BAD IDEA BITES THE DUST

Standard

I’m a copycat.  Not a thief, exactly.  But always on the alert as to how I can adapt someone else’s good idea.  One such “inspiration” has been the idea underlying the past 365 daily posts over at Catching Days, Cynthia Newberry Martin’s blog about reading and writing books.  In January 2015, Cynthia decided she would devote a year of blogging to setting down “one true thing” about herself every day. As I understand it, she made this commitment because she was uncomfortable about revealing anything private (possibly even to herself), and thought this daily practice, as she called it, might address those feelings, or at least make her more comfortable with those uncomfortable feelings.  Four days ago, she reached the 365th post, entitled “Hallelulah!”

I followed along faithfully — not only as a nosy reader but also, as the year progressed, as a fellow-blogger with mixed emotions about the endeavor.  One emotion was increasing admiration for Cynthia’s disciplined stick-to-itiveness wherever she found herself (she travels a lot) and whatever else she might have been doing as the mother of four, grandmother of two, wife running a house, writer attending multiple writing conferences all over the country. The other was envy. She didn’t need to think up something new to write about periodically; she had her subject matter right there inside herself wherever she went. And one or two sentences every day would do it. (“I like red!” for instance.)

Why couldn’t I do something like that? Well, of course I could — but about what? I’m certainly not uncomfortable about revealing private aspects of my life and thoughts, as faithful followers of TGOB must surely realize.  Yes, it has at times seemed wiser not to write about some subjects in a venue where the entire English-speaking world can read what I say.  However, after twenty-four years of psychotherapy at various times in my life, I’m pretty sure I haven’t been concealing much from myself so far.  So a simple monkey-see-monkey-do wouldn’t work for me, even with full credit to Cynthia.

And then I had it!  A year of daily blogging, beginning six days from now, about how it will feel as getting older moves me, over the course of the coming year, into what is going to be the last phase of life. (Don’t say, “No, no!” Why mince words?)  I was going to do it as a separate blog, in case all that doom and gloom might drive away followers of this one. I even had the title! But wouldn’t a separate blog be too complicated? Daily dedication to the new one would undoubtedly lead to neglect over here. Still, no need to decide that right away when I still had six days before starting.

So I drafted the first post:

THE YEAR OF CROSSING OVER

365 truths about how it feels to be moving towards the end

January 23, 2016: 1/365

If I’m still here on July 23, six months from today, I’ll be 85. That’s the age at which geriatricians and other persons professionally knowledgeable about the latter years of life consider that you stop being “young old” and enter the ranks of the “old old.”

I don’t believe I won’t be here six months from today. I don’t believe I won’t be here a year from today. If I really thought that, I wouldn’t be undertaking this year-long daily record of what I’m thinking and feeling as I pass out of that stage of life generally illustrated in brochures for the retired by photographs of handsome silver-haired couples swinging a golf club together or leaning happily over the railing of a cruise ship.

I’m not a golfer, never took a cruise, and don’t regret either of those things. But I do regret that my 86th year is coming up. I’m not ready. (Is anyone not in excruciating pain or misery ever ready for the end?) I’ve always wanted to have things my way, and my way doesn’t include slow but sure physical and emotional decline into loneliness, weakness, dependence, and palliative care – all those things my head, which does still work properly, knows very well lie ahead unless I am carried off in the night while sleeping, a thing even a betting man wouldn’t put money on. Yes, I am selfish. Yes, I am childish. Like everyone else, except that I’m closer to it, I don’t want to suffer. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to be dead.

So if I am honest — and I intend to be, or  why would I be making this record? – this new one-year blog will probably not be “nice.” Nice and honest are a contradiction in terms. I have another blog where I do try to put my best foot forward. That means there’s a lot left unsaid over there about getting old. Not that all of Salome’s seven veils will necessarily drop in this one. But if I’m going to try to resign myself to what’s coming, I need to tell it like it is, including the hateful, the self-referential, the dehumanizing, the schadenfreude moments. Even if it turns out I’m writing only for myself.

