“Old clock. No longer works.”

Recently, someone sent me a postcard with the image of a gorgeous, ornate, antique clock. I love clocks. The caption didn’t include its location. It simply said, “Old clock. No longer works.”

I bet that was written by a young person.

Our society places entirely too much value on functionality these days. Some things, like beautiful old clocks, are still worthy of existence even if they are no longer serving their original purpose. They can still be lovely to behold, they can still teach us about the past, they can remind us of more elegant times.

For example, I miss the cars that were manufactured long before we knew about aerodynamics, before all vehicles started to look generic. I love tail fins. I love running boards. I love hood ornaments. I’m glad these cars still exist, if only in museums. I’ll never forget the last tail fins I saw, as they crested a hill and relegated themselves to the past. Your average Toyota Camry just doesn’t evoke the same emotions in me.

This is true of human beings as well. We tend to warehouse and overlook our elderly. On some level, I know I’ll be devalued by this country if and when I have the opportunity to retire. I’ll no longer be contributing to the gross national product. I’ll have drastically reduced my consumption. I won’t be toting that barge and lifting that bale. I will have no understanding of current pop culture. (Well, that’s pretty much true already, but you get the idea.)

But I love talking to people with life experience. I enjoy hearing what certain periods in history were like from the point of view of someone who has actually been there. I love to hear stories. It’s fun to take a deep dive into the memories of other people. You never know where they will take you.

I’m not suggesting that you should become a hoarder and keep every paperclip you’ve ever owned. But try to see things (and people) for what they are in the here and now. Then, ask yourself if they still bring beauty into the world, in whatever form that beauty may take. Ask yourself if they still have something to teach.

I’ll take something that is unique over something that is functional any day.

Incidentally, the clock shown below is not the clock that sent me down this rabbit hole. Much to my chagrin I can’t find where I put that image. No, this one is the Prague Astronomical Clock, and according to Wikipedia, “The clock was first installed in 1410, making it the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest clock still in operation.”

So again with the functionality! Even if this delightful clock ceases to function, I’d still think it was amazing.

I don’t plan to have a headstone, but if I did, I think “Old clock. No longer works.” would be a great engraving, if only to make people laugh and think.

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Click…

We snap, crackle and pop as we age.

Just as older houses can sometimes make funny noises because they are “settling”, so too do humans make funny noises as they age. Case in point, the vertebrae in my lower back (actually the facet joints, but you get the idea) tend to pop and click. I’ve had this issue for at least 15 years now. I doubt it will improve over time. I’m told by medical professionals that this is not life threatening or even damaging in my case, but your results may vary. (For what it’s worth, I just had this reconfirmed by a Physical Therapist.)

For me, this click doesn’t hurt. In fact, it often relieves the aching in my lower back. My aqua-aerobics does this too. Stretching exercises keep me from locking up entirely. It’s the cost of doing business.

But now I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve become addicted to this back clicking thing. When I’m sitting in our recliner, watching TV, I tend to rock and rotate my hips until I get that click. The vibration radiates up my spine to the base of my skull, and it feels good. I can also hear it from inside my body. Fortunately Dear Husband’s hearing is not acute enough, or it would probably drive him nuts.

It’s funny when you think about it. You never really know what someone is truly focused on. DH thinks we’re watching a movie, but in fact I’m making myself click, and the movie is secondary. Two entirely different experiences.

Young people don’t yet understand what it’s like to experience the settling of their bodies as they age. Things sag. Things expand or shrink. Hair is lost. We can predict the weather in our healed broken bones. For many of us, arthritis kicks in, as does osteoporosis. We snap, crackle and pop. We can do our best to maintain our health, and we can learn to accept those things we can’t maintain or turn into grumpy old coots as we rage against the dying of the light, but the process inevitably continues. The youngsters’ time will come, despite their best efforts.

It happens to us all. We settle.

Click…

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Arlo Guthrie as a Yardstick

Arlo and I are both rounding out our lives with love and happiness.

One of the very first concerts I saw as a teenager was Arlo Guthrie. My older sister took me. I enjoyed it so much that we got all his albums back when vinyl was the thing. I’ve been going to his concerts ever since. I lost count around number eighteen. He was the beginning of my life-long love affair with folk music, storytelling, and writing.

It’s safe to say that I’m a fan. I’ve even blogged about him here and here. I’ve gotten his autograph a few times. I’ve also spoken to him, but he’s not as outgoing off stage as he is onstage, so mostly he has responded with a blank stare. Of course, I’d always get all flustered when I got close to him, so I’d usually say something inane, like, “I was born the same year Alice’s Restaurant came out!” or, “I think it’s wonderful that you have your kids performing with you now.” or, “I’ve seen you in concert 18 times!”

