A Simple Plan For My Advancing Decrepitude

First of all, because most people have lost the capacity to have a sense of humor about anything, I’m making a disclaimer about this post. I am NOT condoning a life of drugs, alcohol, sex, and rock & roll. Nor am I making light of the death of any celebrity, nor am I showing any disrespect to anyone who’s still around, because I love the people I’m writing about. It’s just a freaking blog post. Lighten up.

That being said…

I’ve been thinking lately that I’m going to start keeping my eyes on two people as signs of how I should spend the final years of my life. Whichever one outlives the other will tell me what I need to know about the validity of healthy living.

Here’s Ringo Starr, who will turn 77 next July. Damn, he looks good! That trim, tight little body looks better than it did back in the heyday of the Sixties! I’ve always adored Ringo. From the original Ed Sullivan Show broadcast of the Beatles to today, Ringo is the Beatle I’d most invite over to sit on my front porch. He’s down-to-earth, homey, and even a little silly.

Ringo had a hard time dealing with the breakup of the Beatles and turned to drink to help him cope. He also was pretty fond of the nose candy. Trust me. I knew his dealer in Hollywood. I don’t know if he still enjoys a hit of pot once in a while or not, but I doubt it. He and his wife, the luscious Barbara Bach, went through major rehab and I doubt they’d mess it up over a little reefer. Besides, that new body of his shows absolutely no trace of Cheetos or fried pork rind munchies. No, this is one clean-living, sober, vegetarian man.

Next, we have Keith Richards, who will turn 73 on Sunday. He’s rock  & roll’s original bad boy, bad man, and bad old fart. He’s a pirate. He smokes, drinks…who know what all, and I doubt he’s a vegetarian. No, he doesn’t look as good as Ringo, but then, he never did. Earlier pictures of the Stones should have prepared us. But he’s still out there. Like Ringo, he continues to tour, record, and make great music. We should all be so decrepit!

I love Keef. I love his philosophies about life and I love his ability to not give a rat’s ass what any of us think about him. He just marches along to the beat of his own drum, laughing all the way, leaving a trail of cigarette butts behind him and dropping gems like, “The point is, who are you? Do you know yourself, and can you handle it?” and “It’s not about living forever, it’s about living with yourself forever.” The older I get, the more I see the wisdom in these simple ideas.

So here’s my plan:

I’m going to watch these two icons and see which one goes first. Whichever one survives will dictate how I’ll live my remaining years. If Ringo lives longer, I’ll clean up, exercise, eat better, and who knows? Maybe I’ll get myself a drum set and go back to playing. If Keef is the one to survive, then I’m going to start doing all the things I didn’t do during the 1960s and ’70s. Yeah, I know I did a lot, but not as much as either of these blokes.

Either way, because I’m younger, I’m pretty sure I’ll outlive both Ringo and Keef. We’ll see what happens after that.

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The Search For a Noiseless Peace

Seeking Peace

I’m increasingly spending less time online these days. I’ve all but abandoned Twitter due to the vitriol that’s spewed in all directions there and I find myself signing out of Facebook within a few minutes of logging in due to the debates and arguments in my feed. Everyone’s on edge right now. Everyone seems to be looking for a hurt, or an offense, or a reason to spar with words and ideas and it’s too easy for me to get rattled by the noise. I know people are just trying to make sense of recent turns of events, but I’m already worn out and must choose not to pay attention for my health’s sake. Don’t talk to me about politics anymore. See that glassy look that just washed across my eyes? It’s a clue that I’ve already tuned you out. And if I don’t “like” your post or comment in Facebook, it’s a fairly good indication that I’m not paying attention.

I’m a dreamer. I dream not only when I’m asleep, but also when I’m awake. Every night for the past week or two my sleeping dreams have turned into nightmares. Nightmares of being pursued by angry mobs, of being imprisoned by Nazis, of being tortured, and even standing in line waiting to be executed. Fortunately, my years of experience with lucid dreaming helps me to shake myself awake, panting in a cold sweat as I try to lower my heart rate. The problem is, by being part of a group targeted by America’s new and growing regime, I feel as if I’m waking from one nightmare only to enter another. The fact that I live in a solidly red state and that, so far, Trump has appointed only racists, homophobes, and KKK sympathizers to his upcoming cabinet just doesn’t help.

