We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

2018. Where’s my jetpack?

Winter                                                            Moon of the Long Nights

FutureFirst post of 2018. Ancientrails will start its 14th year in February, a long run for a blog started to ease my boredom during recovery from Achilles tendon repair. It long ago became part of my daily routine and remains so. I have no agenda with it; it’s a place to record what occurs to me, though what occurs to me does have definite repeating themes.

I was telling Kate last night that ever since 2000 writing the years has seemed like an exercise in science fiction. I mean, 2018? Jetpacks instead of a few electric cars. Food synthesis on demand. Space hotels. Ray guns, even. Concealed carry ray guns. Definitely not a rotund orange haired demagogue with the mind of a gnat. Definitely not a plague of wildfires and the imminent destruction of humanity by the planet which gave us birth. But, the future’s not ours to see. Que sera, sera, as Doris Day sang.

20171202_192559This is a resolution-less New Year’s for me. Over the last year a Colorado life emerged, one that fits my age and stage, and one worth nurturing. It has these components: attention to the mountains, to the wildlife here, to the changing weather. Jewish immersion: studying kabbalah, mussar, Hebrew and getting to know as friends members of Congregation Beth Evergreen. Writing: ancientrails and novels, right now, Jennie’s Dead and Rocky Mountain Vampire. Family: Kate, Jon, Ruth, Gabe, Joe SeoAh, Murdoch. Working out. Caring for our home. Maintaining contact with friends and family far from here.

It also includes a contraction of political activity, much less time in the city, and no gardening though there may be some beekeeping in my future through Beth Evergreen’s religious school. This is enough. It’s a full life, one that allows me to express myself, learn new things and walk the ancientrail of family and friends. There’s no need, at least right now, for new. I want to continue with the last year’s emphases.

New yearI do have hopes. I hope Kate continues her surprisingly upbeat attitude as she considers shoulder replacements and how to deal with the energy drain of Sjogren’s. I hope Jon continues to gain distance from Jen, to renovate his new home, to grow as a single parent. I hope Joe and SeoAh and Murdoch have a great year and I hope to see them again soon. I hope I can read more. I hope Beth Evergreen flourishes since it has become important to both Kate and me. I hope Korean tensions resolve peacefully. I’d like it if we could have a year with no major home repair issues.

2018. Another turn of the Great Wheel, another trip around the sun. What it holds we cannot know. I’m looking forward to it. Happy New Year!

A Good Day

Winter                                                                   Moon of the Long Nights

winter solstice4Up well before dawn on the longest night, experiencing its long darkness here on Shadow Mountain. Wrote ancientrails, wrote some on Rocky Mountain Vampire, wandered out to the newspaper tube. No paper. Back inside for breakfast.

Kate does the NYT crossword every morning and when the physical paper, remember those?, isn’t here, she misses it. Unfortunately, like all things mountain the service quality of Denver Post delivery ranges from occasionally tolerable to often annoying. Mail, too. Worse of course during the annual buying orgy which now strains the logistical systems USPS, Fedex and UPS.

Wielding my now year old plus 21 days titanium knee, I got the snowblower going. It was good to be back outside, especially since the fluffy snow allows me to stick the accelerator on 6 and zoom, well, go faster than 1, up and down the asphalt. The snow glittered in the morning sun, hoar frost coated the lodgepole pines in our yard and up on Black Mountain.

winter solstice And The Wheel Goes Round And Round And The Falme In Our Souls Will Never Burn Out. Happy Winter SolsticeWorkout, finally back in the groove. Three resistance plus two high intensity cardio workouts a week and one longer, slower cardio. About six and a half hours or so. Lunch. Nap. Make tamale pie with cornbread crust. Kate did some errands and got home as I poured the cornbread mix onto the cooked hamburger and vegetables. Tasty.

Text from Joe. They’re in Columbia, Missouri, about 11 hours away. Murdoch’s along. Holiseason continues. Lights. Family. Gifts. Food. Deep connections to the horizontal and the vertical.

A good day.

 

Sarcopenia is a bitch

Samain                                                                           Bare Aspen Moon

quantumTrying out another browser, Firefox Quantum. Changing browsers is a hassle, but the benefits of Quantum seem considerable. Right now I’m still on Chrome, but I plan to complete the transition today. I’ll let you know how the transition goes-for those who might care.