Always best not to rush into something if you can possibly help it.  What looks like a sensational project in the evening, doesn’t necessarily look so hot the next day.  As many of you may remember, I had trouble hanging in there with only fifty daily blog posts last summer.  True, almost all of them were 400 words rather than a single sentence, but after a week or so it was really hard going.  How could I have believed I could possibly grind out a different post 365 days in a row?  Even if I put down something as short and monosyllabic as “I like red” — that would be just the beginning. I would need to qualify it (when, where, what kinds of red), give illustrations (the living room chairs, the dining room chair upholstery, how Bill feels about it, whether orange — his favorite color — can sometimes qualify as “red”); before we all knew it I’d be launched on a lengthy dissertation about redness.

And then the subject matter!  What was that “writing only for myself” business? Who writes only for himself? Actually, I wouldn’t want to read something every day about losing one’s contemporaries to terrible unjust diseases; about fears of running out of money, or of what the next ultrasound or cat scan will show; about gradual loss of mobility, breathlessness, easy fatigue, becoming increasingly stiff, not being able to keep up, feeling more and more left out of the currents and concerns of daily life, sensing oneself to be an afterthought, a burden. About the impotent rage and bitterness that accompanies such feelings. Or (God forbid) about finding one’s thoughts becoming fuzzy, one’s memory wobbly, one’s vocabulary beginning to disappear.

If I don’t want to read these horror stories,  why would I be committing myself to writing them? I began this blog — this one right here, not the putative “new” one — slightly more than two years ago, when I was still a relative youngster of 82, with the intention to live as fully as I can until I die, blogging about it as I go.  Was I whistling in the wind? “As fully as I can” should still be the operative words for me.  I may indeed in time encounter some, or all, of the matters in the preceding paragraph, which means mention of them will undoubtedly creep in here from time to time. They are, after all, part of getting old.

But I’m afraid you’ve just seen as much as there’s ever going to be of “The Year of Crossing Over” (YOCO), the blog.  It is that year, and I am on a moving walkway with no place to get off till it reaches the end. (As are we all.)  But let’s hope that end is a long way off yet, for me as well as all of you.

Stillborn new blog: RIP.

 

WRITING SHORT: 49/50

Standard
[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

This is the forty-ninth piece in the series: My summer of writing short is nearing its close. What did I learn in the seven weeks since the first one? I discovered that I’d been wrong about everything except that I would stick it out. (If there’s one thing I do know about myself, it’s that I don’t give up easy.)

I thought I’d be freeing up time. I found myself bound to an inexorable daily duty of finding something potentially “short” and then cutting it down to size. This double task consumed more of each day than I could have imagined or care to admit even now.

It was clear that “short” needed a word limit, to keep each piece from metastasizing. I settled on 400 words as the maximum that might qualify, but had to subtract 21 words for the repeated introduction that held all the posts together. What can you say in 379 words that’s moderately interesting to at least a few people? And then how do you pare away what you’ve written, word by word, unessential sentence by unessential sentence, till you’re nearly there – and then rephrase, still more tightly, to come in under the wire? I must have revisited each finished piece three or four times before hitting “publish,” and then went on diddling with some after they’d gone into the world.

I did cheat by including four pieces written before this summer. (The last comes tomorrow.) But the other forty-six taught me that in writing, form doesn’t necessarily follow function. Here it was almost always the reverse. There’s so much you can’t do in 379 words — memoir, detailed narrative, a substantive think piece – that the form begins to dictate what you can say and how you say it. It would be hubris to compare it to sonnet writing (eight lines, six lines, and out – all in iambic pentameter) but except for  experiments with dialogue, a letter and quoting a poem, it was something like that.

These days readers seem to like “short.” Easy on the eye, on the mind, on how you spend your time. This summer I’ve persuaded myself there’s also much to be said for “longer.” It may take longer to read; it stays with you longer.  Isn’t that what we’re writing for?

