Passé: High and not so dry

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Finally, someone shared the same unusual set of experiences – and was experienced in similar ways. Finally, it meant that she did not immediately get bored, annoyed and frustrated.

Always before, she found that the things that are everyday and even passé to her were inevitably going to be exciting and fresh for most others. Even sought after. Having lived completely different lives within just one life, nothing like what anyone who’d crossed her path had lived, such big divides opened up on fundamental matters, no matter how many superficial things were shared in common. The excitement, anxiety, rush, fear – whatever one wants to call it – that filled most people each time s/he took a new step, particularly on her/his own, seemed quaint and cute to her at first. She had been taking these steps alone, reaching beyond ‘normal’ boundaries and experience, since she was not even old enough to vote, drive or get a job.

It was all ‘been there, done that’ for her – not that she could not enjoy any of these things anew, but for her, the awakening to new things and feelings could only come in relation to others, to see things afresh through their eyes. It would take something truly remarkable to move her deeply.

To others, she was an untrodden path, albeit one set with new traps (for anyone who had been hibernating in a long slumber of a closed system). She represented both the life one could finally see, taste, touch and smell while vibrantly on her/his own, exploring, as a facilitator toward the next chapter of life, and yet also the very real possibility of being ensnared in an offset jaw trap. With teeth bared.

In more literary terms, all entanglements, thus, were short stories with abrupt endings. For those middle-aged toddlers, wandering into the world wide-eyed and virtually inexperienced, or perhaps merely cautious, so much unseen, the story was over almost as soon as it had begun, while she continued to linger in those pages already read, imagining it as one chapter in a longer work. She served as a transitional plot device to some while she was, for still others, the awakening that portended an entirely new body of literature.

She wondered whether people ever actually could find themselves on the same pages, at the same time, or at least find that they were ready to stay within the same chapter to move forward with the narrative together.

And, then, just as the question dissipated, seeming to have no answer, it all changed.

Photo (c) 2011 Minnesota Historical Society used under Creative Commons license.

Bless the eyes and hands of experience

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“If thought is really to find a basis in lived experience, it has to be free. The way to ensure this is to think other in the register of the same. As you construct yourself, imagine another yourself that will one day construct you in its turn. Such is my conception of spontaneity: the highest possible level of self-consciousness that is still inseparable from the self and from the world.” –The Revolution of Everyday Life, Raoul Vaneigem

I cannot look at a lifetime of previous experience and find anything but something to be grateful for. How I could find fault with, judge or castigate someone for the things that made him who he is now, brought him to this point, where he feels, breathes, walks, runs, lives, sleeps, fucks, eats, moves in this way that is so precisely tuned to the ‘he’ that I know now?

What we should…

“You should never fall in love. Love will bring you unhappiness. If you must love, let it be when you are older, after you are thirty.” –The Setting Sun, Osamu Dazai

“The presence of a noble nature, generous in its wishes, ardent in its charity, changes the lights for us: we begin to see things again in their larger, quieter masses, and to believe that we too can be seen and judged in the wholeness of our character.” –Middlemarch, George Eliot

Maybe the door has been opened, maybe my middle age has made my brain into mush. But we must use the time we have to absorb what is in books, to touch each other, to eat or revile coriander, to hear our voices reach each other and rise above the hubbub and cut through the chaotic din of our other lives to be able to say, do and be only the most uninhibited of things, to walk through the forest or along the river, to nurture and coax the best of each other, to lighten the dark path we each tread sometimes, to dare to be silly or mundane and find beauty in it, to watch a lone cat sit patiently and alert in the middle of an overgrown field before pouncing on its prey, to sing – however dumb we sound – songs that come into our heads, to fall in love (after 30 or even 40), to give and give and give until exhausted, sore and dizzy, to transform and be transformed. We can blink our eyes, and find suddenly that it is over.

Suffering is sweeter still

“but on days when I fear disappointment, I prefer to look on the dark side of things, it pulls me together and keeps me one step ahead of suffering” –So Much for that Winter, Dorthe Nors

And how sad that would be if we didn’t render our own off-key renditions of “Lover Man” while lying entangled in bed or let ourselves cry in the joy of simple closeness, in the tenderness and care of bringing a cup of coffee in the morning, or in the loss of some small thing we barely noticed when we had it, or in the beauty of how glossy and liquid fountain pen ink can look on a page (I noticed this most of all in a recent episode of American Gods – not at all surprised by the tantalizing visuals there). And how empty life could be if we (or I) only grabbed cheap ballpoint pens, cast books aside to watch Law & Order reruns, or as I was recently cautioned against doing – discarded the best person I ever knew just because I don’t know how to be with someone who is undamaged.