Spitting snow this morning, colder. 26. Heading into a cooler week, but then again, it is November 28th. A La Nina year.

Finally back at Jennie’s Dead. Again. Been bumpy. Holidays and “getting stuff done before winter sets in.” This latter is a holdover from 40 years in Minnesota. It’s a now thoroughly ingrained instinct inculcated by years of gardening, bee-keeping and brutal winters with little let up in the cold. Then, too, there’s Hebrew, kabbalah, the Evergreen Forum, ancientrails, all demanding in their own way. A good way.

agingSet a time on Thursday to get a new workout. The old one has grown stale, but it brought me to a new level of fitness, one I can feel in day to day activities. Exercise kicks in endorphins for a right now feel good, but it’s most important role is health maintenance. Sarcopenia, the slow decrease in muscle mass that begins in our 40’s, accelerates in our 70’s. You know, opening jars, lifting boxes, pushing a snow shovel, cleaning up the garage, carrying in groceries, all those everyday uses of our body become harder and harder.

In a nod to this change in both Kate and me, for example, I’ve put blue masking tape on all of our round door knobs because our grip strength is less. Arthritis in the thumbs and fingers can make turning the knobs painful. The tape is a temporary fix, a workaround, eventually we’ll have press down door handles installed. Sarcopenia is a bitch.

aging2Exercise is a way to push back against these changes. It doesn’t solve them, but it helps. The cardio work maintains the pump that literally keeps us alive, helps it respond to crisis modes without giving up. Been at it so long it’s just part of my day.

Restrung the lights out front trying to get even spacing between the two strands, but my skills don’t seem up to the task. However, I did not allow the best to be enemy of the good. They’re up and I like’m. Just the way they are.

 

 

Up With Which

Samain                                                                           Bare Aspen Moon

prepositions-timeThe day after the day after. See, there’s the sneaky part of our language. This is the day after the day after Thanksgiving. Yet, really, this is another day, neither after nor before, just a day on its own. Yes, it’s a little further along the third planet’s track around the sun, but it’s a spot on the orbit, so different than yesterday and tomorrow, but no different as a day than either of them save for the slightly less light occasioned by the planet’s tilt, now away from the sun for those of us in the northern hemisphere.

OK. We’ll not flog the old time horse anymore right now. There is a case to be made for chronos, too, but it’s the assumption we share and it obscures other, equally important ways of understanding time.

20171123_142055Anyhow leftover capon, pancetta and fig stuffing, green beans, mashed potatoes, sweet potato pie and caramelized sweet potatoes, pecan pie and deviled eggs rest in the fridge, awaiting their moment. The slow and the stuffed have gotten up off the couches, the beds, the chairs and started to move around again within their lives.

Yesterday (as my mind insists on designating it) I drove down the hill to Aurora. Jon has trees and shrubs on his fenceline that he wants removed. This is something I can do, so I wanted to get exact instructions. He showed me. It won’t take long to do and I plan to go down tomorrow (as my mind insists on designating a day/night cycle we’ll repeat as we return to this spot on our tilt-a-whirl ride of wandering space rock).

Yes, I’m having a little trouble letting go of thoughts about time. It’s just that the prepositional nature of our language is so larded with sequencing words that each time I start to use one, I jerk up short mentally, pulled on the leash of cyclical time. Henry Gustafson, my New Testament professor, talked about writing a prepositional theology. Prepositions and their less common linguistic sibling, postpositions, indicate relations between nouns. “Prepositions and postpositions, together called adpositions (or broadly, in English, simply prepositions),[1] are a part of speech (class of words) that express spatial or temporal relations (inundertowardsbefore) or mark various semantic roles (offor).” wiki

Ah, well, I’ve learned something here. It is exactly prepositions work in our language to indicate time and place. No wonder I keep bumping against them as the ship of cyclical time tries to stay at the dock and not drift away. We use prepositions because we cannot make sense of our reality without locating things in space or time. In using these words though, we reveal an underlying consensus that, while definitely shared, may well not be accurate. OK. I’m in the weeds again, apparently not yet done with the idea of cyclical time.

TampopoJon, Ruth and Gabe and I went to Katsu Ramen for lunch. It’s close to their house, sort of, and I’ve wanted to eat there for a while. Ramen places are a very typical Japanese restaurant, more common there, I imagine, than sushi ones, because ramen is food for the masses, a sort of fast food. “Tampopo”, a Japanese movie from the mid-1980’s, features two truck drivers who learn how to cook great noodles.