But the most mortifying encounter was at the Florida Folk Festival in 2004. He was set up under an awning in a field, and the crowd was surrounding him on all 4 sides. We got a patch of grass right behind him. We were so close that I could have slapped him upside the head if the spirit moved me. (Of course, it didn’t.) But before Arlo started performing, my boyfriend at the time gushed, “She’s your number one fan!”

Omigod. Stalk much? The poor man kept glancing nervously over his shoulder at me during the rest of his set. I wanted to crawl under a rock. (But not so much so that I was willing to leave.)

Back in 2012, I lived in Vero Beach, not that far from the home that he lived in when in Sebastian, Florida. No, I didn’t go knock on his door. That would be creepy. But I did keep my eyes open when running errands in town. It would have been cool to bump into him at the hardware store or something. No such luck.

When his wife passed away, I was still living right down the coast from him, and my heart was broken for him. They had been married for 43 years. A year and a half later, my guy also abruptly passed away. We had only been together for 4 years, and I was devastated, so I couldn’t begin to imagine what Arlo was going through after losing a relationship that had lasted ten times as long. I thought about that a lot over the next few months. Both of us in Florida, gazing out at the same ocean, both experiencing waves of crashingly painful emotions.

I’m not going to lie. I have had a bit of a crush on him over the years. He’s a good looking, talented man, and I love his storytelling abilities and his politics and his sense of humor. But I also knew he was happily married, is 17 years older than I am, and way, way cooler than I would ever be. Also, I wouldn’t cope well with the constant touring, and while his Florida home may have been called the CrabShack, Zillow currently places its value at nearly 3 million dollars. I’m not someone who would fit into a million dollar home. And, let’s face it, I really and truly know nothing about the real man. But it was a nice fantasy that made me smile during my darkest hours.

Over the years, I’ve watched his TV appearances, too. I try to watch Alice’s Restaurant every Thanksgiving. I caught him on the Muppet Show when I was really young, and looking at the footage now, I realize he was barely grown himself.

And I watched the show The Byrds of Paradise religiously during its short-lived run in 1994, simply because Arlo had a part in it. If you want a total hoot, check out Arlo rapping and dancing in this clip from that show. He has always charmed me.

Fast forward to February, 2022, when I happened upon this article in the New York Times that hit me with three things I didn’t know, all at once. First, Arlo has had several strokes. Second, because of those strokes, he can’t perform up to his standards and doesn’t walk as well, so he has retired from performing. Third, since 2016 he has been living with someone he loves very much, and they got married officially in December, 2021. They now live together in a much more modest home in that same area of Florida.

I also found out that he told his new wife, “I’m going to take care of you like a man should.” Omigod, crush validated. Having said that, though, I am truly happy for him. He’s 74, and deserves to have love in his life just like I do. (And I’d pick Dear Husband over Arlo every day of the week, now that I’ve I finally found him and have convinced him he needed to find me, too.)

But it did take me several days to absorb all that Arlo news. I couldn’t really understand why it rattled me so much. And then it dawned on me. First of all, I would never see him perform live ever again, and his concerts have been major mileposts throughout my life. Second, one day he’s going to die, and I’ll read about it and probably fall to pieces. I can’t imagine a world without an Arlo Guthrie in it. Third, half the time I was fantasizing about him, he was in love and shacked up, which is further evidence that my inner world is entirely fictional. Fourth, time is going by way too quickly, and therefore feels increasingly poignant to me.

You might say that Arlo has been one of many yardsticks by which I’ve measured my life. It’s a bit unsettling to be hit all at once with the fragility of that yardstick. Things fall apart. The center cannot hold.

But I’m glad that both of us are rounding out our lives with love and happiness. I am exactly where I’m supposed to be, finally. I suspect that that’s the case for Arlo, too. He and his wife garden together. That makes me smile.

Thinking of Arlo as a yardstick and also as a gardener makes me want to leave you with one of my favorite Arlo songs. “Inch by inch…”  Despite the poor quality of the video, I hope you’ll watch it all. It will show you what an amazing performer and storyteller he has always been. It brings happy tears to my eyes. There will never be anyone like him again.

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Spare Me Posthumanity

I really don’t want to live forever.

I was reading up on Transhumanism because I thought it would make an interesting blog topic. Mind officially blown. I decided that it’s way too intense and complicated for it to be broken down into one of my random musings. (In other words, I am feeling too lazy to make the effort.)

