present you can be to your life here and now. I am aware that I’m setting my own agenda, such as it is, and that now is my time to just BE.

As for the question I struggled with about who I am now that I’m old, I think Ann was right when she said we are always what we were at birth, but I believe we add in everything we lived through since. I can think of a few times my spirit got stuck in one place or age for a while. I find myself smiling with amusement about how much time I wasted worrying about stuff that never happened. Being old has its downside, but it also offers us the chance to tear up our lists and revel in what is right in front of us. I can’t remember if there was a specific moment when I stopped making lists for the future. I think it happened gradually as I learned to embrace the present, to be old, and to write about it.

*Reynolds Price, The Promise of Rest, New York, Scribner, 1995

Next  Post:  08/06/2013