But where, indeed, does experience end and damage begin?

“It feels like nothing matters in our private universe.”

 

the narrow path

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L’ignorant
Philippe Jaccottet
Plus je vieillis et plus je croîs en ignorance,
plus j’ai vécu, moins je possède et moins je règne.
Tout ce que j’ai, c’est un espace tour à tour
enneigé ou brillant, mais jamais habité.
Où est le donateur, le guide, le gardien ?
Je me tiens dans ma chambre et d’abord je me tais
(le silence entre en serviteur mettre un peu d’ordre),
et j’attends qu’un à un les mensonges s’écartent :
que reste-t-il ? que reste-t-il à ce mourant
qui l’empêche si bien de mourir ?
Quelle force
le fait encor parler entre ses quatre murs ?
Pourrais-je le savoir, moi l’ignare et l’inquiet ?
Mais je l’entends vraiment qui parle, et sa parole
pénètre avec le jour, encore que bien vague :
«Comme le feu, l’amour n’établit sa clarté
que sur la faute et la beauté des bois en cendres… »

Oh, I love this reading…

The more I read, the more ignorant I am. That is, the more aware of my ignorance I become. This awareness, which I have always had but gave little thought to, becomes daunting but challenging as I learn more each and every day. But it also makes me angrier about uninformed, willfully/proudly ignorant people who have strong opinions that they insist are valid or equal to facts, even though their opinions have no basis in fact at all. Like a merit badge, they loudly state these “alternative facts”.

I can only keep gorging my mind from the broadest of intellectual and multidisciplinary buffets, but what good will that do if so much of the rest of the world rests comfortably in, at best, mediocrity, blindness and anti-intellectualism? Probably none – not if, for example, climate deniers rule the day. But hell, maybe we won’t reach that point of destruction if the world continues on its current destructive trajectory (politically). Maybe we can all be wiped out much sooner. Or just be subjected to dubious leadership from people who are, as Mr Firewall put it, “a roll of tinfoil away from making a helmet”.

I am desperately and actively trying to seek new learning, new paths, new sources, new fields, new conversations, new debates, new perspectives, new disciplines, new ways to develop the mind and expand my thinking. I don’t mind being contradicted – or presented with other ideas – if they can be backed up with something.

I know and see how creativity dies, and in my case, how everything I do and write comes out completely flat when life’s path and focus narrows too much. I would like to believe, and have managed to bamboozle myself for some time, that I haven’t fallen into this trap. But I have. I might do spontaneous, random stuff with a fair amount of frequency, and stuff my brain with information and stimuli, but am I ever really stepping out of my comfort zone?

I was recently confronted by this reality – more than usual – not because anyone accused me of anything to the contrary, but because someone, in casually telling me bits about himself, unveiled glimpses of a selfless and grueling – but rewarding – set of quests and travails that make up the topography of his life. And as I marveled, unresponsive and awed, I eventually thought, ‘Wow. I’m a complete fucking wuss and only become more of one every day.’

The aged: A life of training

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“How the gravitational field behaves when it heats up is still an unsolved mystery.” – Seven Brief Lessons in Physics (Carlo Rovelli)

J said to me: “You seem to be someone who is blissfully, refreshingly, enviably free of… pressure.”

Perhaps this too is an unsolved mystery. It took time to be this calm. Or indifferent. (Picture John Hannah here, menacingly responding to an entreaty to calm down: “I’ve never been more calm.” I’d include the video but couldn’t find it.) Pressure isn’t building, even if heat bubbles up under the surface. That’s different: but how does the gravitational field behave when it heats up? We all want to know. But it’s probably not a pressure cooker.

Calm, one would think, comes with age. But not really. It’s an individual thing. Some continue to grow more uptight, rigid and agitated as time goes on and responsibilities, decisions and grievances accumulate. I, on the other hand, have moved slowly in the opposite direction. Is it some discipline that was once conscious that shifted imperceptibly into a natural, unconscious behavior? Some form of lifelong training?

FROM The Spirit of Place
-Adrienne Rich

Are we all in training for something we don’t name?
to exact reparation for things
done long ago to us and to those who did not

survive what was done to them    whom we ought to honor
with grief    with fury    with action
On a pure night    on a night when pollution

seems absurdity when the undamaged planet seems to turn
like a bowl of crystal in black ether
they are the piece of us that lies out there
knowing    knowing    knowing

But it does not matter. Not the why or how. Just that I am.

