The aged: A life of training

Standard

“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.

Stud service & choosing adventure

Standard

In fluff-journalism/women’s magazines and similar trash, headlines promise us wisdom and insight into topics like “sex after 40”, as if there is a visible and tangible threshold over which people (women in particular) cross after 40. If we are to believe the spate of coverage, it would seem that once the line is crossed, you’ll become invisible, sex will be harder to find or have and might have physical complications for one reason or another. And men too will face their own complications. I may exaggerate here – it’s not always directed at someone who is 40, but maybe to the 50+ set, 50 being the age that the AARP has declared as “senior citizen territory”. And all of this designed to stir up self-doubt and make us wonder if we’re normal (as if we haven’t been wondering that our entire lives) and whether we need this pill or that cream to normalize ourselves and our sex lives.

Is sex, or finding sex or sex partners or people to date, marry, fall in love with, or having sex, really any different at a more “advanced” age?

I am not 70 yet, and maybe all of this will change in the coming decades. But for now, no. There are other people in the 40-something age bracket who also want to have sex and are in the same situation. There are people in lower and higher age brackets who also want to have sex, even with people in their 40s. Just like all the other ages and times in one’s life. It’s almost exactly the same now to meet people as it was when young. The venues have changed, the way our lives are arranged have changed, and we tend to have a lot more baggage, more peccadilloes and preferences, and possibly less patience or tolerance for nonsense. But we’re the same horny people (most likely) as we were when we were 20. (Yeah and somehow this came as a surprise to me when I was much younger meeting people in their 40s, 50s and so on.)

I refer you here to the German film (leave it to the Germans) Cloud 9 (Wolke 9) if you’re left with doubts. It’s a lot of elderly people (people 65 and much older) having sex and having affairs. You will see what I mean.

Different concerns perhaps arise – or don’t arise, as the case may be. Haha. (But there’s nothing big pharma won’t try to cure for you if you’re a middle-aged man.)

For example, a woman spends so much of her younger life thinking about birth control, but it becomes less of a concern later, until it is no longer a concern. Maybe this late-life/still-fertile time is a little complicated because pregnancy is unlikely but still possible, and would not be welcome (less welcome than at 25, 30 or even 35). One friend recently treated me to a semi-lecture on fertility the other day, also reminding me that if we wanted to have a child together (or truer to say, if I were to request stud service), the window is closing, but is not closed. For me, though, it is closed. I have closed it. Another friend, the Schwarzenegger-soundalike (god help me, I can’t listen!), when I mentioned something about people having kids in their 40s, dismissively said, “Yeah but that time is over, no?” Yes. The answer is no.

My body is saying no, no, no.

Not only is my body saying no, so is my mind, my lifestyle, my freedom, my flexibility and everything I have worked to cultivate. I have my life almost exactly the way I want it – why would I want to ruin that now? Every part of me now screams out with the realization that that time is over, if it ever existed. But I had to learn the hard way.

What purpose does this serve now, though, going over the sexuality of middle-aged people and the merits of childlessness? I woke up with these thoughts in my head, turned over to read more of Congo: The Epic History of a People, but still felt like I had to mull this stuff over.

What purpose? None really. Only that it ties in (if only by a thread) to one of the things I try to remind myself of daily: Life is short (how did I arrive in my 40s already when, as a child of six, I would stare at the clock and think what an eternity ten minutes seemed to be?) and, if you are able, you should prioritize the adventure. Whatever adventure it is you choose to go on. For some, that adventure is becoming a parent in middle age. For others, it’s running off last-minute to faraway places spontaneously and continuing to see the world. For many, it’s to “dare” to be a sexual creature after 40. The adventure is different for everyone.

And that comes down to one of the biggest, but possibly most rewarding, challenges of life: Really knowing yourself and what you do and do not want.

Photo (c) 2007 Byte Rider used under Creative Commons license.

Weekend movie viewing: Miele and Drei

Standard

While I did indulge in my normal TV viewing during the weekend (Danish show Dicte, all of season two of BoJack Horseman and this week’s episodes of Hell on Wheels and Rectify – how is Rectify only six episodes this season?!), I also watched a few films.

I have always loved films, particularly non-English-language films – the more obscure or difficult the better. I like getting lost in them, examining them, comparing what the characters say to what the subtitles say (when I can). That said, I don’t watch films very often now because I have too many other things to do. TV can be consumed in bite-sized morsels and is usually in English so I do not have to pay attention to subtitles (and even if it is not in English, it is episodic, so it can be turned on and off). Films demand more – more attention, more care, more time (not in the long run but upfront they do). I want to indulge but long gone are the days of watching five films per day, as I did once during a period of unemployment – it was cinema visits constantly coupled with the long-ago “innovation” of unlimited DVDs on Netflix. Yes, DVDs! This was way before streaming.

This weekend I watched Miele, an Italian film about a woman who seems dispassionately compassionate. She helps the terminally ill to die, providing veterinary drugs to help the dying take their own lives on their own terms. Her “moral code” is shaken, though, when she meets an older man who wants to die but claims he is not sick. It is through her connection to him that she seems to renew her connection to being human and feeling emotional. She seemed, through her work, to become more clinical and further and further removed from her feelings. She had things set up to keep people at bay. A married family-man boyfriend, work that requires certain boundaries for legal reasons, etc. It was a subtle film, and without being an outright debate about the morality of assisted suicide, it handled the topic with sensitivity. It presented some arguments and thinking about the subject without beating anyone over the head with it. And ended in similarly ambiguous fashion.