I drove them back and returned to the mountains. Yesterday was a rest day, so I kicked back and watched yet another Marvel TV series. I’m as captivated by them as I was by Marvel Comics when Atlas comics rebranded themselves in 1961 and introduced the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Doctor Strange and the Hulk, among many others. One of my cheesy regrets about my childhood is that I, like most other kids, threw away my early collection of Marvel Comics, not realizing how much an X-Men number 1 would be worth in 2017. Hell, I’m not sure I believed in 2017 back then except as an indefinite location filled with flying cars, rocket ships, interstellar travel, huge skyscrapers and maybe a few aliens.

drStrangeMarvel has expanded its media presence to both movies and television. Spider Man, the Hulk, the X-Men, Guardians of the Galaxy, the Fantastic Four, Thor, Doctor Strange, Captain America, Iron Man all have at least one movie, some many more than that. Now on television Marvel has pulled off a rather stunning feat, populating streaming services like Netflix and Hulu with original made for television serials featuring many other Marvel characters. Right now you can watch (and I do) Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, the Punisher, the Gifted, the Runaways, the Inhumans, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the Defenders and Peggy Carter.

There is a link, which I’m not going to explore right now, between my affection for the Marvel stories and religion. I think they trigger the same impulse, the same capacity for wonder and speculation, just in different idioms.

 

 

 

Getting Things Done

Samain                                                                                   Joe and SeoAh Moon

typhonIt’s been a while now since I got good writing done on Jennie’s Dead. I’ve gotten a bit done on two new projects, Rocky Mountain Vampire and my version of the Way of a Pilgrim, but mostly I’ve been focused on keeping up with kabbalah, mussar and Hebrew, working out and getting stuff done around the house.

This latter, getting the chainsaw in for repairs, setting up a time to talk house insurance with our broker, hanging a set of decorative lights out front, making chicken noodle soup, moving paintings, cleaning up the garage is driven by two forces: Jon’s finally moving out and the onset of winter. The onset of winter motivation is conditioned by 20 years of gardening and caring for bees and property in Minnesota. There, once winter sets in some outdoor things simply cannot be done. Too damned cold. Frozen ground. Lots of snow. That sort of thing.

Up here, see the post below, winter is more episodic. One day it’s challenging to get to the mailbox, the next day it’s totally dry, maybe even warm. Still, the coming of snow and cold and ice pushes a conditioned response. Get the nest warm and cozy. Now.

While my productivity meter is the positive range, I feel scattered. Part of that is the evening events at Beth Evergreen: Gary Hart on Sunday, Difficult Conversations on Tuesday and kabbalah last night. After my knee surgery, I started going to bed early, 8 pm, and getting up early, usually between 4:30 and 5:00. All of these evenings pushed past 9 pm and one went closer to 10. That leaves me tired and not as able intellectually. My mind does not work nearly as well under these circumstances, gone are the days of cramming and long nights with the books.

20170919_155736I also feel scattered because I consider my writing primary and when I let it slide, I feel like I’m shirking even if I’m getting other stuff done. Yet, to contradict this, Kate and I have done a lot together, the Gary Hart and Difficult Conversations evenings, putting up the lights, getting ready to work on the garage, studying Hebrew. And that feels great. I love being with her, getting thing done with her.

Mostly I solve this kind of dilemma with a schedule, a routine that keeps space for writing, for time with Kate, for time to work on the house, for time to study and be active at Beth Evergreen. Right now, that’s been interrupted and I’m feeling a little down, a little off.

I do remember the quote that goes something like, “Those aren’t interruptions, that’s your life calling.”

Looking forward next week to the visit of Bill Schmidt and Tom Crane. Oh, the fun we will have.

Kavanah

Fall                                                                         Joe and SeoAh Moon

But the end is not yet

But the end is not yet

2017 Woolly Mammoth Retreat Question. Three Mammoths are not yet 70, a couple at 70, four mid-70’s and two in their 80’s. All, however, firmly in what I call the third phase, the phase of life after career and family building are usually over. That’s the time frame this question referents.

Since I will not be attending this year, I’m going to write my answer here and send it along to the retreat.

What is our intention for this phase (or the remainder) of our life; hopes, truths, fears, losses, sufferings, challenges, inspirations, duties and non-duties?

