Sunday, September 12, 2021

The river of no return

Bubbly at the El Tovar. I toast to me.

Taking stock at 80 is a confusing and occasionally mournful pursuit. For several months the advent of eight decades on the planet has seasoned my thoughts. There have been moments as dark as night. As the song asks, “Is that all there is?” Or “Is that all there was?”

Steve on the South Rim. He didn't jump.

The theme that resonates most in the story of aging is when exactly are you old? I’ve boasted that I’ll be old when I decided I’m old or I still feel the way I did thirty years ago. Both are largely true. I still, knock wood, can do all the things I could do at, say 40. I just do them slowly. Then again, I don’t cycle or ski anymore because of my osteoporosis. I’m more sanguine than I should be.

Age they say is between your ears. By that standard I haven’t quite made the leap to decrepitude. But, boy, am I close. Punctuating my battle with Old Man Time are reality checks that tell me to accept my dotage gracefully. Each new infirmity and injury beckons me toward the abyss from which no one returns.

When the first things on my daily todo list aren’t cardio, stretch and lift I’ll know I’ve arrived at the station. Today exercise is first and foremost on my list-o-the day. Unless I run, cycle indoor, do my morning ab work and lift three times a week I’m a pissy old man. But if I were to dispense with the losing battle for youth, I’d have the time and headspace to write the fucking sheep book or the festering novel of my dreams. Meanwhile my friend John Ellsworth rolls out a novel every 40 days and all I’ve got is a tee-shirt that boasts 80 is the new 79. If I gave up exercise and, more importantly, the compulsion to do it, I might accomplish the creative goals I’ve harbored for a lifetime. If I arm wrestled myself I don’t which me would win, the cerebral creative one or the simple jock.

The axiom “Don’t look back and say wish I had” has been said lots of ways. “I wish I had” is an aging man’s lament. Half a century ago the author Alexander King, wrote the book I Should Have Kissed Her More. That pretty much sums it up, figuratively speaking.

This kind of introspection leads to bucket lists though I abhor the term. At 8-zero there are going to be things you wish you’d done and not a few things you wish you hadn’t. But unless these realizations inform the dwindling days of your life, the self-flagellation is unproductive.

Note to self, do the things the things that will fill your heart with energy and excitement. And do them stat.

That would start with a grand adventure or more correctly grand adventures. Maybe I want to visit every Goddamn place I've ever dreamed of visiting. Or maybe I want to pick a place south of the equator, buy a one-way ticket to, say Buenos Aires, and figure it out from there. Or fly to, say Paris, buy an unlimited Eurail pass and follow my whims till I’ve had my fill.

I’ve dreamed of living in a foreign county for a year. Better yet live in a city in a foreign country for a year. It’s probably a second city. Paris non. Montpelier or Grenoble oui. Rome no. Sienna or Taormina sí. Madrid or Barcelona no. Malaga or Cordoba sí.

If not now when? Gotta do whatever the hell it is while the body and mind are willing.

The flip side of doing what you want to do is not doing what you don’t want to do. If that’s selfish, sue me.

And corollary to doing what the hell you want to do is acquiring the toys you want to have. In today’s case that’s trading in all my Canon camera gear for a bright and shiny mirrorless camera kit. I have spent sleepless nights fighting the guilt of buying the camera that has twice the resolution, faster auto-focus and is two thirds the size. Just the thing for travel don’t you know? I’ve always agonized about big purchases though I make them in the long run. So, why all the angst? As my friend Terry Thompson says, "Buy the damn thing."

The first day of my 81st year began in like a dirge. It felt like I and everyone involved was going through the motions of celebrating my big day. It was a wary dance. The truth is that it doesn’t feel like a celebratory event. I am not excited about it. I don’t like it one bit.

But by noon after half a dozen happy birthday phone calls, a flurry of texts and a run through the woods the day took on a new light. I am blessed by dear friends, a wonderful wife who’s the love of my life and the best son a father could have. Blessed is a shallow understatement.

When the obligatory birthday wishes turned to conversations that were more about the caller than than me I could breath. When the interchange became about them and not me, I forgot the hard moment at hand. When I became my senior statesman, advice-giving self my spirits lifted, and the birthday bullshit faded away. In one consult I recommended a new knee. In another I endorsed spine surgery and in another I advised my restaurant colleague to take the money and run. Time will tell whether those unfortunates will do what I told them to do. I am, after all, all knowing, and the advice is free.

When your birthday falls on 9/11 there’s a pall on the entire affair. Like everybody who was alive and aware when the towers came down, I know where I was and how I learned of the tragedy. And, like anybody my age, JFK’s assassination is the first such memory. And, because we saw Bobby Kennedy speak at Hollywood’s Greek Theatre the night before his death, it’s on the list. And because I was in Chicago during the 1968 riots at the Democratic Convention and could see the cloud of tear gas from my hotel, it’s something I’ll never shake.

With one dear friend I recalled the dinner at Boston’s Pigalle restaurant on the infamous 911 when I turned 60. Charlie and I grew misty thinking about, as he put it, how young we were. He remembered that I flirted with cancelling the reservation but reasoned that cancelling would give the perpetrators a victory lap. Good call. 70 was a lunch as Alain Ducasse’s Bastide du Moustiers, our first $300 lunch. That had no life altering effect. It was simply a perfect meal in the caressing Provençal sun. I have no recollections about 40 and 50 except they both were bashes at our Lincoln, Massachusetts home. I was happy and proud of on one of them and a whiney bitch on the other. I don’t remember which was which.

Hopefully, this self-absorption will pass. 


Blacks Crossing said...

Self-absorption or not, this was a superb blog about life at the magic age of 80. I would say one of the gifts of the decade is allowing yourself to take the opportunity to piss and moan and then emerge into moments of brilliance, as you did in this blog. The photographs are wonderful and we, naturally, envy your trip to the Grand Canyon. You and I are of the body types that desire and must exercise. That frequently moves writing the great American novel or sheep book to the side of the table. The nice thing about photography is that there is movement or motion and sometimes intense exercise during the process. A 2fer. So keep at it Amigo, follow your heart but also the hearts of those you love. Oh, yes, you and I will probably purchase that mirrorless camera kit at about the same time, after due pondering. We should listen to Terry T. more - just buy the damn thing!

Steve Immel said...

I bought the damn thing. It's due in Taos today. It marks the near end of my Canon era. Though I kept my 5D Mark lll as a backup. Couldn't go cold turkey.