Then I watched a German film, Drei. It is a Tom Tykwer film, so it was very unusual in his unique way. But in many ways difficult to watch. For one, many scenes were like a collage of many different, overlapping activities that meant to convey the passage of time and activity. Like cheesy montage scenes without being cheesy. Secondly, the female lead in the film, Austrian actress Sophie Rois, is… well, not a good actress. I am sure other people may disagree, but she got so many downright weird looks on her face, none of which seemed to fit to the situation or reaction she was having – and that is when she was not just overacting. Oddly, in scenes near the end when her character had moved temporarily to London, her strong accent when speaking English coupled with this over-the-top, loud, obnoxious way of being, made it seem as though she had been plucked from the street and asked to act. She was that bad. Not just amateur or new – just bad.

The story, though, was interesting. As the two main characters reach the 20-year point in their relationship and find themselves questioning, dissatisfied and bored, but are not really talking to each other about it, they each start having an affair. The side effect, though, is that the affair reignites their passion and feeling for one another as well. Until the woman, after many years of not succeeding, becomes pregnant. At this point both she and her husband learn that they are each, separately, having an affair with the same man.

While there are many other things going on in the plot, many of which motivate these characters’ actions, it interests me that the couple realizes in the end that they want to be together but also want to be together, not separately, with the man with whom they both had an affair. I enjoy how the outcome challenges head-on what would happen in most films. (While it seems unlikely that a married couple in a big city like Berlin would somehow separately meet the same guy in very different ways and have an affair with him, I can suspend my disbelief for the sake of asking the bigger questions about relationships, fidelity, “sharing” and what really constitutes a relationship or happiness.)

The film embodies many opposites from the very standard way in which most TV and films deal with infidelity. A case in point: I watched the Danish TV show, Dicte, in which one of Dicte’s best friends has been struggling to have a baby and has had years of infertility treatments and finally gets pregnant. I think most people can guess, if they have not been through this ordeal, that the struggles to have a baby can take a real toll on a relationship. Naturally, you discover in the story that Dicte’s friend, Ida-Marie, has been so focused on her pregnancy and everything leading up to it that her husband has already gone off to have an affair. Dicte discovers the evidence when she goes to Ida-Marie’s house to pick up some clothes after Ida-Marie gives birth (and the husband is absent, missing the entire birth. He claims he was away on business in Germany. When the child is kidnapped from the hospital, of course the police get involved and discover that he was in Copenhagen with his mistress the entire time). By this stage, because it is TV, the marriage is basically over, even though Ida-Marie gives it another chance. Essentially all these people’s marriages end over infidelity. But on TV and most films it feels lazy not to at least try to work through the issues to get to their root, even if the couples involved cannot solve them (they sure as hell will not react as the characters in Drei, who decided to all be together).

Sin-o-matic (Okay – cinematic is what I meant…) and middle-aged sex lives

Standard

To accompany a stack of bureaucratic kind of stuff I needed to do this weekend but had been shuttling off to some dark corner for “another day”, I decided to watch a bunch of films (or half-watch, as was sometimes the case). Strangely when binge watching in that kind of succession, I don’t remember everything I watched. The other night I saw a decade-old Japanese film called Quill, about the life and training of a dog that went on to be a service dog (and its eventual death). I can only remark that the Japanese make fascinatingly weird movies and observations, and I am always astounded by how much Japanese I actually remember. (It is definitely a use-it-or-lose-it language, but its grammatical simplicity lends itself to quick recall – at least for me.)

As for today’s viewing, I cannot even remember what I watched. I remember In a World because it just finished now. I expected to hate it because Lake Bell normally grates on me hard – and a vehicle that is written and directed by and starred in by HER – could I expect something positive? Expect, no. But be pleasantly surprised – yes.

But what else? I was in and out of the house all day, doing these bureaucratic tasks and baking some muffins – meaning that the films weren’t really my priority. And there were some tv shows thrown into it just to mix things up (and mix up my memory). I saw a German film called Lore (since World War II stories so ably buoy one’s spirits…). And a French film called Sexual Chronicles of a French Family. And then… what? There was something earlier that completely slipped my mind until I was semi-immersed (when I was not in the middle of making a frittata, anyway) in the Sexual Chronicles film – the discussions on middle-aged (and older) sex lives made me feel a kind of strange melancholy, made me think a bit of a poem from Howard Nemerov (“Reading Pornography in Old Age”*) and then took me back a few hours to the film I had seen earlier in the day – Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini (one of his, if not the, last roles). They are two regular, divorced, middle-aged people navigating the dating world, which – by their portrayal – makes it look just as awkward and fraught with missteps as dating at every other stage in life (even if things start out auspiciously enough – as though they have both gotten past insecurities and issues that tripped them up in earlier life). Yes, middle-aged, divorced dating movies, despite the sweetness of this one and its charming, funny and self-deprecating dialogue, depress me.

Hmm. And that’s enough said.

I leave you in Nemerov’s capable hands.

*Reading Pornography in Old Age

Unbridled licentiousness with no holds barred,
Immediate and mutual lust, satisfiable
In the heat, upon demand, aroused again
And satisfied again, lechery unlimited.

Till space runs out at the bottom of the page
And another pair of lovers, forever young,
Prepotent, endlessly receptive, renews
The daylong, nightlong, interminable grind.

How decent it is, and how unlike our lives
Where “Fuck you” is a term of vengeful scorn
And the murmur of “sorry, partner” as often heard
As ever in mixed doubles or at bridge.

Though I suspect the stuff is written by
Elderly homosexuals manacled to their
Machines, it’s mildly touching all the same,
A reminiscence of the life that was in Eden

Before the Fall, when we were beautiful
And shameless, and untouched by memory:
Before we were driven out to the laboring world
Of the money and the garbage and the kids

In which we read this nonsense and are moved
At all that was always lost for good, in which
We think about sex obsessively except
During the act, when our minds tend to wander.