STARTING OVER

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Some readers have expressed interest in where I went after the sale of the condo commemorated recently in a set of self-indulgent photos.  (“As I Was Saying….,” July 18, 2017.)  So this post, equally self-referential, is about where I live now. [Be advised there was no professional photographer at work here this time.  Just me with an iPhone.]

fullsizeoutput_b93When we first saw it together two years or so before he died, Bill thought it looked like a middle-class Miami hotel.  No way was he going to move here. Ever. A year later, when our stairs had become too much of a daily challenge, he capitulated.  We visited several “retirement” communities with apartments all on one floor.  This seemed the best of them, for a variety of reasons I can go into another time.

And it does look better (although still somewhat institutional) when seen from the front door:

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You could even imagine elderly people enjoying the sun, or shade, on one of the front benches near the fountain when they’re not quite mobile enough to get away:

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However, it was at least in part the presence of all those not quite “able-bodied” elderly people — with their walkers, or in their wheelchairs pushed by aides — that put us off.  (As if we weren’t getting “elderly” ourselves.) But eventually the condo stairs — and Bill’s fifty-foot oxygen cannula — got the better of us.  And where would we go if we sold the condo? The reason most persuasive for coming here was the apartments.  Many of them had interesting layouts, quite unlike the rectangular, unimaginative arrangement of rooms in the two other places we’d checked out.  Bottom line: We’d just have to learn to live with all the other aspects of a “retirement” community we weren’t ready for.

Then Bill got too sick to think about moving anywhere.  Until very near the end, just before they put him under with morphine so he could be intubated, when he wrote in a little notebook:  “Get Windrows apartment.” He wanted me not to be so alone after he was gone.  I can’t say I moved here because he said I should.  It’s that I finally decided he was right.  Even if I didn’t look and sound as old as I really was (nearly eighty-five when he died), sooner or later I wouldn’t be able to drag the garbage and recycling out to the curb. Sooner or later, I wouldn’t be able to drive, for one reason or another.  Sooner or later, I might fall. And then who would I call?

Apartments of the size you want become available at infrequent intervals at Windrows.  (Yes, that’s the name of the place.) You have to wait for someone to move nearer their children, or else to die.  But the two guys in the Marketing Department worked with me.  And I was lucky.  I managed to snag a one bedroom with den on the second floor that even Bill would have approved.  Affordable. (Just.) Spacious. Sunny in the afternoons. A porch off the living room.  I also had enough money left over from the sale of the condo to replace the carpeted and tiled apartment floors with wood floors, have everything but the kitchen repainted white, install pleated pull-up window shades plus many more ceiling lights, and switch the cable and television lines from one wall to another, in order to accommodate better placement for the computer in the office, the television set in the living-room wall unit.  So now it’s begun to look like home to me, especially as I was able to find room in it for the “modern” furniture — actually mid-twentieth century furniture — Bill and I bought after we began living together. (Perhaps you’ll recognize some of the pieces and pictures from the condo shown in the previous post.) The two cats and I moved in last September 23.

I try not to think of it as the last place I’ll ever live.  Unlike apartments in most retirement communities, residents here aren’t locked into any kind of continuing-care scheme. These apartments are bought and sold at market rates.   So I can always decide this is not for me, sell, and move away.  Where, I have no idea just yet.  But the possibility is there.  It consoles me, gives me a sense I can still go on inventing my life. Anyway, the apartment is certainly a good place to which I can withdraw whenever community living gets too much for me.

There are miles and miles of corridors.  Four and a half floors of them, each of which takes about ten minutes to circle in its entirety by foot. When you first move in, you need breadcrumbs to find your way back to wherever you came from.  Here’s a small part of the second floor near the north elevator: fullsizeoutput_bb2

But eventually you find the right door, and open it:fullsizeoutput_b98

Front hall of apartment (with Sophie at right):fullsizeoutput_b9b

Better view of living room area: fullsizeoutput_b9c

View from sofa of piano, dining area and kitchen pass-through:fullsizeoutput_ba8

I also managed to find a wall for our expensive Italian folly, the wall unit which had to be taken apart for the move and then put back together:fullsizeoutput_ba1

There’s a mandatory eating plan: one chooses either four, fifteen or thirty meals a month. This is allegedly to forestall reclusive tendencies.  True recluses, or those who prefer to eat at home, can circumvent Windrows’ paternalistic tendencies by ordering one of the prepaid plan meals by 3:30 in the afternoon (a menu is available online, on a special television channel, and printed out in the mail room), and then picking it up downstairs or — for $5 a pop — having it delivered. Be that as it may, every apartment has a fully equipped kitchen.  I had mine painted the same color as the kitchen in our condo, to give me the feeling that at least some things have stayed the same:fullsizeoutput_ba4fullsizeoutput_ba5

The “den” has just about the same square footage as my office (aka the third bedroom) in the condo, although the windows are on a different wall and it has no closet. It therefore serves quite nicely as a more-or-less familiar place in which to work, with the added perk that I get a view of the porch and the tree beyond it when I sit at the computer. The double doors can be closed off from the view of guests. When there are guests. fullsizeoutput_ba0fullsizeoutput_ba6

