#62 Maliase

Malaise.

*Warning: Familiar Themes repeated here.

Is it because Fall is moving in, the colors everywhere changing to reds and browns and golds, leaving the vibrant greens for too many long months before they return? Fall is the favorite season of so many, but I find the transition–the colder nights, the dying plants, the disappearing birds–disheartening. There are oddities this year: the red and gray squirrels and the chipmunks disappeared a couple of months ago and they have not returned.

Monarch butterflies are on the move, headed south, gathering nectar for sustenance along the route from the last blooming rugosas, sedums, wild asters, and more. I’ve been watching them flutter by, mostly solitary but sometimes with one or two others, their purposeful migratory movements disguised by the way they seem to meander from plant to plant, so unlike hawk migrations. How do such ethereal creatures fly so far? How do they cope with cold nights and the increasing Fall winds?

Darkness arrives early and stays longer, its rapid increase from day to day quite apparent. Sunrise is more spectacular, if I can rise to it before daybreak when it is most vivid. Fall light is edged as the sun rises or sets, the angled light sharply defining rooftops, trees, grasses. Sometimes the light is strongly tinged pink or gold infusing everything it touches. The other evening traveling home as the sun was setting, the porch of a house, geraniums hanging in pots, rockers still in the coming evening, were bathed in strong rose colored light making the ordinary into a vivid, magical place if only for a few fleeting minutes, the whole scene glowing as if someone had pushed an alternate universe button.

I suppose it would help to keep the radio and the social media turned “off” in this time of wind-downs. The air waves are full of malaise, foul stories keep coming in a steady drumbeat, illustrating the lack of Humanity in the human nature of our beings. Fall brings hurricanes, damaging homes near or far, destruction and devastation. These magnificent, destructive, behemoths always felt powerful and dangerous but now, with Climate Change evidence abounding, our vulnerability feels enhanced. What will be destroyed next? What lovely palm-treed place of winter refuge, of tropic promise, will next be forever altered? Refugees, from storms or political upheaval, on the move everywhere. When might you or I be among their numbers?

It feels to me as if the Grifter mentality has spread like a plague, insatiable money hunger accompanied by power dreams, shoving us ordinary folk to the edges of forgotten and unimportant. The media pushes a constant supply of stories of cronies doing wrong and getting caught as the rest of us wonder how so many can gather more than their share of resources now becoming scarcer. So many of us do not care about the accumulations of wealth or power, preferring our lives to be filled with care and love of family, neighbors, friends, just getting by, content to notice what is beautiful in our lives–like sunsets and sunrises, and fleeting wings departing, while we steal off for one or two more moments of beach time., savoring every last moment before the oncoming cold.

 

#60 Human Behavior

Human Behavior.

It seems that many communities are experiencing the upsurge of vacation and temporary rentals. I understand what may be a need to capitalize on owning a home and maximizing opportunities to pay for upkeep, taxes, repairs etc. Americans in particular have strong feelings when it comes to their private property and their rights to do with it as they will. We are beginning to feel the limits of such thinking even though it shows no sign of decline.

Close to the water this temporary rental trend is booming. When I first came here there was one identifiable house that was a temporary rental. Since then the house next door seems to be sometimes occupied by the owners and sometimes by temporary others. Another house across the street has been vacated by the owner and now other cars come and go suggesting this has also become a rental. Now it begins to feel that every house out here may be under threat of come-and-go occupants as opposed to those of us who own or rent year round as permanent residents.

What the owners of rentals cannot see is that the sense of community is diminished as come-and-go occupants move in and out of rental houses. When we are in neighborhoods where houses are physically close to one another, such as close-to-the-water houses often are, we full-time occupants become accustomed to the rhythms of those next door; we know when and which lights will be on, along with other signs of their lifestyles. We know which of our windows need curtains and which can do without. Without undue intrusions or nosiness we have a sense of normalcy, of timing and sounds from the houses around us. Temporary or vacation occupants change all of that, indeed the behaviors of the occupants of temporary rentals may be quite different from what they may be when they are at home: “What happens in Vegas stays  in Vegas?” Not so much in Maine or elsewhere (and perhaps not even in Vegas.)

This past week a fortress wall, 8 feet tall and solidly wooden, went up between a resident’s house and the next door temporary rental. The fence’s size, solidness, and presumable price must have been serious considerations but it leaves no doubt to anyone passing that there was an issue present. The messaging seems clear.