It is different now, in the third phase of life. With a career and a family we built our lives to a crescendo and this, this is the denouement*:  the final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved. Other words: conclusion, finale, epilogue, coda, final scene, finish, end.

It is not retirement, at least not any more. This is not the finish line, it’s the period before the finish line, after the race has largely been run. But not all the way. The finish line might be a fourth phase, a sort of lingering in the face of medical challenges that end only one way, death. None of us, to my knowledge anyhow, are in that fourth phase and we have at least one who is still flirting with the end of the second phase, but for the most part we’re in life’s epilogue.

One of the reasons I came up with notion of the third phase was that the retirement model of my childhood was more like the fourth phase, a lingering that, though it might include golf, fishing, a grandkid on the knee, was still a lingering that saw death close by. It was a time of not-working, defined by whatever leisure pursuits one chose.

2010 01 19_3454Not for us. As all of you (Woolly Mammoths at least) know, I entered the third phase from a different vantage point, having left the ministry behind as a full-time vocation in 1991. I focused on writing novels though there was a regressive moment in which I moved over to the UU ministry, at least partway.

I have written several. And I’m not done. My 8th, Superior Wolf, has a finished first draft and I’m working on my 9th, Jennie’s Dead. Not to mention the vampire novel I’m plotting in my head right now, one set around a castle hidden away in the Rocky Mountains. So, the not-working, retirement focused third phase is not for me. I’m having too much fun.

The third phase began in earnest for me when we decided to move to Colorado. Why? Because we were leaving behind not only the political and museum work I’d done for years in the Twin Cities, but we sold our garden, our orchards, our woods, our flower beds. We also stored all the bee equipment we’d purchased over the years. Those were the work equivalent activities of my post-ministry years, equal in some ways to novel writing.

So my intention for the third phase had, at the point of the move, at least these components: a focus on Jon, Ruth and Gabe, continued writing, immersion in the West and the Rockies, seeing what new life Kate and I could construct outside our Midwestern home places.

20171016_070053Of course, and I think this is true even if you remain in a familiar place, the unexpected always shapes things, too. How could we know, for example, that our family focus, the proximate reason for the move, would shift dramatically when Jon and Jen headed into fourteen months (and counting) of an acrimonious divorce. How could we know that in my first physical with our new physician, Lisa Gidday, that she would find a hard spot on my prostate? How could we know that Kate would face challenges from rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s Syndrome?

How could we know, in a more positive vein, that the mountain streams would be so interesting in their seasonal variation, the aspens so wonderful in their monochromatic fall splendor? How could we know that mule deer and elk, mountain lions and bears and fox would become part of our everyday life? How could we know that a small Jewish community, a community of mountain Jews as they call themselves, would become central to our lives?

What is intention? It’s an important idea for Jews. Kavanah**, or intention, can determine the religious efficacy of prayer and ritual. If the intention, the kavanah, is not sincere and focused, the prayer or ritual is considered deficient.  I’m not trying to be theological here, or, maybe I am, but not in a traditional sense. The kavanah of our third phase is critical, I think. It does need to be sincere and focused to prepare and establish an orientation of our heart/mind.

kyudo3_250Intention matters a great deal because, unlike Jewish prayer and ritual, so much of our life is unknown. What can we bring to life as it twists and turns, zigzags its way? A willingness to treat life with love, care, awe, joy will allow us to navigate the planned and the unplanned with grace. That is my intention for this (and, for that matter, any) phase of life, now this third phase. I will be open to the new, approach others with chesed, loving kindness, embrace awe, seek out the joyful and the laugh filled.

Whether I write, spend time with family, hike in the mountains, learn the ancient Jewish ways in their modern clothing, engage in the day to day with Kate and the dogs, or maintain relationships in the far away, I intend to laugh, love and play. After that? Well, there is no after that.