The oblong red box on the floor was a Danish magazine holder that Bill acquired by mail, possibly even from Denmark!  Alas, once it reached us it never did get to hold magazines, as it filled up too quickly beside his chair with Kleenex boxes, eyeglass cleaners, and various gadgets for now never-to-be-discovered uses.  Emptied and transported to Windrows, it now serves as a place for Sophie to snooze when I’m online and she wants to be nearby:fullsizeoutput_ba7

Looking out at the porch from my desk chair:fullsizeoutput_baa

Heading down the hall, past a second (guest) bathroom, towards the bedroom:fullsizeoutput_ba9

The guest bathroom is sort of a small shrine to Bill.  His bigger Calder mobile sways over the toilet. (It used to be in his office, aka the condo second bedroom.) One one wall is a Hebrew rendering of the Physician’s Oath of Maimonides: “Inspire me with love for my art and for thy creatures. In the sufferer, let me see only the human being.” Behind the toilet is a numbered photograph of Balliol College, Oxford, which Bill liked very much. We had it in the bedroom, facing the bed. The two small framed photos taken at the base of the Acropolis are mine, from the year before we met. But we spent six happy summer vacations on a Greek island together.  And Greece is Greece. So why not hang them here?fullsizeoutput_bab

The bedroom, which is large, is not so different from the bedroom I shared with Bill in the Princeton condo. (Except, of course — a very big “except” — he’s never seen this bedroom, never been in it.  I still keep strictly to my side of the bed, though.  Habit? Hope?)  That’s Sasha curled up in comfort on her two Shaker chairs by the window. She first began to do that, in the condo, when she was a kitten:fullsizeoutput_bac

The lesser Calder is in the bathroom attached to the bedroom. You can tell which bathroom I use the most:fullsizeoutput_bad

Sasha and Sophie use the same bathroom as I do.  The two boxes are not “hers” and “hers.”  They both use the one on the left more.  I don’t know why.  I can switch the boxes but they still favor the one on the left.  The right box only gets the occasional dump.  Even in the interests of full disclosure, do you really need to know that?  Probably not.fullsizeoutput_bb1

I can see the porch from the side bedroom window too:fullsizeoutput_bae

But it looks best when you step outside through the door from the living room:fullsizeoutput_bb6

The two potted boxwoods (one at each end of the railing) were a housewarming present from my older son:fullsizeoutput_bb7  

And the tree conveniently planted outside my line of apartments shields most of the windows from views of the rear parking lot:IMG_2280fullsizeoutput_bb3

It wouldn’t be real life, though, if there weren’t another view from the right hand living room window.  Fortunately, I can’t get too close to it.  The sofa and cat tree are in the way.  So this, less aesthetic, view is best seen by Sasha, from the top of her cat tree.  She finds it interesting.  I find it illustrative of the fact that nothing in life is perfect.fullsizeoutput_bb4

And there, dear readers, I shall leave you for the time being — your curiosity over-satisfied.  What life is like at Windrows once I walk out the door of the apartment, down the carpeted corridors and into the north elevator I shall leave for what will likely be many other posts, although I hope not all of them.

Bear in mind that I am now a recently-turned-eighty-six-year-old malcontent who is not at all happy at having disbelievingly found herself over the border of that far country described by geriatricians as “old old age.”  How could it have happened?  I am going away to the Berkshires for four days tomorrow — plays, Yo-Yo Ma, museums — to forget about it for a short while.  Will reply to comments, if any, when I get back.  

xoxox

BAD IDEA BITES THE DUST

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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: 29/50

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

I belong to the talk therapy generation – when you could disgorge a Portnoy-length complaint about you you you to a willing, patient, selfless listener for as many fifty-minute segments as needed. I’m not just talking Freudian psychotherapy here. Whatever the therapist’s orientation, he was always there for you – on time, attentive, with no needs of his own, except to be paid.

Yes, it was expensive. You had to work for it. (If only your parents wrote the checks, it might go on forever.) But many therapists had a sliding scale. And if you found the right one, opening up about your troubles to such a knowledgeable, caring listener could change your life, and sometimes actually save it.

After two false starts, I talked my way through twenty-four non-consecutive years of trouble – eight years for three “hours” a week with one man, who may have kept me from going crazy, and later once a week for sixteen more years with another. They were both older and wiser than I was. I paid for all of it with my own earned money and used to say, jokingly, that I couldn’t leave a husband till I had a shrink, and couldn’t leave a shrink till I had a husband. It wasn’t entirely a joke.

Now that insurance companies demand quicker (cheaper) results, psychiatrists mostly medicate; psychologists and social workers, who’ve taken over the talking trade, tend towards the quick fix and goodbye. There may still be some few psychiatrists who believe in talking it out, but it’s highly unlikely they take insurance or Medicare, which has made real talk therapy, if you can find it, a luxury.

I do wish I could ensure Bill and I live on and on together, but the prospect of one of us dying before the other is hard to disregard, and I sometimes ask myself: To whom will I then turn? Have I outlived all the talk therapists still in practice? If not, how long can I afford to keep talking? Being a crotchety aging person, I don’t  much trust the guidance of younger “professionals” reimbursed for rapid turnover as I enter the uncharted emotional wilderness of old old age. That must be the ultimate hard place, where you must stand all alone till the end.