This is not the first time I have lived in a destination vacation community, places where the yearly rhythms of swell and absence can be challenging and interesting all at once. Tourists are usually happy humans and their presence can be uplifting. In the winter we human residents dart quickly from our houses to our cars and the movement on the rocks is only by Eiders ducks or Gulls but in the summer excited children, families, visitors from far flung places climb up and down those rocks with gleeful shouts, posing for photos, delighting in unfamiliar sights and sounds of the waves and shore.

The problem with being a tourist is that we humans seem to carry our at-home behavior to places where what we know does not necessarily apply. Example: small children often zoom perilously close to water’s edge while their parents, thinking they are being attentive and responsible, watch from a distance.  Those who are new to ocean fail to understand the dangers of incoming tides or the possibility of a rogue wave; fail to understand the impossibility of extricating oneself from falling into powerful jaggedly rock-edged water themselves, much less the impossibility of extracting a small child from such water. Many times I have watched delighted, squealing children close enough to breaking waves to be getting soaked, while I utter prayers for it not be necessary for me to dial 911. Example: tourist traffic  disregard of really important speed limits and the danger of driving behaviors inappropriate to the vacation location. I once witnessed Midwest drivers doing 75 mph on twisting remote roads of Yellowstone National Park and in that same park I drove behind a rental RV scraping rock formations along every curve of a narrow roadway. What works on the NJ Turnpike will not do on a winding, tight hill road where children ride their bikes and visiting drivers think the cautionary speed limit does not apply to them.

The question is how do we, all of us, open our vision, expand our awareness, alter our experiential behaviors to be in synch with our temporary, new location? As visitors, how can we be appropriately adaptive in unfamiliar places?

Note: The photo used here implies only the joy that tourists often show visiting this beautiful shore. It is not in any way a criticism of the subjects photographed.

#59 Who Are We?

Who Are We?

The goal as I loosely perceived it was to spend the time I had left finding a way to incorporate my various versions of self in this lifetime. Your perception may hold that there is only one lifetime, your lifetime, whoosh start to finish, lived until no more, then you are gone. That’s it.  Mine says we live many lifetimes within each lifetime as well as many lifetimes over eons in non-linear time. From here, neither of us shall be able to prove it either way.

Aging is the time we get to settle, examine, choose, decide. I do believe in a very real way we are making this stuff up so we get to use this time, the parts of it when we aren’t distracted by hurting body parts that is, to work on this “project”, the one we call our life. Has yours turned out as you thought it would? Mine certainly has not.

Education, profession, geographies—these are just some of our external elements and these various elements provide a sort of a background or canvas where we play out our internal drivers–“personalities” or “traits” or whatever description works best. What did we come here to learn and who helped us along the way? The complexities seem dizzying yet if we can drill down into the essence, perhaps it’s not as complicated as we once thought. The privilege of aging gives us the chance to figure at least some of this out. Sometimes we have to go in minutely close and sometimes we have to go to the top of the mountain. Perspective is what we are after in every part we examine. Relationships are the color palette with which we play these things out and the ranges overflow — joy to sorrow, failure to success, satisfaction to longing.

Instead of judgement consider the spectrum. Consider the grace. 

#58 Puerto Rican Memory

Puerto Rican Memory: Old San Juan.Castillo San Cristóbal.

It was a day spent at the historic fort in Old San Juan. We were on a two-day delay for our return home after a two week vacation in Vieques and the JFK airport in NYC was socked in by a pounding snow storm. Our house rental on Vieques was over so we took the puddle jumper flight over to mainland Puerto Rico where we stayed at the outlying hotel we’d found on our first delay caused by another snowstorm on our way south. Now we needed to watch our pennies while taking advantage of the extra time. We took the bus into the city and found our way to the tourist area in Old Port. 

I remember the expanse of lawn and the incredible age of the stone that made up the fort. I remember with edged sharpness what it felt like being between walls built so long ago. I remember Carolyn’s presence, her laughter, her buying her Senior National Park Pass at the entrance of the old fort, Castillo San Cristóbal. We walked the neighborhood, finding a place for lunch, seeing the vibrant colors of the houses, swimming through the sounds of Spanish in the streets, making lemonade out of the lemons of our delayed return home, unexpected sightseers happy with our successful expanded time in an unknown place.

Memory is tricky ground and always  a bit more fluid than expected. As aging progresses memory becomes a measuring device, used by yourself and others. Here and now, on an early summer morning in Maine, this feel of that day in San Juan is powerful. It was the day before the last time I would ever see my friend, in a hurried parting at JFK as she rushed to make her connecting flight to Vermont and I, terrified as always by the teeming mass of NYC, needed to make my way to the train that could take me upstate. Days later I would become ill with an undiagnosed mysterious something that took me down for two and a half months. Months later came a card with a note from Carolyn. She had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She did not want contact: no visits, no phone calls, no questions. Years later, my life shifted and morphed into a very different life and Puerto Rico became a different place, altered forever by a vicious hurricane and ongoing political turmoil. 

