Posts Tagged ‘writing about growing older’

By Teri Blair

This spring I turn 50.

The cleaning on my mind these days is an internal one. 50 is a significant marker, one that won’t be ignored. I saw Bonnie Raitt in concert the year she turned 50. She was playing the Grandstand at the Minnesota State Fair. She called out to the women in the audience, “Don’t be afraid to turn 50! It’s great!” And I could see she meant it, too—not just trying to buoy herself or us up. That was 11 years ago, and I was still in my 30s. 50 seemed like ages away. But it stuck with me. Her attitude.

I went to a 50th birthday party once for a woman who had a ritual to drop everything in her life that had held her back. It was done with drumming and shouting and people. Powerful stuff. She was brave and she made an announcement to her herself that she was turning a corner. A big one.

I don’t feel bad about turn 50. Mainly. There are things in my life I’m not satisfied with, but I don’t suppose that will every change. There’s some sort of release happening inside. A knowing that I don’t have all the time in the world. And because I don’t, I think about spring cleaning, and what needs to go and what needs to be aired out or left behind or turned over to the garbage heap. I don’t have my internal spring cleaning list completed, but it’s formulating. I don’t turn 50 until May 5th, so I’ve got some time.

I’m not sad about youth being over. That sounds bold and so against the grain of our culture, doesn’t it? I want to be healthy and strong. I want to take care of myself. But I don’t want to be 20 or 30 anymore. Nor do I want to pretend that I am. Nor do I want to watch someone half my age for clues about how I should live my life.

I am watching older women now. Elderly women. They seem far more interesting to me. I met one this month named Gladys—an artist/writer who has made it in the art world. She moves quietly and humbly through life. She listens well. She always seems grounded. Clearly, she had done her spring cleaning.

-Related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC – SPRING CLEANING (HOMEMADE CLEANING REMEDIES). Also related to posts: PRACTICE — Spring Cleaning — 10min by QuoinMonkey, PRACTICE — SPRING CLEANING — 10min by Bob Chrisman, WRITING TOPIC — CLEANLINESS, and Wanda Wooley — The Lean Green Clean Machine.

[NOTE: SPRING CLEANING was a Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Teri Blair joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.]

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By Bob Chrisman

Last fall, determined to catch the color changes in the leaves, I watched them turn from green to yellow, orange, and red. I would sit on the window seat in the front room and write about the colors.

One day…suddenly it seemed…the leaves had all turned. When did it happen? I had been watching everyday.

I sat in the window seat even more determined to watch the leaves fall. Occasionally a leaf would let go of the branch and float to the ground to join other leaves. I didn’t remember all of those leaves on the ground yesterday. Did they fall during the night so no one would realize that winter waited around the corner?

One morning I looked out and found that almost all of the leaves lay in yards and in the street. Again I had missed the time it happened.

Growing older has worked just like that. One day I noticed a gray hair. The next day a whole head of gray hair greeted me as I looked in the bathroom mirror. A single wrinkle on my forehead disappeared among the many lines that developed overnight. My varicose vein on my right thigh became a veritable road map of veins. My waistline doubled in size.

I felt old, but only in my body. Then older crept into my mind.

A few months before I retired, an employee appeared in my office. “Great music. Who is it?”

“Petula Clark.”

“Soooooooo? Is she from your generation?” My generation? I recoiled at the idea that I had joined a generation.

“Don’t you remember ‘Downtown’? ‘The Other Man’s Grass is Always Greener’?” I searched my mind for other titles.

She put her hands on her hips. “No, I don’t know her. And don’t you dare ask me where I was when John Kennedy was assassinated. I wasn’t even born yet.”

Thus I came to the knowledge that many of my cultural references meant nothing to a lot of the people who worked with me. I had grown old.

I never thought I would live past 40, but that birthday came and went. Turning 50 changed the way I viewed myself. No longer young, middle age had overtaken me. I celebrated the 56th anniversary of my birth last Saturday. I may live to see 60.

I am older.