But within that topic I came across the idea of Posthumanism, and it made me muse, indeed. The website whatistranshumanism.org describes it like this:

“Many transhumanists wish to follow life paths which would, sooner or later, require growing into posthuman persons: they yearn to reach intellectual heights as far above any current human genius as humans are above other primates; to be resistant to disease and impervious to aging; to have unlimited youth and vigor; to exercise control over their own desires, moods, and mental states; to be able to avoid feeling tired, hateful, or irritated about petty things; to have an increased capacity for pleasure, love, artistic appreciation, and serenity; to experience novel states of consciousness that current human brains cannot access. It seems likely that the simple fact of living an indefinitely long, healthy, active life would take anyone to posthumanity if they went on accumulating memories, skills, and intelligence.

“Posthumans could be completely synthetic artificial intelligences, or they could be enhanced uploads, or they could be the result of making many smaller but cumulatively profound augmentations to a biological human. The latter alternative would probably require either the redesign of the human organism using advanced nanotechnology or its radical enhancement using some combination of technologies such as genetic engineering, psycho pharmacology, anti-aging therapies, neural interfaces, advanced information management tools, memory enhancing drugs, wearable computers, and cognitive techniques.

“It is difficult for us to imagine what it would be like to be a posthuman person. Posthumans may have experiences and concerns that we cannot fathom, thoughts that cannot fit into the three-pound lumps of neural tissue that we use for thinking. Some posthumans may find it advantageous to jettison their bodies altogether and live as information patterns on vast super-fast computer networks. Their minds may be not only more powerful than ours but may also employ different cognitive architectures or include new sensory modalities that enable greater participation in their virtual reality settings. Posthuman minds might be able to share memories and experiences directly, greatly increasing the efficiency, quality, and modes in which posthumans could communicate with each other. The boundaries between posthuman minds may not be as sharply defined as those between humans.”

Okay, so is anyone else a little freaked out by this concept? Yes, it would be nice to have an enhanced capacity for learning, and who wouldn’t want a little extra vigor? But I really don’t want to live forever. I think that would become tedious and depressing. If I couldn’t count on an expiration date, I’d take everything for granted and not appreciate or value anything. I would procrastinate even more than I already do. Nothing would be precious. It would all feel inevitable.

I wouldn’t mind not feeling “tired, hateful, or irritated about petty things,” but I’m not so sure I’d want to be able to control my desires or mental state completely. Everything would become predictable. There’d be no surprises and nothing to get excited about. What would be the point?

And do I really want to risk augmentation? Too much could go wrong. Not only that, but would I want to live in such a superior state that I could no longer relate to humanity? I would hate to view people as mere primates. And while I might be able to communicate more effectively with my fellow posthumans, I would cease to be able to communicate with anyone else, and that would be tragic. And I genuinely believe that the most valuable sign of intelligence is the ability to get your point across to anyone, regardless of their IQ.

And then there’s the fact that certain people, if given these enhanced powers, would not use them for good. And because they would be so far ahead of us mere mortals, there would be little, if anything, we could do about it. That scares me.

While I can’t predict the future, and I’m sure that there are things around the corner that I can’t even begin to imagine, one thing is for certain: I wouldn’t want to meet a posthuman in a dark alley, or anywhere else.

Posthuman

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Mid-Month Marvels: Lifetime Learning Center

You’re never too old to learn something new.

A recurring theme in this blog is the celebration of people and/or organizations that have a positive impact on their communities. What they do is not easy, but it’s inspirational, and we don’t hear enough about them. So I’ve decided to commit to singing their praises at least once a month. I’ll be calling it Mid-Month Marvels. If you have any suggestions for the focus of this monthly spotlight, let me know in the comments below!

__________________________________

When I first got to the Seattle area, I didn’t really know anyone, and I was kind of lonely, so I decided to take a pottery class at the local community college. I learned more in that class than I anticipated (and I blogged about it here.) That’s also where I learned about the Lifetime Learning Center.

This center believes, as I do, that you’re never too old to learn something new. According to their website, their mission is to promote successful aging and maintain the social, cognitive and physical well-being of adults within our community. They do this by providing a variety of reasonably priced classes that meet once a week. (A $15.00 registration fee is required each quarter, and most classes are $35.00 per 8 week session.)

They don’t require that you be a senior citizen to attend their classes, but that is their target audience. And I think that’s wonderful. Learning is a great way to keep the mind sharp, and it gives you purpose and reduces isolation. We could all do with a bit of those things.

