Friday, September 22, 2017

The lure of a blank page



    When we turn 80 we are setting off into our nineth decade. Perhaps that explains why clever, new ideas are harder to find amongst the mind-clutter that slows my sometimes deluded brain.
    On the other hand, by this stage of the game I am inclined to overlook that absence of witty, original insights. Perhaps something worthwhile will show up--- perhaps not. Why worry about that? Especially when I can return to an earlier post that still says what I want to say. Some may consider that cheating. It so, I plead guilty. Take for instance, this post from last year---edited to reflect my present circumstances.
                                     ~~~~
    I suppose it says something about my own priorities at this stage of life. The wife is talking about a family gathering when she turns eighty next month. I’m looking forward to that. It’s always a good time when we get the whole clan together.
    In the meantime I am quite enjoying the luxury of a very personal ‘good time’---that space in the flow of my days when the latest story has been edited and sent off for a draft copy---the one Roma and I will correct and mark up, making it ready for what I am willing to call complete.
    With that task accomplished I can take time to look at the blank page that awaits me. Truth is, I find that a liberating space. A story-in-progress is bound to limit ones creative options. Whatever we add to the mix must mesh with what has come before. But the blank page in front of me now---a new story waiting to be told---offers the best sort of freedom. It can lead anywhere I choose to take it. Sometimes I find that latitude so comforting that I am reluctant to send it away by beginning a new story.
    Truth be told, I have at least a general idea where the next tale will take me. The route it takes to get there remains to be seen. But however it plays out, you can be sure it will be about life choices, the kind we are still making in our personal October and November. In one way or another it will reflect the course of 'Becoming' in late-life. 
                                         ~~~
    Hey, we’re October or November people, aren’t we? We know from experience how complicated life can be. Even the most mundane existence is an constant stream of highs and lows. The exact mix of ingredients is a very individual thing, but from the beginning the life we have lived has been an ever-changing blend of choices made (or not made) and actions taken (or not taken). 
    As a storyteller I do my best to describe and illustrate the chain of actions and interactions, thoughts and choices that make up my story. My goal is simple enough. I want the reader to care about what happens to the characters I have set in motion. Yet in the telling I have the luxury of focusing on particular elements of the story---truths or opinions I consider worth exploring in depth. Inevitably, that makes each of those books a very personal expression.
   We know how hard our October years can be. Chances are November will bring additional trials. Each of my Tanner Chronicle stories deals with one or more forms of that sometimes unsettling reality. In the course of eleven books I have touched on a wide array of October challenges. Yet my emphasis is never the dark side of late-life, but instead the affirming role that relationships can play in helping us deal with those hard times.
    I have made the point before. What I call “relational” stories are something very different than the “romance” novels you see on the supermarket shelves. Like you, I know a thing or two about romance. I’ve been there---and I’m glad for that. It was a special time of life, when hormones and inclination combined to make youthful romance perfectly appropriate.
   But that was April. This is October, or perhaps November. A different sort of relationship is just as appropriate. For the last fifteen years Roma and I have visited our congregation’s shut-ins on a regular basis. We have called on dozens of special friends who were facing late-life alone. For some of them that was by choice---and that choice was certainly theirs to make. For others it just turned out that way. In either case, for many of those friends, there was no denying the sense that something (or someone) important was missing.
    Which brings me to a particular October truth I have explored more than once. If growing old brings its own trials, and it does, then growing old together is bound to be an age-appropriate blessing. Facing October and beyond in the company of a caring and supportive life partner is the best way I know to deal with those intimidating circumstances. Of course, in the process each of them will struggle from time to time. That is an October given. But they will be struggling together.
  There are a million ways to tell a story that emphasizes the virtue of 'struggling together.' Allow me to offer one of my own---from Long Way Home.
    Elly Warren is a year removed from a life-changing relational disaster. She has experienced the pain of great loss up close and personal---leaving her determined to never let it happen again. Keeping the possibility of a new relationship at arms length has become a way of life. But now her best friend, Claudia Harris, is on the phone, asking her to consider that choice in a different light.