But, you know what? I like it. Despite the aches in my joints when the weather turns damp and cool like today, not feeling like a part of the current culture frees me to do what I want to do without worrying about what other people will think of me. Maybe this “getting older” thing will free me from most of my inhibitions.

The rules have changed. I am old and can do what I want with my life. I don’t have family to account to. My friends won’t be surprised by what I do (well, most of them won’t).

Because I am older, I know now that I have a very short time to live. I must get on with my life’s purpose (whatever that may be), not because I’m desperate, but because I want to do the things I came to do. I want to live each moment regardless of how many I may have left.

Older has become the sand rushing downward through the neck of the hour glass. Older has restored the preciousness of this life. Older is what I am right now.


Bob Chrisman is a Kansas City, Missouri writer whose piece Hands, about his mother’s hands, appeared last month on red Ravine. Growing Older is based on a writing practice that Bob did on WRITING TOPIC – GROWING OLDER.

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By Bo

Growing old? I can handle my getting older. I barely notice the days sneaking past. But then I barely noticed the days creeping past my mother, either — she lives 300 miles away and has always maintained her independence. Then there was a death in the family — a dear aunt who was the same age as my mom — and I made plans to return home for the funeral.

And as I spoke with my mother and made plans, I faced a fact I tried long to ignore. My mother is not growing old. She is old.

This last weekend she admitted as much to me. It’s the first time we’ve ever tiptoed around the BIG question. “What are we going to do, Mom, when you can’t take care of yourself?”

Ouch. My heart started clanging in a rush to get the question out in the open so I could put out the expected fire. Instead, there was no fire.

She looked at me –- hard — then looked at the carpet, then looked out the window, then finally she looked at me again. This time she looked at me without any emotion at all.

I prefer a hard look to an empty look.

She carefully picked her words. “I looked after your grandmother for 13-and-a-half years when she got sick.” That’s a simple statement, too simple, and I wanted a clear understanding of her message. I asked her to finish her thoughts, but she shook her head and refused. Instead she walked over to the sink and washed her hands. And I tried to align my words into a response, and failed.

My mom did look after her own mother. She cared for her 13 long years. She was the only caregiver. My mother allowed no one else to assist her after her sister refused an initial request to help. She tied herself to my grandmother and to their home with a short tether, and fumed and fussed, but she refused to untie the cord.

She missed the births of her three grandchildren. She missed their birthdays. We weren’t able to celebrate many Christmases or Easters or share summer vacations together. Those times together were always denied with tears and pain and her statement, “I can’t leave your grandmother and she’s too ill to travel. And the disturbance would be too much for her, so please don’t bring the children.”

My mom grew weary with the responsibility of caring for her mother 24/7. She knows I know this, but she was afraid of reminding me of it. She didn’t know exactly what she wanted from me. She didn’t want me to take care of her; she didn’t want me not to take care of her.


Well, not quite. I have a chronic illness. We don’t discuss this issue as she prefers “not to know about stuff I don’t understand,” but she does know enough. She knows I do not have the physical ability to care for her. That scares her. And that scares me.

Last weekend we finally began the discussion we should have had ten, maybe twenty years ago. We waited too long and her age has started making its mark in scary ways. And now we have to make decisions quickly. Too quickly.

The attorney has been called and we are awaiting his return call. We’ve taken a trip to my mother’s bank and a trip to her safety deposit box. I’m returning next week and we’re going to the funeral home for information on pre-planning her funeral. She insisted on this part. (“I don’t trust you to do it the way I want it done.”) Once my mother, always my mother, I think in exasperation.

And so I write, searching for answers in my journal. Putting my scattered thoughts into written words settles things in my mind, and I see where the two of us have to go. And I see the need to make difficult choices soon.

But I also see this. Getting old, even though we all know its progression, seems to catch people by surprise. Maybe it’s the ostrich game in a different guise, but I’ve made one decision that I will see through to fruition.

My husband and I don’t feel old at 50 – I certainly hope not – and we probably won’t feel old at 60 or 70 unless we are faced with circumstances of severe disability or illness. But it is likely we will need assistance with living at some time in our lives – those are simply the percentages speaking. I’m thinking (and hoping) maybe 30 or 40 years from now, but I’ve learned my lesson. I’m not waiting until the last moment. And I’m not putting my children in the position I face now.