 

 

*1752, from French dénouement “an untying” (of plot), from dénouer “untie” (Old French desnouer) from des- “un-, out” (see dis-) + nouer “to tie, knot,” from Latin nodus “a knot,” from PIE root *ned- “to bind, tie.” etymology online

**”Kavanah comes from an ancient verbal root also found where the object or subject is the “heart”. It connotes “to direct, to prepare, to establish”, an orientation of mind, heart, intention. According to Moshe Halbertal, it implies concentration and sincerity…” wiki

Before the Storm

Fall                                                                            Harvest Moon

Wow. Barely into October and I pushed about 5 inches of fluffy, but still wet snow off the back deck just now. The snow began before midnight last night. Thanks to winds blowing from the east, an upslope storm, we’ll get the bulk of its moisture. We’ll probably be on the upper end of the 7-10 inch forecast. This is a relatively rare event where the eastern Front Range gets more snow than the ski areas further west. Still snowing. Will continue, according to the forecast, through late afternoon today.

by Jeremiah, of Sarah, Kates sister

by Jeremiah, of Sarah, Kate’s sister

The weekend had that urgency before the storm feel to it, the first big storm of the season. On Saturday the fines got mowed and I worked on uncrating our Jeremiah Miller paintings. He’s my brother-in-law and an excellent artist. If you remember our Andover house, these are the two very large paintings that hung in the living room and our bedroom. A1 Movers crated them in December of 2014 and they’ve been in their specialized shipping containers since then.

The crates, very sturdy, are taller than I am and heavy. They were clumsy to move. I could maneuver the smaller one onto a small table made of saw horses and a slab of plywood, but the bigger one was too heavy. Jon helped me with that yesterday. Until I opened them, we had no idea how the paintings had fared. The smaller one is in good shape. I plan to open the bigger one today. The dry air here helps, at least in the short run. Over time it might advance the drying out of the paint and cause craquelure, something I’ll have to look into.

The energy surge I get when the air cools down kicked in a couple of weeks ago. It’s reinforced by 20 years of early fall gardening work in Andover. This was the time when the garlic got planted, the last of the leeks, onions, kale, collard greens, beans, beets, lettuce harvested and flower bulbs dug in. The raspberries were ripening constantly and the apples, too. It was also the time of wood cutting and splitting for our fire pit.

I got out the chainsaw and decided to cut stumps left standing from the fire mitigation work a couple of years ago. An Iraq vet, Julie, who heats with wood, stopped by on Friday and asked if she could have the bucked wood. Kate said yes and Julie carted off all of it, front and back. We still have a few dead trees that need to come down so we’ll have firewood. That left just the stumps and they stood out even more.

 a good and trusted tool for over twenty years

a good and trusted tool for over twenty years

The Jonsered I’ve had for twenty plus years, the one I used to cut down the large stand of black locust to clear the way for our gardens and to keep the woods cleared of snags, is past its usefulness. I should have had it rebuilt several years ago apparently. Chainsaw Bob said it’s not fixable. It’s hard to start and dies suddenly. Frustrating. Got four or five stumps cut close to the ground, difficult to do since it involves bending over and holding the saw level with the soil, as close as possible to the surface. Then I noticed I’d been too close to the soil and the saw blade had gone into it. Instant dullness. Gonna go see Chainsaw Bob and see if he has a rebuilt Jonsered I can buy. I’ve got many stumps to cut and those few dead trees.

Also hung the Arcosanti bell Kate got in Arizona years ago. It tolls when the wind blows and we decided long ago that its peeling memorializes our dead dogs. Noticed that the small diamond shaped windcatcher that makes it toll had fallen off, but couldn’t find it. We’ll have to create something in place of it.

typhonIt was a week of this sort of activity, getting ready for the storm, catching up on errands. My exercise, Jennie’s Dead work suffered, but my choice. This week I’m back at all of that, going to On the Move Fitness on Thursday for a new workout.

Jennie’s Dead is going well. Not sure what I’m doing with it, at least not completely. I’m retelling versions of certain myths and those retellings have become extended. I find them great fun to write, but I’m wondering now if they’re overwhelming the main story line. The Typhon/Zeus fight for control of Olympus has a lot of nuance.

Ancora Imparo. I’m still learning.

On Daily Rhythms

Fall                                                                                 Harvest Moon

20170615_075422_001A peculiar sequelae of my new schedule, afternoons remain inchoate. After the nap and before supper. Not sure yet what to do with that. Might be good for games and puzzles? I want to read then, too, and do Latin (or, Hebrew). Perhaps once kabbalah and Hebrew classes get cooking I’ll find this the natural time for that work. The issue is peculiar because once I’ve fed the dogs, gotten my writing done, finished items off my to do list and completed my workout, I’ve already had 7 plus active hours.