I don’t live in the woods, or on a mountain, or by the ocean. I live on a fairly noisy corner in the downtown area of a small city. I don’t even have a back yard with any privacy. Next door lives a family with three little girls who employ  screaming as their only means of expressing any given emotion, and adults who yell at the top of their voices and repeatedly honk car horns in their driveway in the mornings before the sun is up. The corner streets on two sides of our house are riddled with traffic and boom car stereos, and the avenue is a major route used by every vehicle that has a siren.

There’s nowhere I can go to be alone with nature when I need to clear my head or simply get away from the noise (I have no car), and now, even my favorite online escapes have turned on me. I increasingly find myself watching historical documentaries in YouTube (I love history because it reminds me that human beings have been through worse and we always seem to land on our feet) and listening to my folk music channel on Pandora. Spending most of my life in California, I used to go to the beach when things got too heavy. I’d hunt for faery glass, I’d read, write in my journal, or just lay quietly listening to the rhythmic constancy of the surf. How I miss that now! My mind is scattered, my nails bitten, my nervous system twitching, and my tinnitus is so loud, the only way I can escape it is to hide away in music through earbuds. It’s the only escape I have left. Of course, noise employed to cancel noise is still noise.

“Our world is becoming more busy and noisy.
We are pushing silence out of our lives at a rate that suggests
a fear of what it has to say to us about ourselves.”
John O’Donohue

I’m well aware of the importance of letting the world’s sounds be what they are. The attainment of inner peace relies more on the acceptance of the noise of the world than it does on trying to control it, but now my inner peace has been shaken. Will my Medicare and Social Security—into which I paid since I was 16—be taken away? Will our landlord evict us for being a married female couple? Will my spouse lose her job due to this? Will I be a victim of a hate crime? The answer to these is most likely no, but the seeds have been planted and it’s hard to pull them up by the roots when every place I’ve enjoyed on the web now works so hard to replant them. Yes, I’m given to worry and the older I get, the harder this is to control. I’m working on it. I write, I read, I listen to healing music, I avoid the debates and arguments. I do what I can.

And the daydream of living in the country again is never far away.

 

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On Turning 65

65

Until about five years ago, if you asked what the number 65 meant to me, I would’ve replied, “That was a great year! That was the year the Beatles released Rubber Soul! I was 14 and I’d just written my first batch of songs.” These days, however, it means I have to make a trip to the Social Security office to fill out a bunch of forms, and make an appointment to see my doctor to check the dosages of the prescriptions I must take.

But, really, if I’m honest, it means less to me than it used to. I’ve been on a pretty involved, eye-opening journey for the past five years, one that’s led me to realizations that seem to be pretty typical of a lot people my age. Sometimes it’s been complicated by the constant battle of Old Notions vs New Insights, which I think is especially pronounced in this time of age bias and youth worship. I don’t think my grandparents—or even my parents—had to draw so many lines in the sand and stand up against so many devils. Life during their generations was pretty cut and dry. Grow up, marry, have kids, have grand kids, get old. The pressure to stay youthful, firm, fashionable (women), productive (men), f**kable, and fascinating just wasn’t part of their reality. Not like today, anyway. It was perfectly fine at a certain age to start dressing less provocatively, to gain a little weight, to go gray, and to slow down. I remember that if a woman didn’t dress in “age-appropriate” clothing, if she wore youngish makeup and jewelry, colored her hair, or surrendered to cosmetic surgery, she was judged severely for not growing old gracefully. We still battle this to some degree, but not as much as, say 40-plus years ago.

As I move closer to September 24th, I really don’t feel 65. Or what I somehow imaged 65 was supposed to feel like. In fact, as long as I stay away from mirrors it’s easy for me to drift into a perpetual state of thirty-something. Not physically, but internally. Me. That person who looks out through these eyes. Some days I feel even younger and I’m obligated to do things I used to do, like put on the Beatles’ Rubber Soul and dance with myself (which usually plunges me into feeling a lot older the next day). But as I get older I’m coming to understand that time isn’t a linear thing. We slide around acquiring as many experiences and learning as many life lessons as we can, and one of these lessons is that “young” and “old” are two-dimensional concepts. The time continuum just doesn’t adhere to such a limited, linear view. I’ve come to recognize a huge paradox: life is a coil that we slide up and down, always seeing the same view, but from different perspectives. At 65 I feel younger than I did when I was 19, for instance. The trick is to stop thinking of age as a three-dimensional thing. When we can do this, the non-physical us gets younger as the physical us gets older.