I made an appointment with our attorney to do some estate planning. And my husband and I have set aside some time this weekend to talk about all those “what if” questions. Neither of us wants to spend our precious free hours dealing with these issues. But we will.

Then my daughters and son won’t spend silent years of their lives wondering what the answers will be to those “what ifs.” Those questions that always need an answer — someday.

Tree Trunk
Tree Trunk, photo © 2008 by Bo. All rights reserved.

Bo is a poet and writer, and a self-described “wannabe photographer who can make enough money selling photos to buy better photo equipment.” She lives in Wisconsin and loves to travel the state in search of photo ops and inspiration.

About writing and her writing process, Bo says: I have a very tiny trailer that I park in a campground several times a year — it becomes an instant writer’s retreat, solo and cheap. Often I’ll search ’til I find a tree trunk in the middle of the forest and sit and write there.

I’ve also adapted a home writing routine that works for me. First tea and meditation — the easy kind where I just shut up and try to feel quiet. Then an hour of reading and research to bring in new ideas, and 2 to 4 hours of writing, editing, and attending to the business parts of writing. Plus there are the spontaneous strikes. The writing time adds up quickly.

I also work with a life/creativity coach and mentor, and I find this immensely helpful. She provides just the right amount of nudging to keep me engaged with my work. But it also helps that there is really nothing I would rather do than write and take photos.

Bo keeps a blog called Seeded Earth.

-This piece is based on a writing practice for red Ravine’s WRITING TOPIC – GROWING OLDER.

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I look in the mirror before I start writing but I can’t hold my own gaze. My nose is red from crying, eyes small. My skin is blotchy, and I am critical of my hair. It seems to get pulled straight by its own weight. I want my curls back.

Dad tells me this morning that Onofre is on — and then Dad can’t find the words. I wait, I’m thinking “life support,” but I don’t want to say it. Surely he’s not on life support.

You know how it is with far-away aunts and uncles, you see them three, four years ago. The time Onofre’s kids drove him to the casino near Española and we drove up from Albuquerque to meet him. We all had casino buffet: deep-fried shrimp and chicken-fried steak, green beans from a can, with canned mushroom soup for sauce and bread crumbs on top. Casino buffet food that we all oohed and aahed over, even me. And then the next year we see Uncle Onofre at his house in Pueblo, and all his kids set out a feast for lunch, white bread and wheat, roast beef, turkey, ham, bologna, three kinds of cheese, mayonnaise in a small bowl, potato salad. Beer.

Hospice. Dad finally says it. He remembers the word, that sounds like “hostile” but means something totally different.

Dad hasn’t lost a sibling since Mabel, and she died young; it’s been years. I don’t even remember how long ago. Onofre is younger than Dad by two years, they called him “Cielito” when they were kids, Little Sky, for his wide, sunny disposition. He whistled and sang, smiled a toothless smile, we called him “Uncle Bear” because he had a barrel chest and even when I was a kid I remember the hair on his chest popping over the top of his shirt. He was in-the-moment, spontaneous, huggable, not as cerebral as his brothers, skinny arms compared to his big chest. I remember the first time we visited them in Pueblo, they had an outhouse for a toilet and after our visit was over, I wished we’d never go back.

Not anymore. Now they live in a regular house, small but nice couch, chairs, just like the rest of us. So how did we get from the casino lunch buffet to the sandwich smorgesborg to the hospice? Via outdoor plumbing and hairy chest and bear hugs. Just like that it’s almost over.

I’m not sure why I’m crying for Onofre. I think I might be crying for me, for not being able to hold on to the girl I once was. For not being able to hold on to Dad, his big hands full of tremor and fear. For having to take Mom to the doctor, to see what’s wrong with her back, to do a Stress Test, to fix the bloody noses. I gently suggest that doctors don’t have all the answers, that maybe she should go see my alternative doctor. Mom gently doesn’t hear what I have to say.

