Anne’s Review: Growing older will be far more fun with you, dear friend, in my Tribe — we’ll merrily dance in our rubber-soled, extra-wide, toe-boxed footwear until we drop . . . right into our 20-minute naps.
Can I just say this? May I just put it out there? My feet hurt. I recently spent a week standing on them, pretty much non-stop, for five long days, building a ukulele. Today I spied a young woman sporting 4-inch heeled, strappy, red sandals with gold studding adornment. I wished I had the nerve to approach her and tell her to take them off. Forever. The future will come and you will be sorry you ever thought you had to have fashion-forward feet. I would have assured her that she will want to be able to walk when she’s 47. She might want to be able stand for five long days when she’s 65. Shit, she just might want to be able to stand.
When I was 25, I’m sure I would have ignored this advice because the future was never more than a few days away. Those fuck-me pumps will truly fuck you long after whoever you were trying to seduce has procreated and died. When we are young, the far future (and our participation in it) does not seem as important as the immediate future—the one we are able to picture as glamorous and within reach. However, we need to be functional throughout the life cycle. I wanted to say, “Ditch the shoes sweetie,” but I hobbled on in my humble, New Balance sneakers, with the extra-wide toe box, past her beautiful, ridiculous shoes, saying nothing. She would not have heeded the warning.
It sneaks up. Aging’s stealthy approach. One day I was 35, the next, pre-ancient. How do I love me? Let me count the former ways! My health is good. It’s the normal deterioration of the body parts that slow me down. Am I now paying the price for all my previous bad habits? I am closely identifying with my grandmother as I am currently the age she was when I first started to admire her. She lived to be 98. If I am to follow in her footsteps, I need to keep to the practices which limit bodily failures and keep all the me-parts (body and mind) moving with reasonably anticipated success.
One morning I noticed a pain at the outside of my big toe. My mind always, and with urgent immediacy, tracks to the worse possible scenario. Bone cancer! Not bone cancer, bunion. My relationship with my podiatrist became one of gratitude plus frustration. Bunion? Deformity, not death? I was too young (40 something) for deformity! Yet here was the graphic (x-ray) evidence. Wearing high heels during my formative, mate-attracting years was most likely the culprit. I have only worn low-heel, quasi-orthopedic shoes ever since this first deformity reared its ugly, painful knob on the side of my foot. I spurned the idea of surgery and I loved my foot doctor for agreeing with me. I sent him a postcard when I moved. Dr. Jeff, I miss you so much! My feet are still throbbing for you! (At appropriate and manageable intervals).
Next to succumb were the useful joints. Lateral epicondylitis. It means that the tendons at your elbow are telling you to fuck off and they are not putting up with your shit any more. It hurts like hell just at the moment you need a functioning arm (say while kayaking or rock climbing). This affliction started early in my journey toward senior citizenship. I was (again) still in my forties. Flaring up inopportunely ever since, I go after it with ice and massage, two treatments I can administer under my own supervision. This is what makes it worse: holding a cell phone, palm up, you know, so that you can read the screen and poke at it with your dominant (non- afflicted) appendage. I’m looking forward to having a communication device implanted in my head should that ever become a thing. It would be a real boon for the elbow-challenged population.
Shall I carry on? I mean with this litany of decrepitational issues. The state of my knees is legendary! Gratefully, they are still functioning, though standing for ten hours is not the best strategy to keep them pain free. The other declines are noteworthy in that they tracked a course into dysfunctions that have been dealt with by the appropriate medical professionals. Each brings its own challenges and courses of intervention. The revelation they all confer upon my overall attitude toward health and function is:
Keep moving! That’s it in a nutshell. I say this with some authority. I worked in a hospital and saw the devastation wreaked upon the human body by limited mobility. I later worked in a gym and saw the benefits of keeping all the parts in motion well into ripe old age. The difference between these two populations was astronomically staggering. If I stop, things will continue on a downward trajectory at an accelerated pace. Don’t even think about sitting down. But if I do, I immediately get back up again. Of course, I can’t be moving at all hours of the day. Sometimes I need to rest. The best plan for resting is to schedule slow-down times into my day. A nap of 20-30 minutes does wonders (any longer than 30 minutes and I’ll resemble a confused, just-bitten zombie for the rest of the day and people might mistake this for mental decline and that’s a whole ‘nother tube of Ben-gay). I start each day with an intention for (mostly) appropriate physical activity interspersed with appropriate rest periods. I do my best to make it happen. And sometimes it actually does!
Now that this is settled and I am still moving about and taking my 2pm power nap, keeping my body in top form and function, I can focus my attention on focusing my attention. Keeping my brain in working order is paramount. Remembering stuff. I remind myself that writing it down is not actually remembering it, though it is a good strategy for not missing an appointment with my physical therapist or, more importantly, my hairdresser (that gray doesn’t hide itself).
I was telling someone how to cook something (someone and something are great words to use when you can’t remember who or what) when I stumbled over the word “shallot.” I could not remember that word! I get edgy when that happens since both my parents suffered from Alzheimer’s and I dread that I am destined for the same fate. I have Google as my personal aide and have only to type “onion family” into that convenient little space on my phone and hit enter to nudge my brain toward wholeness. This will work for as long as I am able to remember how to use my phone. I may even learn something new!
Learning is good. I am still capable of learning. I hear that if you keep it up, your mental faculties stay sharper than if you nostalgically binge-watch episodes of Seinfeld to the exclusion of all else. I would never do that. But if I did, I would not confess it here. A class in line dancing would be ideal—moving and learning at the same time! A learning experience is also conducive to meeting people, which brings me to the final part of my strategy for the aging well process—tribe. Social maturity in action.
Moving to a new city caused a gaping hole in my social life. I immediately sought out weekly activities to maximize repeated contact with my fellow Ashevillians. I needed to replenish the tribe. Tribe is a tricky notion because it means you have people to connect with and also people to scorn other people with. Scorning, while ok for short periods of time (like during election season), for lengthier times can lead to tribalism, hatred and war. Having an open mind/heart is conducive to having a wider base of support you might call your tribe. There’s a certain logic to the term “the more the merrier,” but I have always valued diversity over volume for that supportive team of people who converse, commiserate and encourage me through the daily obstacle course called life.
Having close friends decreases my levels of stress. Living longer means a trading-off of sources of stress. As my focus of importance has shifted from the earlier phases of life, I still rely on practices which are grounding (those which keep you from flying off the face of the earth) and relaxing. Meditation is good for stress. I try to practice alone each morning, but meditating with a group works best for me as it keeps me in the seat longer and limits my tendency to fidget (it’s frowned upon by your sedentary neighbors).
Tai chi is a kind of meditation where you have to learn a series of movements in a group of other people and focus your attention so as to not run into your fellow participants while the music is still playing. I was attracted to this “total package” approach to warding off all forms of maturational decline. I have adopted this multi-faceted activity into my life to the point that I became certified to teach it to others struggling with staying upright while commanding the functions of mind and muscle.
Your tribe will keep you going at any age. At my age, the conversation will usually include mutual complaining about lower backs and stiff joints. It’s how we relate after kayaking and attending festivals together. When my 98-year-old grandmother died, her neighbor told me that Grandma had been out dancing just the week before. She wore sensible shoes, danced and conversed with her friends and was merry and lively. That’s my final goal. I want to depart this earthly realm dancing, even if I have to wear ugly shoes.
Keep it moving,
Guest Editor Anne and I met at a coffee meetup. For some reason we laugh like hyenas whenever we find ourselves together at the same table. She now knows that I can’t spell very well. I appreciated her help in that regard.