But now, in a very different geography, I am transported by memory to that sparking blue day walking in San Juan and the solidly real feel of it. The mysterious essence of life follows this memory, this aliveness in my brain or consciousness, almost shocking in its rich presence. What do we possibly know about our existence and does that (ever) matter?

#53 Paths

 

Paths.

There are so many ways to age. I had no idea of course, when waking hours were filled with occupation and everything else was crammed into living and getting through.  “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”*

And then, when I knew I was tiring, the gears got switched and I was into something else, this territory of Eldering. By this time I had noticed the creaky limbs and sometimes nodding off at the oddest of times and that my energy level from the gogogo years had somehow gonegonegone.  I started to worry about the occasional blank word or name that couldn’t be found in my memory bank and in the morning mirror I saw a face that only vaguely resembled the one I expected to be looking back at me.

There was the painful first use of a “senior discount”.  More painful still was (is) being talked down to as my grey head acts as a beacon yelling “Old person here!” despite my internal views to the contrary. Physicians, grocery checkout clerks, waitpersons have all had previously negative experiences with the likes of me, even if it wasn’t actually ME.

I have begun to understand old age “cranky”: the joints that zing unexpectedly, the-way-too-inconvenient searches for a bathroom away from the house, and impatience with the lack of being heard or seen, but those are trifles next to the loss of friends and companions.

What I didn’t suspect was the treasure that lay in the midst of these challenges. A great opening, an expansive freeing spirit from so many things I  believed were “me”. Kindness, compassion, patience suddenly began to appear at the oddest times, filling the moments. Conscious awareness found room to show up occasionally and the picture began getting bigger, a panoramic effect allowing a deeper, longer breath. While I cannot move as fast as I once did, slow movement allows opportunities for taking in what lies around me. 

We won’t all age the same way and a number of us won’t get to age at all but tucked under a slew of stereotypes are ways of seeing and knowing I hadn’t imagined. Just wait, you’ll see.

 

*John Lennon. “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”.

#52 Just Life: Variations on a Theme

Just Life:  Variations on a Theme.

For a long time I have been troubled by what I perceived as a divide between my neighbors or friends who live lives that I relate to and respect. It was when we “talked politics” that what seemed like insurmountable divides arose and we ceased talking with one another or ceased seriously talking about matters dear to us because it was simply too painful. I always knew however that if an emergency arose, if there were reasons that we needed to pull together in a time of trouble, those friends and neighbors would be there pitching in.

There are divisions, they just aren’t distributed along the lines we are told they are. Red/Blue. Conservative/Liberal: the divisions reported so often in the media fall into those categories because the media covers those who have much to gain identifying with those labels. Media seems primarily interested in those with power and money or those striving for them.  Many of the rest of us are not particularly interested in living that kind of life.

“Family Values” used to be a slogan for conservative political beliefs but even way back then I found myself annoyed that a political group had seemed to usurp a term that I related to even though I would never describe my political beliefs as leaning to the right. Right. Left. Yet another set of divisional boundaries. To me “values” meant caring, meant having a set of internal beliefs and purpose, an internal compass guiding action. “Values” was often in slogans used by religious individuals or groups, but to me religion did not have much to do with it. I felt my life had been lived by my sense of internal values not connected to “religion” which I did not have. Now it seems as if the groups have changed, the slogans have changed, and the term “Family Values” has been flipped on its ear.

Recently I viewed this video which popped up online. It is not political or religious but it gets to the heart of what I am trying to express.

Jay Shetty Video

“It’s about who they are and how they treat you.” 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mi080mSDX6Q

 

 

#51 Quilting

 

Quilting.

I cannot sew. Even when I learned to be adept with needles they were the large ones used for knitting. 

Now, when arthritis has made all needles impossible, I find I am needing to make a quilt. This is psychological work not handcraft. The pieces of my life have felt fractured; disjointed; not part of a whole but disparate pieces scattered, my history, my adaptations over time, myself as constructed in moves made necessary by circumstances. These scattered pieces involve geographies and personal relationships. Quilt blocks: urban, small town, rural—each had a part. Marriage, motherhood, single woman—each had a part. Weaver, gardener, cook, photographer, writer—each had a part. These blocks occupy my memory floating as distinct pieces but what I am now recognizing is eldering is a time to patchwork these pieces into a life quilt which requires connector work, a way of restructuring the pieces of my past and present by gathering them in patterns, making beauty, pain, and purpose into a whole.