It’s windy again today. I’m agitated and this cup of black tea doesn’t help. I can’t stop the wind, can’t stop time, can’t take away any of the moments lived. Once I remember talking on the phone to Dad, long ago, when I was in my 20s and thought we all had forever left. He said something to me, I can’t even get a taste now of was it Politics or Work or Family? All I remember was my pure and complete response, FUCK YOU! I hung up and sat there, having just told my dad those words, I wasn’t even scared, just angry and relieved, the way you can sometimes get relief from certain actions.

This morning I ask Dad if he wants to go to Pueblo to see Onofre before he dies. No, he says, and he doesn’t offer why. If he dies in Spring, they’ll cremate him now but hold a memorial service this summer, when all the old people can be outside in Colorado.

That’s not the same as seeing him before he dies, I think. I don’t push it. I know it would be hard, but I am kind of surprised. I guess it’s the part of me who refuses to accept that my parents aren’t up for anything anytime.


-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – GROWING OLDER

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I’m looking at my ruddy face in a small, round, silver mirror. I look older than I remember. Thick eyebrows, salt and pepper hair; it looks the grayest to me right after a haircut. There is something about the way it lays across the black plastic smock, and falls in shredded pieces on to the floor. Accents of changing color. I don’t mind. It is my grandmother’s hair.

I have a little pouch under my chin. I hate to admit it. Blue eyes that used to be hazel. More blue with age. I don’t often look in a mirror. Once in the morning after my shower to spike my hair. I’m a fluff and blow person, not much fiddling around. I look in the mirror when I brush my teeth. That seems strange and I don’t know why I do it. I am looking into a mirror now. It was suggested in the Writing Topic on growing older; I thought it might push me (over the edge?).

The body gives out, breaks down. Elasticity is lost; wisdom gained. I don’t have a problem aging. Life is easier now than it was 20 years ago. I’m 34x happier. I worry that I won’t get everything done I want to do before I die. That goes back to the Bucket List. I don’t have any control over that. I am where I am. I’m in my 50’s.

Fifty used to seem ancient to me. Forty seemed ancient, too. I couldn’t imagine being 30. Decades have passed. The older I get, the more I know who I am. I have this theory about aging. I believe people become one of two things:  happier and more settled in who they are. Or angry and bitter. That’s black and white. I’m sure there is gray. It’s something I have noticed. And so I keep watching to prove my theory right.

Old, cranky, bitter, judging, hoarding, fighting imperfection, not able to accept that the body is aging. Graceful, happier, wiser, content with who they are, willing to not be perfect, to pass the torch, giving what they have to the next generations to come.

Maya Angelou turned 80 years old on the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination. Do you think Martin knew he would not live to grow old? Or that Maya thought she would reach the age of 80? There were many articles written about her on April 4th. She is of the giving and wise variety. Yet she hasn’t shrunk from her responsibilities — as a woman, as a writer.

If Martin Luther King were alive, he would be one year younger than Maya. She was an aid to his cause, all those years ago. She still speaks for him through the way she lives her life. Think of everything she has seen.

I ran into a conversation between Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey. Maya, one of Oprah’s mentors, was talking about living according to your principles. She is a Clinton supporter, and under constant pressure, remains loyal to Hillary. She has written a poem for her. Oprah is outspoken for Obama. They debate, have long conversations. They each stand strong, loyal to their candidates. They are respectful. They remain friends.

You can talk about spiritual principles. Or you can live by them. Talk is easy. Cheap. Principles are the hardest to uphold when we want something. Or in the face of adversity. Angelou said courage is the most important principle – because without it, you can’t really live up to the others. We might think we want to live at all costs. And then something comes along we are willing to die for.

If you think about Dr. King, he had an offer to go back to a seminary and teach for a year right before he died. He wanted to go. To rest. But he knew it would feel like he wasn’t fulfilling his obligations. So he stayed true to his vision. And went to Memphis to support the sanitation workers. He marched at the front of the line, even though he was tired, worn out. And he dropped his head in despair when a group of young marchers at the end of the line erupted in violence. Maybe at the end, he felt old. He was not perfect. He was human.