Many things that end up attributed to age, aging or being aged, may not in fact be related to age. Duh. Experience, and perhaps even more importantly, openness to experience, imbues one with a curiosity and, as Erich Fromm describes it, a concentration/sensitivity. It is learning to stand on your own two feet, to be freely alone, to embrace patience, to be sensitive not only to oneself but to others. I am not always good at these things, but it is a process:

“If I am attached to another person because I cannot stand on my own feet, he or she may be a lifesaver, but the relationship is not one of love. Paradoxically, the ability to be alone is the conditions for the ability to love. Anyone who tries to be alone with himself will discover how difficult it is.”

“To have an idea of what patience is one need only watch a child learning to walk. It falls, falls again, and falls again, and yet it goes on trying, improving, until one day it walks without falling. What could the grown-up person achieve if he had the child’s patience and its concentration in the pursuits which are important to him!”

Mature sex: Stay calm, but hot

Embracing age, being alone and even the fundamentals of unconditional love (as a concept), we are still left with our bodies and the demands they make. And then what is most telling is how one thinks about the sexuality of the aged/aging. I’m calm, facing the realities of wild and dramatic corporeal metamorphosis (when is the body not changing, either from uncontrollable forces or our own manipulations?) and half a lifetime of experience and observation. I know the story isn’t finished. We are not a very mature society, at least from an anglo-world perspective, imagining sexuality to be the domain of the young, nubile, and virile, turning away from and denying that it may very well drive us at all ages, continuing to add fuel to the fire of our lives, until the end.

In a somewhat related sphere, I have come to evaluate the people I meet based on how they react to a specific film: Cloud 9/Wolke 9 (a German film – not the Disney film). I wrote about it before. Basically it’s a story of average, normal senior citizens and their love and sex lives. It acknowledges how the body, how the perspectives, how the perceptions, how the wants and desires change. Do you stop wanting sex – or, more importantly, the intimacy of being with someone with whom you can talk and laugh and be understood through it all just because you’re old? No. I keep coming back to and referring to this film. Not that it was a masterpiece, but I have rarely seen these issues that we will all face depicted in a real, honest and stark way. Somehow “old people sex” as a topic is the butt of sitcom jokes and lines the pockets of big pharma.

I tell everyone I meet about Cloud 9 and gauge their reaction. I don’t love or rely on knee-jerk reactions and wholesale judgments based on something like this, but their immediate reaction gives me a glimpse of how the person works – and ultimately about their respect and compassion for the aged, for others, for themselves – and the aged people we will all become. A reaction of disgust or laughter causes me to pull back mentally. And frankly this is the reaction I usually get. Except from senior citizens, generally, although even they often tell me, “I would not want to see that.” Then I actually brought it up with someone recently, who said, “I saw that film at a festival. I found it very moving.”

After wading through so much nonsense, and living a life of experience and training “for something we don’t name”, that is exactly what I wanted to hear.

Photo (c) 2013 pelican used under Creative Commons license.

Smoked Mozzarella, Experientialism, Psychic Nature and Magic

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Am I psychic or was it just coincidental? Did I manifest smoked mozzarella out of thin air? Two days ago I was thinking hard about the absence of smoked mozzarella – not really a favorite food or anything, but suddenly I felt I really wanted and needed smoked mozzarella but I knew I had never seen it here.

But then tonight I went to the store and had no intention of looking for smoked mozzarella – but there it was – on sale no less!

Who knew it would be so exciting to find?

On the way back from the store I was thinking about how it is so easy to get caught in the trap of thinking one is becoming happier and more fulfilled because they have more stuff. I have been alone and worked to buy more things – but I have not been any more fulfilled by having. I began to think about how experience can be so much more enriching – and then found an article on that very subject.

It really is all about the experience – “experientialism”, as the article puts it. Learning to breathe after the “stuffocation” modern society engenders.

And sometimes experience is magic.

Overdosing on Banshee on TV and enjoying the latest from Neneh Cherry and Robyn.

Ring It In – Happy New Year 2014

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The new year is here. Isn’t it required to reflect on what the previous year held? I do this frequently enough in my near-quarterly letters/life soundtracks, but year-end reflections aren’t bad.

Last year someone kept trying to tell me that I am his port in a storm. The problem is that I don’t think he knows what that means. He is someone who gets himself into trouble – or at least into unwise, uncomfortable situations – and panics, and then wants to press the red button to eject and land safely in my port.

The other problem with this “boy crying wolf” thing is that it also takes advantage of me and my willingness to be, as he drunkenly put it once, “the easy option”. I am neither the port in anyone’s storm nor the easy option. I suppose this is in large part where all my cynicism comes from – especially in recent years. I always had the “consolation prize complex” but it grows worse as people actually, blatantly try to use me. I look at every interpersonal situation and ask, “What’s this person’s angle? What is s/he looking for?” I would in 2014 very much like to meet a person I can instinctively trust without questioning their every action and word. And dispense with those who do not fit these criteria.