                                         ~~~
   “It’s mostly a matter of being lonely,” Elly explained. “Day after day, it’s all the same. There’s nothing to look forward to. I go shopping every couple days. I do lunch at the club with the girls. But that doesn’t help. I honestly don’t know what do. It’s all so complicated.”
   Claudia could tell her friend was struggling. Would she be willing to hear another point of view? 
   “You know,” she replied as she shifted the phone to her other ear. “I'm not at all sure it's that complicated. In fact, I’m guessing it’s really quite simple.”
    “What do you mean?” 
   “It seems to me you have a choice to make. That’s what I mean. Just one choice, nothing more. That doesn’t sound so complicated does it?”
   Elly was not sure how to respond. “What are you talking about? What choice is that?”
  “Do you want to be alone---or not? That’s the question you have to answer---the choice you have to make” 
   Would this work, Claudia asked herself. Would Elly even listen? 
   “You’re seventy years old, aren’t you? And what little family you have is in California. Which means you’re basically on your own. Right?”
   “I suppose so.”
  “I’m sure there are fellows at the club who would be willing to help out. But you won’t let that happen, will you? I know that you think you have all the answers. But what if you’ve been asking the wrong questions?”
  “For heaven sakes, Claudia. What are you talking about?”
   “I’m talking about reality--about the real world. Take a moment to imagine yourself ten years from now. Think about what you might be facing if you were eighty and all alone. How do you suppose you’d cope with what that future looks like? 
   "The thing is, you can decide right now whether you want that to be your future, You can decide if you want to be by yourself or with someone who can be there to help if you need it---someone who makes things better?” 
   Claudia’s soft laugh might have sounded out of place, at least until she added, “We don’t like to think about all that, do we?”
  “You’re right,” Elly replied. Why was her friend going on about things no one wanted to think about---now or later?
   “But that brings us right back to the one question you need to answer. Do you want to spend your future, whatever it turns out to be, by yourself or with someone who can help you---someone you can help?”
   “Claudia. Don’t forget I had a ‘someone’ before.” Elly countered, falling back on her well-tested defenses. “He turned out to be the problem, not the answer. Why would I want to go there again?”
 “You’re getting sidetracked, Elly.” Claudia was pacing now, from one end of the patio to the other.“Just concentrate on that one question. Do you want a future by yourself? Or would you rather share it with someone?”
   “But, I told ....”
   “Elly. Listen to me.” Claudia’s emphatic interruption startled even herself. “Forget about ‘before.’ That’s ancient history. Just answer that one question---by yourself or with someone?”
  “I just can’t believe it’s that simple, just one question.”
   “It is simple. I’m not saying it’s easy, because it’s not. But it is simple. Just ask yourself that one question. If you decide you want to go on alone, like you are now,  then there’s no need to worry about anything else. Because you’ve already decided. You’ve answered the question. 
    "Lots of folks feel that going on alone is the best way for them. And that's perfectly okay. The question now is---is that the best way for you?” 
   “It is much safer this way, you know. There’s less chance of getting hurt again.” Elly’s words carried a remembering edge that lasted until, “The thing is, it’s so lonely. I know there ought to be more.”
  “Perhaps that’s your answer then. Maybe you’ve already made that choice.”
    “But, how can I know for sure?”
  “Elly.” Claudia was past caring if the neighbors heard her. “We’re not talking about a sewing machine or a new car. It doesn’t come with a guarantee. There is no extended warranty. It’s about taking a chance. If that sounds too scary, if it’s not worth the risk, then don’t do it.”
    “But I can’t go on like this. It’s too lonely.”
   “Then you have to step out and take a chance. You have to trust again, even if ‘trusting’ has hurt you before. You have to try.“
                                           ~~~
   There you have it, my friend, another peek into the daunting world of October Bold, an interpretation of what I consider to be a late-life truth. It is about thriving in our 60s and 70s (and beyond), wringing all we can from late-life. It may involve taking chances, even when it’s scary. It may include trusting, even when you’re not sure you can do that again. And of course, there will be no guarantees---no matter what path we choose. 
    In the end 'thriving' is a matter of being willing to try. That is true on a relational level---whether you decide your way is to go on alone, or you choose to rely on a new relationship. It’s also true for just about any other October challenge you can think of---like telling stories and writing blogs, or some other late-life project that works for you.