I started thinking about Maya Angelou and Martin Luther King and their great courage. I pale in comparison. When I look at what they have each been through, I wonder why I complain about the obstacles that fall my way. But I have learned not to compare myself. Not to anyone. Not to other artists, or writers, or teachers. My demons are mine. I earned every age spot, wrinkle, and wart. I’m not young anymore. Yet I am the most alive inside I have ever felt.

Growing older — it is harder to keep the weight off. I could lose 20 pounds. You can’t see that on a blog. My friends look to my vibrant Spirit. My family loves me unconditionally. So does my partner. The mirror tells me I look sad. Tired. But my eyes are bright. My heart feels heavy. It will not last. It will pass. When I think about dying, I think about looking down on loved ones, urging them on toward their dreams, smiling, holding the space. The way my grandmothers Ada and Elise do for me.

When I visit the South with my mother, we often visit gravestones under plantation magnolias in ancient cemeteries. The history is there. We didn’t create it. But we carry it. We walk among the dead, recall living memories. The pilgrimage, for me, is to pay my respects. To those who have come before. I am in the lineage of the Southern mothers, fathers, grandfathers, great aunts, and grandmothers whose graves I visit. They are not there. My memories of them are.

I drive past the homes where relatives used to live. Some remain in the family. Some belong to complete strangers. I don’t know them. I never will. But I have to bear witness. I don’t want the dead to be forgotten. I don’t want to be forgotten. I want to be remembered. And so I remember and honor others.

Visiting graveyards, a wrinkle in time. The living commingling with the dead. It might sound morose. But I don’t think of it that way. In Kit Carson Memorial cemetery, Mabel is buried not far from the black, wrought iron around the Carson plot. She would not be amused. The more I think about it, the more I want to be scattered to the wind, high over some tiny, rocky beach on the Oregon Coast. No gravestone. No marker. I want to be remembered as a free spirit. Though no writer ever feels free.

I’m staring in the mirror again. “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”

You are.

-posted on red Ravine, Friday, April 11th, 2008

-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – GROWING OLDER and the post, 40 Years

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Sarah (Book of Genesis), gouache on wooden board retablo,
painting © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

You can’t stop it. The tick-tock of the clock.

Once I heard someone say that time doesn’t pass (as if we’re standing still and time flows on by); instead, we pass through time.

Perhaps you don’t want to stop the passage of time. Maybe you’re one of those people who believes that, like fine wine, we just get better with age.

An MSNBC article that came out in 2007 cited research indicating that even people who develop chronic illness late in life have a good chance of living to the age of 100. The key is lifestyle. Good nutrition, exercise, and avoiding smoking all can attribute to longevity.

According to the 2000 census, the U.S. boasted more than 50,000 centenarians at that time, and the number of people aged 100 or more is expected to double by 2010.



How do you approach aging? Is it something you look forward to or something you dread?

The longer I live the more beautiful life becomes.
                              ~Frank Lloyd Wright

Time wounds all heels.
                               ~Dorothy Parker

Old age, calm, expanded, broad with the haughty breadth of the universe, old age flowing free with the delicious near-by freedom of death.
                              ~Edith Wharton

Perhaps you’re dealing with aging parents and have gotten a glimpse of what is to come. (Da golden years, my foot! More like da-crepit years!)


Take a look at yourself in the mirror. Examine closely all the places where your skin gives away the aging process. Check out your crow’s feet. Does your brow carry the worry of your life? How about the spot between your eyebrows?

Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been.
                              ~Mark Twain

Think of all the ways we talk about aging. Growing old gracefully. No spring chicken. Past one’s prime. One foot in the grave. Senile, advanced, in decline, geriatric, antiquated, ancient, hag, wrinkled, winter of life. Older but wiser.

As we grow old, the beauty steals inward.
                              ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I am not young enough to know everything.
                              ~Oscar Wilde

Write about growing older. Write about it whether it matters to you greatly or not. Write about the passage of time as if time is running out. (It is.) Write, write, write. For 15 minutes. For the rest of your life. Now go.

Once you’re over the hill, you begin to pick up speed.
                              ~Charles M. Shultz


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