“I was so much older then,
I’m younger than that now.”
Bob Dylan

I’ve lived enough lives to be three or four people. Seriously. While writing my memoirs I’m amazed at how much I’ve packed into a few short years. You name it, it’s probably happened to me, or I’ve done it, or I’ve at least tried to do it. I’m proud of this and I can honestly say I never was afraid to try untested things, follow uncharted roads, and trust unexpected strangers. Am I finished? Hell, no! If I’m lucky, I still have a good 20 to 30 years left to take in more experiences. The trick, of course, is to stay healthy and to continue refusing to get old, and that too is part of the paradox: we refuse to get old by turning off the voices that demand we refuse to get old. I no longer feel the pressure to be eternally youthful, firm, fashionable, f**kable, and fascinating, for instance. Actually, that last one is happening on its own. All I’m doing is reinventing what getting physically older means to me. It means staying in step with the thirty-something within and continuing to allow her to live an authentic, fearless life. It means never losing my curiosity and never falling into the trap of believing I’ve actually arrived somewhere. It means putting on the Beatles’ Rubber Soul and dancing with myself, and then gracefully allowing myself to rest up from it the next day.

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The Journey Out

creative freedom

I wasn’t a particularly social kid. I had one or two good friends, but even they didn’t get a lot of my time. I spent “off” time in my room playing records, reading and drawing and, when in my teens, I added writing music, stories and letters to that list. I was social only on occasion and I had no trouble declining invitations to leave my private world. I never was what people call popular, either, and that was fine. When I got into my late 20s and early 30s, though, I suddenly became popular and acquired a large circle of casual friends, but I still maintained only two or three close friendships with people I’d known since childhood.

Myers-Briggs tells me I’m an Extroverted Introvert, which explains everything. I love people, but in small doses, and even at the peak of my long period of extroversion (which lasted nearly three decades) I was happiest when the party was over and I could spend the week in seclusion recharging my battery. I almost forgot that I’m actually a loner and that I need a lot of alone time. Recently, this has all come back to me and my Facebook hiatus is reuniting me with a part of myself that has been neglected for far too long. Even the thought of hosting an occasional party doesn’t excite me like it used to do. Anymore, it just means a week of preparation, a week of cleanup, and a month of Hashimoto’s-induced fatigue.

When we’re young we crave social interaction with a lot of variety, which is only natural given our biological imperative to procreate the species. We need lots of candidates to choose from and a lot of support, but now that that’s all over for me, the thought of having fewer casual friends is more a relief than anything else. Unfortunately, every single one of my lifelong friends are gone now, which leaves me no one to call when the rare moment of loneliness hits. But this is what my marriage fulfills, and is supposed to fulfill. I have a best friend in Nettl and the fact that we’ve been together for 16 years is no small consideration. I’m blessed and grateful that she fills the void in me that my old friends left. Maybe not 100%—there are just some things JP Deni supplied that no one else ever will, but then again, Deni didn’t fulfill every emotional need that Nettl does. With childhood friends it really comes down to shared memories of more innocent, carefree times, and life has a way of moving you along, especially when you’re the last living survivor.

waving-goodbye-joana-kruse
Photo by Joana Kruse

Twice now I’ve watched a circle of casual friends make a mass exodus from my life. Different people, of course, but the same phenomenon. The first group were hangers on who anticipated my impending “fame and fortune” and wanted to be along for the ride. When an important contract fell through they left en masse within a matter of days. This time it’s harder to name and harder to stomach. It’s ugly and based in lies and betrayal, a refusal to communicate, and probably a lot of misunderstanding. Good riddance to both groups. When the first group left I was elevated to the highest creative period my life has known. I’m anticipating even better things this time around because the pain is much greater. (I’m a big believer in relativity.) In both cases, the pain is a blessing in disguise and the “pony under the pile” is that I have more emotional space to do the things that are really important to me.

I’m calling it creative freedom.

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