So after the nap there’s this, ok, you’ve done enough, kick back, relax feeling, yet it feels off since it’s still the middle of the day. Weird. These matters do have a way of resolving themselves over time, so we’ll see.

Kate was in fine fettle yesterday. [fettle, what is that? state or condition of health says the online dictionary. Makes sense. Also, oddly, as a verb: trim or clean the rough edges of (a metal casting or a piece of pottery) before firing]. Anyhow she felt good and I felt good seeing her feel good. She’s done a great job of adjusting to Sjogren’s, not easy at all, and days like yesterday are the reward. May she string many of them together.

Life’s Rhythms

Fall                                                                                 Harvest Moon

April, 2016, Songtan, Korea

April 2016, Songtan, Korea

Road trip! I’m planning a visit to see Joseph and SeoAh over his birthday weekend in late October. Since they’re living on base, I’ll get a chance to see Robins AFB from the inside. I saw Joseph on Shavuot, June 1st, when he came on a sudden trip to Colorado Springs, but I’ve not seen SeoAh since the wedding, now a year and a half ago. I’m excited.

Yesterday was a rest day from working out, so I used the morning to pick up and rearrange. My work habits leave papers and books scattered in many places, for many different reasons and every once in awhile restoration is in order. I got most of that cleared away yesterday, leaving now the more demanding tasks of moving a whole shelving unit and changing the location of certain books, especially those relevant to reimagining/reconstructing faith. It took a couple of years to find an arrangement of furniture up here that suits me and the books got shelved before I found it. A process.

Kate and I had our business meeting at 3 Margaritas. Though somewhat strained the last year by Jon and the grandkids, our finances are in good order. That makes life easier. We look out ahead at upcoming expenses like the Georgia trip, that quarter of beef from Carmichael Cattle Company, a boiler inspection, Jon’s work on the bench. We talk about matters that need attention at home like sealing the bathroom’s stone work, moving the Arcosanti bell, yard work. Cooking. We also talk about how we’re feeling, physically and emotionally.

for example

for example

Kate’s various ailments make keeping her energy up a challenge, but she’s developed routines that mitigate the worst effects of Sjogren’s Syndrome, has the Remicade infusions for rheumatoid arthritis and manages her lower o2 saturation at night with the oxygen concentrator. She’s gained weight, which is a big positive, though the irony of having to gain weight is never lost on her.

Jon’s working on his new house. He has the kid’s beds set up and spent the weekend painting. He says painting here can produce an intermediate phase where the low humidity causes the paint to dry prematurely, making it sometimes strip off in panels when he goes back to touch up. Frustrating. His kitchen and bathrooms will require more work than he initially imagined, but he’s skilled in these matters.

He came up last night. We had chili from the last of last year’s quarter beef’s hamburger. He’s adjusting to the new schedule, but discovering what all divorced people do. That is, all the responsibilities you used to share are now your’s alone. That can be overwhelming, but he’s handling it by choosing where he spends his energy, the only real solution.

plutarch-quote-there-are-two-sentences-inscribed-upon-the-delphic-oracWe’re in the middle of the days of awe, between new years and Yom Kippur, the day of atonement when the book of life is sealed for the last year. Life demands examination; the ancient Greeks had it written over the Delphic oracle’s doorway in Apollo’s temple: gnothi seauton, know thyself. This annual juxtaposition of the new year and a time of seeking forgiveness for wrongs committed in the past year, both from others and from the sacred Self which links us to the whole, is in a sense a reminder of a rhythm that examination requires.

We fall short of our best selves, both in our relationships with others and in our own inner life, but Judaism and its liturgical calendar reminds us that this is neither extraordinary nor indelible. We seek repentance, then move on, being trapped neither by the past nor by anxiety about how that past will determine our future. That’s the human message of the days of awe. And it’s a good one, one from which us non-Jews can learn.

 

 

 

Third Phase Thoughts. Again.

Fall                                                              Harvest Moon

birthday dinner at 65

birthday dinner at 65

We had a soaking, all day rain yesterday. Very humid east, not so much arid west. Temperatures were cool during the day and down to 35 degrees last night. After a busy week, having Saturday as a quiet day was good.

The now not as new work schedule has taken hold, at least the before lunch part: Ancientrails, Jennie’s Dead, breakfast, news and e-mails, workout, lunch, nap. The after nap portion, which was to be Latin and reading until 5:00 or so, has still not solidified.