To get away from this doubt and take a few steps back from the cynic who always steps out in front of the more understanding “real” and unfiltered me, I will have to cut out the existing influences that always leave me questioning. Some people cannot be trusted – on so many levels – and there are just certain elements that I don’t want in my life.

An extension of this is my approach to friendship. I have always considered myself a good but vulnerable friend – sometimes extending myself way too far for people who ultimately don’t care that much (or as much) about me. Friends, as much as I love and treasure them in the moment, do come and go. In earlier life, people were fickle; we all change and can’t cling to the past. It does not mean that I don’t miss some people from 20 years ago who have disappeared and become the types of people who do not exist online (thinking here of Terra – I came across the Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy” video and laughed, thinking about how she and I used to joke that she wanted to stick her tongue between Roland Gift’s crooked front teeth. Checking out the video again now, I am struck by how the other band members look like blokes who might work at a gas station or tax office). Memories.

I have become a lot better at letting go of the past, or so I imagine. But the “port in the storm” guy is evidence that I don’t completely let go even when it is the best thing for me.

Therefore, in 2014, I need to start thinking about what is really best for me in the long run. Not what fills a few hours of loneliness in the middle of a Saturday night, not lingering on things that are dead just because there is not something else to replace it. I need to devote that attention to the friendships that are very much alive and want the nourishment.

I would like to embrace sincerely the whole “age isn’t everything”/“you’re only as old as you feel” concept. I give it a lot of lip service, and I genuinely feel like other people at my age are still young but experienced – the best combination. But because I have been feeling like I was 72 since I was 8, I feel positively decrepit now. It does not help that my body has betrayed me in such underhanded and uncontrollable ways – in ways that are actually fairly devastating to me, even if in all the cliché ways. The healthiest thing I can do in 2014 is give up on dreams that are next to impossible – and even if they could be within reach, they come at far too high a price. I am happy with me and just have to be happy being only me, whether I feel 72, my actual age or 8.

On a related note, I came across a brief article on CraigConnects.org about things Craig Newmark did after the age of 35. There is a lot of emphasis placed on youth, especially in the world of fast-moving start-ups, as though only people under 35 are creative and risk-taking enough to put it all out on the line. But maybe other attributes matter more – I agreed with Newmark’s points about experience making a difference, and life’s greatest rewards coming when you accept and embrace who you are. I know that I am and always have been like a 72-year-old lady who bakes a lot of stuff, writes a lot of old-fashioned letters and postal cards and can be a nerdy librarian type with a head full of all kinds of references that no one needs. And I like it – I like me – like that.

Beyond this, I have written before about how it is never “too late”. Nothing is too late until you are dead – and if this year slapped me across the face in any way at all, it was to remind me that death comes suddenly, unexpectedly. We all know this in an abstract way. But most of us don’t confront it – with our young child or young wife snatched away from us without warning. It is a cliché to say that we should live our lives, each day, as though it is our last. It would also be irresponsible to advocate that kind of complete reckless abandon. But these sudden losses are cause to evaluate seriously each part of our lives. There are things we must do to get by, but for example, if you are miserable in your job – you have to find a path to get out. If you have a business idea, find a way to start it. If you always dreamt of getting a master’s degree in architecture, what’s stopping you? If moving to France was your dream, what steps can you take to move toward your Gallic future? I am fully aware that people have debts, obligations, family, legalities and a laundry list of other obstacles to doing whatever they want. But you can make almost anything happen if you really want it. It’s said that nothing worth doing is easy – and usually this is true. You can make a change.

As a woman for whom “change” is a mantra, I learned in 2013 that even if one can make a change – or a lot of changes – change is not always the answer. Make change judiciously. As I have written elsewhere, I made a lot of life changes, which were needed because I needed to get out of the complacent rut I had been in. But the changes I made were made more because they were the options I had in hand – not because they were the right choices or things that would make me happiest or most fulfilled. Important to note and remember – just because you make a change, regardless of how big it is, does not mean you cannot reverse it. Almost nothing is absolutely permanent, so you can always make another change. I try to advise people along these lines quite frequently because people are often paralyzed by fear, and fail to change as a result, too scared of things not working – possibly scared that they will work – or scared of the things that may change as a result of the first change. Indecision can kick your ass and drag you behind it. As long as you don’t decide, you are floating and never taking your life into your own hands.

I started this new year doing something out of character for me, and I think it is important to test your boundaries sometimes – even if you don’t enjoy it. It is the best way to find out how well you know yourself and sometimes whether you can grow and become more than you imagined. Life is, after all, about the experience, which includes both the good and the bad.

If you can, start every new year with a kiss. And finally, don’t settle for stale crumbs when you could have the whole cake.