Friday, January 27, 2012

a few thoughts on aging

maybe half-thoughts, or inklings, or low glimmers. at any rate, the poet donald hall published a lovely essay on aging in a recent issue of the new yorker. hall was born in the 1920s and is now 83. hall has a huge gusto for life [yeah, i know. who doesn't] and tho i'm so-so on his work i do have a book or two by him and i think he's a tremendous talent. he's as talented a prose writer as he is a poet tho who is making the distinction. after all, writing is writing no matter what you call it.

what i loved of hall's piece in the magazine was its humor and humanity. instead of turning into a cranky old man, he is instead, an old man with a bit of distance and perspective. that distance gives him the ability to laugh so that he still enjoys living. not an easy task. try it. say if your approaching 50 how often do you stop and, in the habit of our late, beloved kitty, ernie, eat the flowers? is it not easier to feel the world collapsing around you and your prospects getting narrower?

after all, aging is no picnic. our bodies change and not for the better. we don't get older and stronger. we get older and weaker. and there is memory. which starts to fail. the person you meet in the mirror more and more looks like your father, or mother. hair falls out, gets thin and grey. and so on and so forth. aging is a long ride into decrepitude and senescence. who gets pleasure out of that?

that's one way of thinking of it. another way is realizing that life is a gift. at any age. there was no contract so you can be here, now. no fate. nothing written in the stars. it's all luck. so feel lucky. age can have its pleasures too. if i wasn't growing old i could remember what are those pleasures.

i told a couple friends today who were complaining about growing old that i look forward to decrepitude and senescence. in the history of humanity growing old is a great privilege. until fairly recently people died very young. so feel lucky that most of us will see our seventies and eighties. if your body hurts and you can't remember where you left your glasses think of yourself as the lucky few who because of today's technologies and so forth are partly responsible to allow us to hurt in old age.

then again, i don't worry about growing old because i've always thought i was old even when young. some of my favorite poets didn't start writing their best work until they were well into middle-age. a few poets i've been reading returned to school in middle-age and are writing some of the most exciting work i know.

plus, i've never thought of poetry forebears as my mothers and fathers. i read rather ahistorically, not in a physical sense, after all i'm well aware of the constraints society placed on women in the past, the horrors and injustice, when i read say stein, plath, rich, dickinson et al. however, i read poets of every era, if those poets speak to me, as my brothers and sisters. that the only time we occupy is the present and if i'm reading catullus then catullus is alive, for me, right now. sometimes i think catullus and i might be collaborating and sharing work. i know that's a poetic fiction, a conceit, but so what.

the beauty of life: no one is getting younger. i've yet to meet the person who on his/her birthday becomes a year younger. nope, everybody gets old. every one. if life is a ride why not enjoy each segment of the journey. sounds silly and hippyish pablum but again so what. this is it, amigos, this one life. ask yourself what you want to do with it. then start doing it. what made reading hall's essay such a pleasure for me is how the poet embraces life, even at its end. that is a gift and very generous one at that.


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