  This Amazon Author’s page gives you an idea of where my own October and November have taken me.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Is My Old Age Showing?

 Come on, tell me straight out. There’s no reason to hold back. Am I the only one who feels like the train has left the station, leaving me alone on the platform clutching my tattered suitcase, the one filled with old, outdated ideas. As happens often lately, it feels like I have once again been left behind, scratching my head, trying to make sense of it.
 If you are an old October/November fossil like me you may know the feeling. How many times have you listened to the day’s news or the latest rant by some clueless politician and told yourself that “I’m glad I won’t be around to see how that turns out.”?
 I know, of course, that it’s always been like this---old folks complaining about the youngsters and their new ways. That’s what we do, isn’t it? But it seems to me that today’s rate of change, taking place in a setting of extreme divisiveness and social turmoil, is more toxic than usual. I hope those young folks are adaptable and resilient enough to make lemonade from the lemons they have inherited. 
  In the meantime, did I mention that, “I’m glad I won’t be around to see...........?”
 No wonder I am sometimes (perhaps ‘most of the time’) confused and frustrated. Why wouldn’t I be, when the insanity that masquerades as the ‘new normal’ threatens to overwhelm the world I used to call home. 
 Television, computers, and the internet. Together that technological triumvirate has created the ‘brave new world’ we used to read about, but could scarcely comprehend at the time. They have changed everything, and in the process instilled new attitudes and understandings in the younger generations that will have to deal with the dubious legacy we are leaving them.
 Of course there is a generational divide---as there has surely been since the beginning of time. My eyes see and my ears hear the same things my children and grandchildren see and hear (though not as well as they do). Yet those sights and sounds, when filtered through my intractable November mind, register in ways those younger eyes and ears can scarcely comprehend.
 Take for instance the phenomenon they call Social Media, which I will admit includes elements that I know nothing about. What I do know is that hate and contention, in all their many forms, too often dominate those very unsocial conversations. Whether the subject is liberal vs conservative, blue state vs red, young vs old, white vs black----it seems that civil discourse has become a lost art.
 For old-schoolers like me the strength of democracy is its diversity. If that is so, making America great again by building the walls that divide us even higher---whether about race, religion, income, or political persuasion---is a recipe for failure. Where diversity is threatened, so is democracy.
 Or consider the impact of television, the most influential, cultural-shaping force in our generation’s pre-internet world. On a personal level it has been a fact of life for as long as most of us can remember. For decades the ever-present tube has provided an effective mirror of our society and its culture.
 And what does that mirror reflect today? I can remember a time when we turned on our television to be informed and/or entertained. Is that the reflection we see now? Or perhaps a better question is---what does it mean to be ‘informed’? Do ten-second sound bites of ‘Breaking News,’ sandwiched between sixty-second commercials, qualify? To be sure, today’s television offers us a wide choice of ‘news,’ more than ever before. Whatever our particular predilection, we can find an abundance of programming to support our way of thinking, while bashing the other side.
 Think about that for a moment. Do we listen to the news or read a newspaper in order to create informed opinions about the world’s complex, life-altering problems? Or do we instead select the news source that feeds and fuels our particular leanings, and call that ‘being informed?’
 And if we October/November folks, who grew up in a more-civil, less-divisive time, find ourselves drawn into today’s ‘divide and conquer’ world of ‘news’ and ‘fake news,’ odds are the younger generations---the ones who have never experienced anything other than ‘choose your side and follow the party line,’ will never know any other way. 
 Chances are they have been imprinted for life. If so, will reasoned debate ever be possible among those who rely on a single, biased source of information---be it Fox News, or CNN, or MSNBC. That is the strongest argument I can imagine against the possibility of finding a national ‘common ground’ that will make America great again. 
 It is hard to know what to make of the political babble that frames our national dialogue. On one hand I find comfort in knowing that over time I have learned to separate the sense from the nonsense. Chances are you feel that way too, even when your truth and my truth reflect opposite sides of the debate.
 As one who sometimes resorts to prayer I find it a bit worrying to imagine the wide range of prayers we Americans raise to what we claim is ‘one God.’ Do you ever wonder what He, She, or It makes of our constant stream of conflicting prayers, each of them dueling for Divine attention?
 Fact is, I don’t care which side you take, because I fear that in the end both sides---make that all sides---will be proven wrong. No matter what their promises and plans, none of our wannabe leaders are likely to outrun the demographic, social, and fiscal realities that are reducing our national ability to respond. 
 Truth is, turning the ship of state in a more hopeful direction---be it to the left or right---in the face of today’s global reality and our own national frailty, will require more compromise and good will than our population seems willing to offer. While one leader or another may be able to momentarily overcome our political malaise, I fear that our downward trajectory as a world superpower will continue.
 So tell me, friends---has my tired mind gone off the rails? Is the wife right---that my old age is showing? Or is, in fact, the notion of a national ‘common ground’ further out of reach than ever before? I’m afraid it might be. In that case I’m glad I won’t be around to..........
 What do you think? Am I being too pessimistic? I would like to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

     
UPDATE - LIVING WITH DYING       

  I won’t pretend that I have been swamped with requests, but several folks have asked if I intended to publish my Living With Dying blog series in Kindle and paperback versions. Well, Amazon has those available now. If you are interested check them out at THIS LINK.

  MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE RANCH,    TURNING THE BLOGGERS LOOSE

 Sometimes it takes very few words to make a point. This may be the shortest entry I’ve ever posted. But for those who are drawn to the subject it can provide literally hours of enjoyment.
  You may recall that from time to time I have made a big thing of how so many of our October/November peers are having their say online. I do that with this October Years blog. But rest assured, I am just one of hundreds who are adding their voices to the late-life conversation.
  Fortunately, the proof of that is close at hand----elder blogs by the dozens, covering a wide range of topics. The Elderbloggers List contains hundreds of them. I hope you will check them out. In the meantime, do any of these blog offerings sound interesting to you?