Any schedule has its rhythm broken by errands, medical appointments, maintenance matters like oil changes for the Rav4, scheduling folks to handle things like boiler inspections, circuit breaker fixes, but over time I’ve learned that simply returning to the pattern usually keeps me moving me forward.

caterpillarThat’s especially important for workouts, which are easy to forego. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I do 20 minutes of cardio, then resistance work, then 20 more minutes of cardio. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, I do the high intensity cardio plus 50 minutes or so slower cardio. If I miss a Monday, I go on to the high intensity, slow cardio day. If I miss a Monday and a Tuesday, I still go to the 40 minutes of cardio, resistance work day. For me, keeping the same workouts on the same days of the week keeps me from feeling guilty (I’ve missed so many workouts, it doesn’t make sense to even try and get back to my schedule.)  and guilt stops the process altogether.

Of course, there is the question of why keep at it? At 70 it would be possible to argue that the pace of life should slow down. Why keep pushing, especially if self-esteem doesn’t demand it. And mine doesn’t.

retirementThe third phase is new. It used to be that 65 or so meant the end of a working life, retirement happened, then death, often before 70. Those that made it into their seventies were often burdened with serious medical problems that drained energy and created obstacles to doing much else.

In 1960, when I was 13, U.S. life expectancy was 69.7 years. In 2015 it was 79 years. Our perception of age is not shaped so much by our experience of age itself, but by our attitude towards age created when we were not aware they were forming. In the working class community where I grew up until age 17 65 was retirement and death, at least for men, who were the primary workers then, followed 18 months or so later.

In other words, when I learned what being old meant, it was basically work, stop work, die, and the ages around which those latter punctuations occurred were before seventy. Life after seventy had no shape, no coherence, except frailty, nursing homes, dotage. (for, as Kim Jong Un says, dotards.) Though is no longer true, and has not been for some time, by 1990 the average life expectancy had risen to 75 years, my inner image of aging was shaped in the 1960’s world of Alexandria, Indiana.

We try to adjust to changes like these, but the patterns of our childhood often shape our beliefs about what’s possible. If work stops at 65, what comes after that? No work? No ability to work? Or, relief that work is over, so the 1950’s model of an ideal retirement, gold or canasta or bingo or photography. Life after 65 meant hobbies, doing things you’d put off doing, then dying. But in fact life after 65 was so short for most people that getting traction for some new phase of life, a phase with no work and the responsibilities of in-home child rearing completed, didn’t seem to make much sense.

growing-whole-molly-young-brown-219pxw-330pxh70 is not the new sixty. It’s the new 70. What 70 is the new sixty really means is that for those raised in the 50’s, 70 now appears like age 60 did when we were kids. Big difference though…we’re in that sixties range of health, but we’re 70 and work has fallen away, the kids are gone. What do we do?

So far my response has been to do what keeps me physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually engaged. Why? Because the alternative is the Barcalounger, favorite tv programs, the occasional extended family meal, then the funeral home. The old model of retirement, what our financial consultant Ruth Hayden called the finish line model of retirement, was sort of like forever recess, a surcease from the demands of the boss and the day-to-day demanded non-work like activity, otherwise what was the point of retirement?

Now, though, retirement really means (for those of us financially secure anyhow) a change in who determines how we spend our time during the day. We do, not the workplace. If we take on that responsibility with the image of the 1960’s in mind, we take a breath and try to imagine what we always wanted to do when weren’t working. The more pertinent question, it seems to me, is really who do I want to be?

retirementYes, retirement and the life following it, the third phase as I call it, is just that, a new and different time of life, one in which the question of how do I live can have a radically different answer than in the first two phases. Who are you? Who do you want to be? If you want to be a person whose constant focus is recreation, who gets up in the morning for another day of adult recess, you can. If you want to be a dress designer after years as a forensic engineer, you can. Or, as in my case, the work before retirement age was satisfying, self-directed, so there’s little reason to change just because some age-related cultural turning point has been reached.

What this means for me is that as long as I am able, I’ll continue to write, to read, to research, to stay engaged in current happenings. I’ll keep at my spiritual growth, stay connected to friends and family. I’ll work out and do what I can around the house. When I can no longer do these things, if that time comes, I’ll reassess. Death is always ready to greet us, we don’t have to accelerate the process.

January 2018
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