A quick glance at their course catalog definitely got me interested. Here are some of their offerings this quarter:

  • A History of the American Musical

  • Crochet

  • Intermediate Ukulele

  • Life Stories Writing Group

  • The Earth and the Oceans

  • Marxism

  • India: The Past is Present

  • Quilt Making Basics

  • Watercolor: An Innovative Approach

  • Beginning Bridge

  • The Tempest

  • Positive Psychology: Choose Your Own Adventure

  • Contemporary Arguments About Philosophy

If and when I retire, and my schedule becomes more flexible, I hope that I remember to take advantage of the classes on offer at the Lifetime Learning Center. Because I don’t want to ever stop learning.

I hope you’ll support this organization, and/or see if your community offers something similar.

OLÉ!
These are NOT students at the Lifetime Learning Center, but I’d like to think that the dynamic is the same.

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Your Eighth Decade

More and more of my friends are in their 80’s now.

More and more of my friends are in their 80’s now. The older I get, the more that will happen. I see them as precious gifts.

I have no idea what life must be like in one’s 8th decade. I hope to find out myself one day. But as it stands, I have a great deal of admiration for all of these people.

Making it to 80 is no small accomplishment. It means you are overflowing with life experience. You are a survivor. You have seen and done things that most of us can only dream of. You have lived and loved and laughed and cried and fought and struggled. And here you are. Did you imagine you’d reach this mountain top? What a triumph!

You have watched the world unfold, and have been an active part in its unfolding. You have been there and you have done that. You know what it’s like to live at a time that was less comfortable and convenient. But because of that, you know that it’s possible to live without a cell phone and a microwave and 257 TV channels. Does our dependency on such foibles make you inwardly laugh?

You have most likely not been appreciated nearly as much as you deserve to be. People think they’ve heard all your stories, but they’ve barely scratched the surface. They probably aren’t asking the right questions. Shame on them.

When I see these friends, I know I’m gazing into untapped depths, and I wonder what I’m missing. People in their 80’s are diamonds walking amongst us, and should be cherished as such. The rest of us can only hope to travel that many times around the sun, and do it with such style!

Diamond

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March of the Waddling Grey Penguins

On our cruise to Alaska, we were some of the youngest passengers aboard, by decades. I get it. It’s an expensive trip. It’s the trip of a lifetime. But there’s something to be said about doing your major trips while you’re still able-minded and able-bodied.

We often shared a dinner table with strangers, as is often the case on cruise ships. Some were a delight. But most were complaining about being in pain. Or about not liking the food. Or about the ship rocking. Or about their ungrateful grandchildren. Or about feeling trapped. Or about the cost of things. You name it, they complained about it.

We were having a wonderful time, so listening to these people grouse was, to be honest, annoying. It did make us grateful that we are not yet in pain, or plagued with digestive issues or the like. It made us try harder to be patient when caught in the middle of the migration of these waddling grey penguins. Our time will come soon enough.

But jeez. Why take a trip if you know it’s going to make you miserable? Eat your salad during your salad days. Or, if this is your only chance to travel, at the very least, don’t rain on everyone else’s parade.

Okay, so I guess this is me complaining. But you get the point.

Falkland_Islands_Penguins_36

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Later Love

I’m a 54-year-old woman, so I come with accessories.

I’m a 54-year-old woman, so I come with accessories.

I wear glasses and compression socks and I suspect that orthopedic shoes are not too far over my blurry horizon. I sleep with a night guard so I don’t grind my teeth, a CPAP mask so I actually breathe, and wrist braces so I don’t hyperflex my wrists during the night and inflame my tendons. I also require a pile of pillows of various shapes to be comfortable in bed as I’m not as limber as in days of yore.

My medicine cabinet is full to overflowing with both prescriptions and over the counter remedies. There are certain foods that I absolutely love but will no longer eat because I’m not willing to bear the consequences, but I keep cures for those consequences on hand in case I forget. And, oh yeah, I keep a variety of lists because I can’t always count on my memory.

It has been a life well lived, and I have no regrets. I’m about as healthy as the average American my age.  You, too, will accumulate baggage as the years go by. Trust me. It’s all part of the process.

I often look over at my husband with a certain level of awe, because we hooked up later in life, and that isn’t for the faint of heart. I cannot believe he managed to look beyond this massive pile of accessories and was actually able to see me as the catch that he believes that I am. That is a unique gift indeed, and I treasure it. I will never take that for granted.