*** Fools Rush In - senior humor                      
*** The Fabulous Geezersisters
*** Dying Man’s Journal - eh?
*** Fat Man on a Blog
*** Chez NamasteNancy - in French
*** Dirty Laundry - makes you wonder
*** Geriatric1927 - the internet grandad
***Help! Aging Parents - inching to 80 
*** Hootin’ Annie’s Chronicles
***Journal of a Writing Man-(in French)
*** Life in London After 70
*** Letters for George - Crypotids ???
*** Living in the Bonus Round
***Minding Our Elders -caregiver help
***The Next Stage - retirem't for women
*** Recollections of a Vagabonde 
*** Retirement - a Full Time Job
***Xtreme English - (love notes to the English language)

Or how about my favorite? 

*** The Rant - (‘your very own cesspool of naughty, left-wing propaganda’)

  And where, you ask, can you find those tantalizing possibilities? Look no further. THIS LINK will transport you to As Time Goes By. Once there simply scroll down the page to review the dozens of late-life blog offerings. Somewhere on that list is one or more that were written just for you.
  Have fun and enjoy.





Tuesday, August 8, 2017

LIVING WITH DYING - Installment 8

They are only words, you know---simple spoken sounds. Yet they can have such power. Simply saying them out loud can turn a sunny day dark, overwhelming us with tumultuous storm clouds that threaten to blot out the hope we need to survive.
I began these LIVING WITH DYING installments a few months ago by recounting the doctor’s simple, but searing explanation to Roma and me. “It is bladder cancer,” he said rather matter-of-factly. “In a fairly aggressive form.”
He had more to say, but truth to tell I do not remember much of that. By then my mind had been hijacked by a least three very pertinent details. 1)--He had said "cancer." I knew at once I did not like that word. 2)--It was "bladder cancer." I had heard second or third-hand stories of bladder cancer. It seemed those accounts rarely had a happy ending. 3)--Finally, mine was apparently an "aggressive" form of the species. That did not bode well.

At that point I had no symptoms to speak of, painful or otherwise. Actually, it was not the cancer that had me stressed. Instead, it was the doctor’s spoken words, and the dire thoughts they produced, that had me out of sorts.
However, there was work to be done, and skilled, compassionate caregivers to do it. There would be weeks of Immunology Therapy, then a month-long recovery period, before a second, 'biopsy' surgery could provide an informed notion of how effective those treatments had been.
For weeks I had tried to focus on making the best use I could of the time I had left---be it months or years. I had convinced myself that such a search would offer a more solid footing in what had become a most unsettling time. At that stage of the game I was happy to have such an incentive as I worked my way toward those answers, and the lessons they would hopefully produce.
Finally, on this very morning, it was time to march back into the fire one more time----to hear the doctor’s latest assessment, based on the biopsy results. Once I heard that I could gauge the impact it would  have on my future. Once more Roma and I, along with our son, Adam, waited to hear the newest words the good doctor had to add to the conversation.
As you know, physicians are busy folks. There are always other patients waiting to see them. But this morning he seemed to have more time. He was less hurried as he explained the truth of it.
“I can’t guarantee it will stay this way,” he began. “But as of now, at this moment----you are cancer free.” About then I forced myself to keep listening.
“The original surgery,” he continued. “Along with six sessions of Immune Therapy, have done the job.” 
He was looking into what must have been my silly, disbelieving grin when he added his cautions. “I can’t say it won’t came back. But we did X-ray your kidneys, to be sure it had not spread there. They were clean. 
“Still, it was a nasty strain you had. So we will continue with another mini-round of therapy and periodic bladder scans to see that it doesn’t sneak up on us again. But for now I can say with confidence that you are bladder cancer free.”
You can probably guess that the three of us were walking on air as we crossed the parking lot to the car. Of course, I had day-dreamed about such a storybook outcome, while always warning myself not to get my hopes up. Yet, as of this moment, I am a big fan of ‘getting my hopes up.’
Remember-------I began this narrative by telling myself I must learn to Live With Dying. I had to find a way to do that because my future, which I had always taken for granted, had suddenly become very murky---clouded by unsettling, perhaps ultimate possibilities.
You know what? While those particular outcomes may have lost their intimidating hold on me, I still need to find better ways to live in the face of a future that will invariably end just one way. 
I need to remember the lessons I was able to squeeze from this hard time. Cancer-free or not, all of us are charged to make the most we can of the time we have. Everyone of us has to keep Living With Dying