WRITING SHORT: 7/50

Standard
[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

Sasha our cat has been spending the latter part of these summer nights curled up on the desk chair in my office, nose tucked between her paws. The chair has a cool mesh seat and likely smells of me. Between eight and nine in the morning she then comes down the hall to our bedroom, whether or not we’re still sleeping, for a belly rub.

But since I began these daily shorts, I’ve been waking earlier than usual to draft a new one while the house is quiet and my mind still in touch with whatever is inside it. When I came to my desk this morning, the chair was therefore occupied. Rather than dislodge a sleeping cat, I gently rolled chair and cat away from the desk and sat myself in front of the computer on a backless, not comfortable, ergonomic “thing” usually pushed aside into a corner of the room.

Crazy cat lady? Perhaps. Except Sasha was not insensible to my largesse. As I began to type, I heard low contented purring behind me. The perfect soundtrack for blogging.

WRITING SHORT: 5/50

Standard
[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

When I was a young child, July 16 was one of the two dates in the calendar I knew as well as my own birthday. It was the day my mother was born. The other was January 18, my father’s birthday. They were as important to me as Christmas and the presents it brought.

The year she turned forty, my mother turned her back on July 16.  “Don’t remind me!” she said. It was the era of pin-up girls. She must have felt she was finished. (She would live another forty-nine years.)  She didn’t understand the birthdays of the people we love are worth celebrating no matter how many have come before, because we’re so glad they’re here for us to love.

My mother hasn’t been here to love for more than two decades. After I grew up, she also made loving her very hard for me. She didn’t succeed. I think of her every July 16. I probably always will.

WRITING SHORT: 3/50

Standard
[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

Just before bedtime Monday evening, I tripped while hurrying to turn out a forgotten spotlight in the living room. The fall was hard, on my face. It felt as if I had smashed my nose. My glasses lay ahead of me, unharmed, where they had flown off.  When I lifted my head, blood fell in large drops on the wood floor; I thought it was a heavy nosebleed, one that hurt.

 Bill cleaned me up, stanched copious bleeding with Band-Aids, reported on the visible damage: substantial horizontal cut to bridge of nose, second cut at inner left eyebrow, smaller cut at side of left eye. And yes, a left nostril nosebleed.  But nothing broken. In the bathroom mirror: blood covering my top teeth from damaged mucosa and rapidly swelling upper lip. Yesterday both eyes had turned partially black. I looked as if I’d been mugged.

 Now Bill speculates on how it could have happened. Scatter rug? Flimsy Indian footwear? Fatigue? I speculate it might have been my unconscious, searching for something to blog about next. I wouldn’t put it past me.

WRITING SHORT: 2/50

Standard
[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.] 

We moved to Princeton in February 2006, more than nine years ago. Yet walking and driving its streets bring back no particular memories. I know only that these streets aren’t new to me; I’ve walked or driven them before. That wouldn’t be true in New York or Boston, if I’d stayed put in either of those two cities where I lived most of my adult life, and where many neighborhoods and streets would bring important past events to mind.

I therefore sometimes wonder: Is it better to have been a rolling stone as I was, cutting geographic connections to my history as I go? Or would I have been happier, now I’m in my eighties, if circumstances hadn’t continually uprooted me?

Not that I really had a choice.

WRITING SHORT: 1/50

Standard

Come summer heat, much of my momentum melts away. I thought of re-blogging till Labor Day. However, that’s too lazy for my punitive superego. Therefore the next fifty days will be an experiment: minimalist posts about whatever. This is the first one.

Brevity is hard for me. Short often takes longer than long. So perhaps I won’t be easing up all that much. Especially as I had thought I might use some of the extra summer time to work on a longish story now languishing unfinished on my desktop while I blog. A paradox: write less to spend more time writing.

Promising ideas like this one can also boomerang. But I won’t know until I try.