I can’t imagine how May/December romances actually work. At least when you are with someone of a similar age, the nightstands on both sides of the bed are equally overwhelmed with flotsam. We each have our accoutrements, so neither of us feels unduly burdened. The scale of life is relatively balanced, and that’s such a comfort. When you start off together in the land of accessories, you don’t have to anticipate quite as many future surprises, and on the rare occasion when a surprise comes along, it isn’t quite as big of a shock. What you see is what you get.

Those of you still in your prime won’t yet understand this, but there’s nothing quite as romantic as the sound of two CPAP masks clinking together when you kiss good night. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Clink.

aging hands

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Writing into a Void

It’s hard, writing to someone with dementia.

Today is the 93rd birthday of a beloved aunt, one of my favorite people in the whole world. Unfortunately, she’s in a nursing home 3000 miles away. Even if I were to go visit, she doesn’t even remember who I am most of the time, such is the level of her dementia. The last thing I want to do is upset or confuse her. I’ve stopped calling her for that very reason. My last call left her agitated and unhappy. She couldn’t understand why I couldn’t visit her, even though I may as well have been a stranger.

So I write her letters and send her some chocolates. She adores chocolate. It’s one of the million things we have in common. I hope she can still eat it. I suspect the nursing home staff are always happy to see my packages.

It’s hard, writing to someone who hasn’t responded to you in any way in about 5 years. I don’t even know if she actually receives what I send. Her primary caretaker has taken a disliking to me for some reason, even though we’ve never met. She told me that my letters are all about me, and she finds that annoying, and therefore stopped giving me the updates, that I long for, years ago.

Of course my letters are about me. It’s the only frame of reference that I have. It’s not like I can ask her what’s new in her bedridden world. The question would go unanswered. It’s like trying to communicate into a black hole. My own voice doesn’t even echo back to me, and hers is long gone.

So, in my letters, I reminisce about things she and I used to do together. I tell her a joke that I know she would have really found funny, once upon a time. I tell her she is not forgotten. I tell her she’s my favorite person. I tell her I’m now married, and happy, and I’ve written a book, and I have three dogs. The person I used to know would have been glad to hear these things. I also send her pictures.

Writing to her these days brings tears to my eyes, because I know that the person that I love so much is already gone in so very many ways. But I’ll continue to write into the void, for the love of the aunt who meant so much to me, and because I want her to know she isn’t forgotten, even though she’s forgotten me.

More than anything, I want to hear her tell me she’s proud of me. But as I drop each package in the mailbox, I know that isn’t going to happen. Never again. And that leaves a black hole in my heart.

Echo

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Sobering Sexual Statistics

Fewer shenanigans. How sad.

I just read an intriguing article in The Washington Post. It’s entitled, “The share of Americans not having sex has reached a record high”.  (First of all, interesting capitalization choices, but I already digress.)

The article came to several conclusions as to why we seem to be moving away from horizontal activities. The most obvious conclusion is an aging population and higher numbers of unattached people. Americans, in general, seem to be partnering up later in life. It also says that the employment rate among young people has declined, and the number of them living in their parent’s houses has increased. That has got to hurt your ability to get busy, as the saying goes. We are also spending a lot more time in cyberspace.

But I can think of several more reasons for this decrease in sexual activity.

  • A friend of mine said that he thinks the depressing state of the world and our politics is influencing this. That dreary mood could indeed, have something to do with why we as a nation are not in the mood.

  • Unfortunately, too, more and more of us feel the need for antidepressants, and they’re more readily available, and most have the side effect of decreasing one’s sex drive.

  • But I also hope it has to do with the younger generation becoming more aware of sexually transmitted diseases. I know for a fact that this had an impact on me. I was looking forward to going to college and really letting loose. But I arrived on that scene just as AIDS started to rear its ugly head. Noooooooooo! Life is so unfair!

  • Also, I believe that today’s women are starting to realize they have more to offer the world, and are less apt to view themselves as some kind of sexual commodity. At least I hope so.

  • We’re also even more busy and distracted. We have a lot more options to occupy our minds and fill our lives.

  •  I think we don’t feel the need to procreate as much, or marry as much, in order to feel successful and/or to survive.

  • And yeah, we’re an aging demographic, and becoming more obese as a species. Declining health and less energy equals fewer shenanigans.

But I tend to look at these polls with a jaundiced eye. (Look how inaccurate they were during the last election.) How much of the population was sampled? How do you know they answered honestly?

Plus, nobody asked ME. No one ever asks me. Why is that?

Bad Mood

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