Friday, August 4, 2017

Late-Life Stories---welcome to the real world


 Enough of my health issues and today’s the never-ending political/social drama. I am ready to venture down a different path this time. More to the point, I want to return to my original reason for filling these pages. From its beginning, four years ago, this has been labeled a ‘Writer’s Blog.’ And that is what I would like it to be today.
Fact is, I plan to indulge myself a little, or a lot, by returning to the roots of my storytelling. I want to focus on some of what I have created over the years. On a purely selfish level it feels like I need to remind myself of those times and results.
You see, I’m a storyteller. I can’t seem to help it. It’s what I do. Apparently it started early. Why else would each of our children have a copy of my epic Cabinboy Cal tale---seven hand-printed pages written in the summer of my eighth year? Turns out, that childhood obsession only grew stronger in retirement
Of course, it’s one thing to decide that you want to tell a story, and quite another to know what you will write about and what you intend to say. However, for reasons I still don’tunderstand, when I began to scratch that writer’s itch again, I knew without thinking twice the kind of stories I would be telling. By then I had learned that the best parts of life are about relationships. Invariably it is the people we encounter along the way who make life worth living. 
So from the beginning I realized that I would be telling “relational” stories. I have mentioned before that my first post-retirement story, begun on the eve of my fiftieth high-school reunion, about a pair of brothers whose fiftieth reunion becomes a springboard to new relationships. The story itself is not all that original---a fellow who had been a not-so-promising high-schooler is still pursuing his adolescent dreams of the coed who had always been miles out of his league. Sure, it was predicable. But the story, which took two books (650 pages) to tell, felt real and worth telling to me.
So there I was, telling ‘relational’ stories, though I knew that was not what everyone called them. Thing is, I prefer that label to the other possibility -- ‘romance.’ After all, what kind of eighty-year old admits to writing ‘romances’? More to the point, does that label even apply to the sometimes stumbling efforts of the seriously Beta male characters I portray? Anyway, in the end I always settle for ‘relational.’
It took a while for me to move beyond the embarrassment of admitting that I wrote such stories---until I finally accepted the fact that it’s hard to imagine any story that is not at its heart a relational story. Whether it’s about young lovers, time-traveling vagabonds, Intergalactic warfare, zombies and vampires, or in the extreme---late-life seniors---at some point you and the author will probably be exploring the role of relationships in the lives of the characters.
Most of us have experienced the April version of relationship at least once. I think they still call it ‘romance’ at that age. You have been there, haven’t you---the young dreams, young love, and young hormones? (Remember those?) It was a time of new experiences, when anything seemed possible. That was April love. Thankfully we’ve been there and done that.
However, as you can imagine, or know from personal experience, the October/ November version of relationship is bound to be something different. The Tanner seniors I depict may think they know how to play that game. After all, they have played it before, sometimes more than once. Yet chances are they have never started over with someone who, like them, brings the baggage and barnacles that come with October and beyond. Of course the resulting relationship will be different. Why wouldn’t it be? After all, they have spent a lifetime becoming someone very different than that April person they vaguely remember.
Although it may be daunting, that ‘second time’ path I lay out before them, the Tanner relation seekers I portray are a tenacious bunch, not the kind to be easily put off. The fellow may win the lady in the end, or he may not. We know that October endings are not always happily-ever-after. But even then, it won’t be for lack of trying. That too is something we have learned over a lifetime. When you’re dealing with what might be your last chance, most of us are not apt to give up easily.
The challenges my Tanner friends face are as unique and individual as the characters themselves. The one constant throughout their stories is their determined desire to make their lives complete and whole again in spite of their personal issues. (Time out---I realize it is not that wa for everyone. Lots of folks are ‘whole and complete’ without another relationship. That, however, would not serve the story I want to tell.)
So what are these Tanner Chronicle stories I tell? Are they simply about old guys and old gals getting together. Is that where the ‘relationship’ thing comes in? Well, yes, the story is likely to include a relationship---but always in the context of how, at the same time, my October friends are dealing with their own real late-life issues. Let me offer some examples.

***In Becoming, while Carl Postell is falling under the spell of his father’s caregiver, Jack Benz is pursuing a longstanding interest of his own. When he finally meets her, months after her stroke, he scarcely recognizes the woman she had become. She looks different and her speech is hard to understand. Yet wonder or wonders, she seems to like him. 
***In Conversations With Sarah Hank Rolland is widowed and looking for answers. When he finally realizes he has been looking in the wrong places he retreats all the way to the Mendocino headlands. There, in the shelter of a knarly Alpha Tree, he is finally able to make sense of the future Sarah had always envisioned for him.
***Going Poor deals with a different sort of October becoming. Lane Tipton’s dreams of a happy ending have gone terribly wrong. He is sixty years old, disappointed, dejected, and depressed. Yet even in the midst of all that, his dreams of relationship, and being the man he believes he should be, have not died. They don’t look the way he expected, but they are still alive and well.
***Or what about a relationship that deals with one of the ultimate challenges---when the deep shadows of dementia intrude? In Best Friends and Promises Aaron Peck deals with that distressing change of course. Leona is still there beside him, but the love and companionship she has always represented are gone. In time his October trials will be further complicated by the all-to-human need for companionship, and the upsetting attention of the kind lady who is willing to ease his loneliness.
***For decades Tom Fedder has dodged the issue, but now there is no avoiding a return to Tanner. With his step-son in tow he is Going Home. But will he be able to take care of his business without crossing paths with the wife and daughter he had deserted forty years earlier? And what could possibly go wrong when his step-son takes a fancy to the granddaughter Tom has never met? By then Going Home is growing more complicated by the day
***In October Bold David and Marian have spent a few minutes together on a Music City dance floor, then gone their separate ways---to oppositie sides of the country. Though the possibility of ‘more’ was intriguing, their wanting was constrained by mutual timidity, reinforced by a mutual unwillingness to risk relational failure. Clearly they would need all the boldness they could muster to fulfill the promise of their dance floor meeting.
***Adopted as an infant, Jerald Rogers, now a young father himself, sets out to find his birth parents. In the course of Closing the Circle long-buried memories are resurrected, questions are raised, and lives are impacted---including those of Jerald’s birth parents, reluctantly reunited after a twenty-year separation.
***In today’s late-life universe being ‘underwater’ is not all that uncommon. As their once-hopeful retirement dreams slowly unravel, Jim and Anita Camden have come face to face with that unwelcome reality. The need to downsize is real and depressing----and complicated by their differing ways of dealing with what comes next. Apparently Breathing Underwater is best learned when there is no other choice.
***They are Family Matters, the ways a couple and/or family copes with the realities of family, home, and career. Along the way ‘compromise’ is bound to be part of the formula. And when that coping and compromise are no longer effective---what then? Dan Padgett had nursed his elaborate retirement plans for years. So why is Nell being so stubborn. Why can’t she just accept the liberating logic he has so carefully constructed?
*** And finally, back to my favorite, to where those late-life stories began. It was their fiftieth high-school reunion. And though Clint and Gary Harris were on hand, they were certainly not looking for relationsips. Yet sometimes those things just seem to happen. In the course of Second Chances and Long Way Home there would be a trail of unexpected alliances, resurrected rivalries, dire threats, and surprising admissions---as the brothers stumble toward the Cinderella-like possibilities of ‘one-more-time.’.

At every turn the Tanner senior population offers late-life stories waiting to be told. And though the stories I tell will include relational elements, you can tell they are not the stories of youthful abandon, the ones that line the supermarket bookshelves. And while you’re at it, throw away your dated stereotypes---of used-up seniors and their altogether boring lives. To be sure, every one of the October seekers I depict is dealing with his or her own late-life issues, while trying to overcome the emptiness of life lived alone. I happen to think those folks are worth getting to know. I hope you’ll be willing to check them out.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Are we addicted to Existential Anesthesia?


I call it ‘Elder Wisdom.’ The kids and grandkids are apt to describe it as “Gramps has gone off the rails again.” I suppose the truth lies somewhere between. Still, when my sometimes-suspect mind pauses to consider the matter it finds an ever-growing mountain of evidence to support my logic. The concerns that I first addressed in late 2014, as Oregon prepared to legalize marijuana, were real then and even more real today.
“But why be so upset?” I ask myself. What had me so upset back then about what I saw as a cultural dilemma? (And still do.) After all, I am not a social critic. I write about late-life relationships. What prompted my emotional detour? Whatever it was, I have not outgrown it. With that, I offer Existential Anesthesia Redux
~~~
I suppose I am a bit worked up, trying to find the logic in their illogical claims. Whatever the reason it is enough to turn today’s BLOG into a RANT. I suppose it has been building up for a while and finally spilled over.
You see, a while back my beloved Tanner, along with the rest of Oregon, became a legal marijuana zone. As willed by a vote of the people my mythical city, in the heart of a very real Willamette Valley, became part of a rapidly spreading social experiment---one that offers our population the freedom to indulge themselves with impunity. As you might suspect, I have some October (& November) reservations about the wisdom of that so-called “progress.”
Let’s begin with the obvious---ours is already the most medicated culture in history. A large part of that medication is deemed legal---for instance the opioid epidemic that threatens our nation---the product of human frailty along with highly effective corporate lobbyists who spend hundreds of millions to convince us, and a cadre of well-funded lawmakers, that we need what they are selling. 
Disclaimer - I will be the first to admit that when I seek the relief and healing of today’s medicines I am thankful to have them available. Like a lot of you, there have been times when I owed my life to their effectiveness. Yet I realize that even as they heal me, they are also instrumental in creating and funding a delivery system designed to insure huge profits for both vendors and providers---while leaving our citizens to pay by far the highest health-care costs in the world, for what are sometimes less than the best results.
Yet beyond those legal and socially acceptable forms of medicinal intervention our society, indeed the whole world, is awash in a sea of chemical “coping” agents---from booze, to narcotics, to pot, and a whole array of manufactured “designer” drugs. 
Our citizens are increasingly addicted to pharmaceutical aids, both legal and illegal. All around us lives are being ruined and families destroyed. At the same time governments rely more and more on the tax revenues generated by the sale of those products. And all the while a thriving underground economy is equally addicted to the profits that our ‘coping’ produces. Bottom line---more than ever before our “land of the free and the brave” is addicted to its addictions.
And now we find ourselves living in a world that includes yet another round of ‘socially accepted’ means of coping. Marijuana, long relegated to the shadow-side of the conversation, has been liberated. There, firmly established in the daylight, it is available for one and all---young and old. As I mentioned above, tipping the scales in the sometimes contentious debate leading to its legalization was pot’s undisputed ability to be a productive source of coveted tax revenue.
But before I dig deeper into my state’s “progressive” expansion of pot’s availability, let me take a moment to limit the scope of my objections. Like many states Oregon already had in place a modest medical-marijuana program. Though not everyone agrees with that, I accept the evidence of the drug’s medicinal capabilities and have no problem with it being available in that form, given proper regulation and oversight.
Rather, it is the brave new world of universal marijuana acceptance that has me concerned about what lies ahead---the wonderfully misnamed era of ‘recreational’ pot, i.e. 'Pot as fun.' What could possibility go wrong with that?
Though that new reality has yet to make its way into any of my Tanner stories, rest assured that it has more than a few of us October and November types wondering what good or bad, help or harm, will come from this new state of affairs. At least one old fossil I know feels the need to have his say about that.
To be clear, I don’t pretend to speak for anyone else. I may be the only one who harbors unsettling visions of where our chemically-sated society is heading. Of course, mankind’s efforts to escape the harsh realities of life are nothing new. Those tendencies are surely as old as the species. Everyone of us has moments when he or she wants to avoid hurtful circumstances. There was a time when scotch-on-the-rocks was my favored retreat. Fortunately, somewhere along the way I learned that whatever I was running from would still be there in the morning.
But I worry that in today’s increasingly chaotic world---with its ever-growing availability of more effective, even lethal, ways of avoiding life as it is---more of us are relying on those means of escape. I am so concerned about that trend that I have given it a name. I call our societal attempts to escape reality Existential Anesthesia or EA.
Of course, with true late-life logic I tell myself that if anyone needs Existential Anesthesia to face their circumstances, it would be us October and November types---the ones worn down by decades of dealing with real life. That makes sense, doesn’t it?
But instead it seems that more and more of our young people are succumbing to EA in one or more of its often-enticing forms. And they are doing that at an ever-younger age. At the very time of life we hope they are curious, alert, and clear minded---preparing for the daunting challenges that await them---it seems that too many, overwhelmed by those possibilities, are turning to EA---seeking an emotional retreat that is too often a dead end. 
Still, the advocates of that brave new world tell us we must accept the reality of a ‘new way’---one that makes pot available to everyone. They tout its “decriminalization,” a change that will allow future generations to avoid the legal residue of youthful indiscretions. And I’ll admit, those arguments ring true. Yet how many lives, young and not-so-young, will be impacted by the freshly reinforced message that we have the right to indulge ourselves in potentially harmful, but perfectly legal ways? How many of us will learn to cope by retreating into a TCH haze?
They tell us that escape, in a socially accepted manner, is fine---even therapeutic. That it can be a wonderful stress reliever. Yet in the end how often do those forms of retreat, be they booze, drugs, or 'recreational pot,' resolve the ills that drive the urge to hide and escape?
The fact is, of course, in the end this is not an argument I am going to win. The forces pushing for the acceptance of marijuana as a valid form of EA are growing stronger. They will eventually have their way. I may not agree, and will sometimes give thanks that I won’t be around to see how it ends. 
But then I will pause to remember that my children and grandchildren will be there, dealing with that outcome. It seems that I must pray for their well being and accept what I cannot change. Unless, of course, I choose to pour myself a tall scotch-on-the-rocks and try to forget about it.

So what do you think? I’m guessing that you have an opinion on these matters. I’d like to hear what you think. If you would like to “Comment” feel free to choose “Anonymous” to avoid exposing your personal details. If you are inclined to share this post I hope you will. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Ah, Young Love --- at 81

Enough already! I'm the one who claims to promote ‘thriving in late-life.’ Yet the last few posts have concentrated on my own ‘unthriving.’ It is time for a change, to focus on something more upbeat, yet just as age-appropriate. With that in mind I’ve dusted off an earlier post that I loved the first time around. Surprise---I still do.
                  ~~~
Just imagine the possibilities. What could a storyteller like myself make of it? Former high-school sweethearts, Jack and Betty, are eighty-one years old and about to meet again for the first time in sixty-two years. Months of letters, emails, and phone calls have fanned old feelings, setting the stage for a much anticipated reunion. Now, as we watch, Jack prepares himself for that moment of truth.
Sounds like something beyond October, doesn’t it? Eighty-one has the ring of November. But no matter the label, our friend Jack is awash in anxious ‘schoolboy’ feelings, facing questions he has not asked, or answered, in a very long time. 
I have made the point before. The often-timid fellows who inhabit the pages of my Tanner Chronicle stories are not the torn-shirt, Alpha Males you see on the cover of supermarket paperbacks. In a moment, when you meet Jack, you will know what I mean.
In any case, as his plane descends to the airport where he and Betty are to meet, those questions are growing more urgent by the second. What will she look like? Will he even recognize her? And what will she think when she sees the “him” he has become?
It must be a bit disorienting at that age---the unlikely revival of schoolboy dreams. As silly as it sounds, Jack is caught up in a new and hopeful ‘geriatric adolescence.’ As you watch the video I’ve linked to the end of this post the results may strike you as funny. That’s okay. You’ll notice that he too sees the humor in his dilemma. 
Yet there is no hiding the deep and powerful feelings behind his embarrassed chuckles. From beginning to end his story is a testament to late-life love, with a dose of teenage anxiety thrown in for good measure. Of course, those feelings of his may be over-hopeful---but there is no doubting their reality.
Truth in tell---when I used this clip in a post a couple years ago I was just a kid myself---78 going on 79. Now, with 81 lurking just around the corner, making me nearly as old as Jack and Betty, I am better able to empathize with their situation. In a word, I can ‘relate.‘ Matter of fact, they strike me as a perfect illustration of October Boldness, the willingness to take a chance when the calendar seems to say it is too late. (Apparently that works in November too.)
You can see the questions on the face of our anxious ‘video hero’ as he takes the next timid steps (actually he is in a wheelchair) toward their reunion---fueled by still-powerful recollections of a much earlier time. Sure, he is old enough to realize that every stage of life brings hardship and disappointment. For October and November folks those obstacles come in many forms---infirmity, the painful loss of a loved one, financial setbacks, even relational concerns. Still, though Jack’s limitations are there to be seen, you can tell that he is counting on new, but long-familiar feelings to see him through.
Most of us have known the healing power of loving affirmation. We understand how much we need someone’s special caring when we are tested. That is true at any time of life, but especially in late-life. With its unique challenges, there is no other time of life when the enabling support of love and caring is more important. 
And with that caring support comes its working partner---‘Hope’---the necessary catalyst that makes it all happen. You can hear that in Jack’s story. Whether at eighteen or eighty one, it is those feelings of love  that nurtures hope. Or is it hope that nurtures love? Either way the two go hand in hand---reinforcing each other, impacting what we feel and shaping our perception of what is possible. It’s a reality that I try to capture in my stories---the affirming effects of caring and hope, and how they enable us to keep Becoming in October and beyond.
For the lucky ones among us it’s always been that way---though of course husbands and wives at seventy or eighty are very different persons than they were at twenty or twenty-five. (I think I hear Roma shouting her agreement.) But after a lifetime together we scarcely notice those changes. Why would we? We have made that journey together. More importantly, we remember those years (as well as we remember anything these days) and all those changes through the prism of love.
So, you might ask, what is it that has an old fossil like me carrying on about that sort of kid’s stuff? After all, it was a long time ago---those heady, hormone-driven years. Right? 
So, you might ask, what is it that has an old fossil like me carrying on about that sort of kid’s stuff? After all, it was a long time ago---those heady, hormone-driven years. Right? I hope you will take a couple minutes to watch THIS CLIP. Put yourself in Jack or Betty’s shoes. Realize that as much as some things have changed, the overriding need to care about each other remains. By the end of their story you can tell that both of them understand that.
Finally, if it seems to you this is a message that deserves to be passed on to others, I hope you will consider forwarding it to those who might enjoy hearing the truth to be found in Jack's story.