Resolving The Resolution Thing

It’s been six months of this, I figure.  Half a year.  One-hundred and eighty-two days, more or less, of a ratcheted-up life, expected and still surprising in exactly how busy I’ve been.

Relatively.  For me.  Your busyness may vary.

Filmmaking and baby-making were responsible, not wanting to give short shrift to other factors but not really sure what shrift is.  There are a million metaphors, in fact, from steam building to balls rolling to amps amping to pipers piping, but it was just busy.  I can easily go a calendar year without venturing further than a 30-mile radius from my house, as sad as that sounds, and I probably broke some records this year.  I spent a lovely weekend in Portland with my lovely wife last spring, and some more loveliness a little closer to home in August, not to mention a few hours in the North Cascades in front of a camera, and those are only the sedate highlights.

I also made two trips to Austin and one to Phoenix, perfecting my packing skills and learning to accept my fate: I will be traveling from now on.

On the other hand, so many details have remained the same.  I have a solid hunch that I might be minimally more content if I were 20 pounds lighter, but my weight has stayed exactly the same this past year and I’m generally OK with it.  My income seems on track to be exactly the same, although I’m spending more money (see: Travel).  I’ve learned a few minor skills that involve cooking and photography, but they’re really minor.  Tiny skills about apertures and proper pancakes, but it’s generally been a polishing year, just practicing what I know and knowing that I should practice.

And yet.  Something happened last month that gave me pause, and here it is.

I went to the doctor for a physical, and the message I received was essentially Last year you were really healthy, particularly for a 54-year-old, but in general just really healthy.  This year, somehow, you’re healthier.  This makes no sense but y’know.  I guess just keep doing what you’re doing.

This was sort of a tongue-in-cheek message, since of course there are plenty of unseen age-related health issues that could be forming as I write.  Cells mutating into future malignancy.  Arthritis creeping into once-pristine joints.  Scar tissue forming, arterial sludge building, electrical signals degrading, everything degrading.  This is aging, possible to ignore but not to avoid.

Still.  It made me wonder.  My lifestyle, aside from the busyness (back to that in a sec), has remained static as far as I can see.  My diet hasn’t changed.  My exercise routine hasn’t changed (it’s decreased, in fact, in the past few months, with the travel particularly).  Other than the pancake expertise, I can’t think of any major changes that could account for the health uptick.

Except.  I feel happier.  And so I wonder.

Happiness.  Oh, elusive happiness.  Even contentment has always been a phantom state, appearing in my peripheral vision for a moment and then whisk, gone.  Dissatisfaction isn’t a pathology, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s not as though I’ve been depressed and grumpy my entire life, but lately I’ve been happier and so I wonder about causation and correlation and really spectacular cholesterol levels.

It’s just something to ponder, happiness.  A grandchild has to take some responsibility here, of course.  The generally affirming experience of working on a creative project for most of the summer with young energy everywhere I look also gets a nod.  I can think of other things, if I want to think.

But pulling back to look?  I was busy.  Maybe I shouldn’t be thinking as much as I should be doing.

I don’t do resolutions said everyone always.  We all seem to agree that goals are good, setting and achieving, but we sniff at tying them to the calendar, and hello?  Calendars are what we are, this side of living in a cave and, I dunno, sleeping all the time.

It doesn’t seem much of a secret, but the secret to aging well has always, at least empirically, appeared to me to be change.  As opposed to growing older and sliding over into the slow lane, routine maintenance alone requires more effort.  Everything that shouldn’t stiffen will stiffen with far less downtime than before, and I’m including arteries.  Which are important.

So now I ponder the new calendar year, a completely artificial construct but like that’s news.  Maybe I need to legislate change, codify it, write it down and say I’m going to do it, and then do it.  Maybe I need some real New Year’s resolutions this time.

And maybe I need them because I need to keep moving, and because it worked so well last year.  Because it would be fun next November to have another good physical exam and lab work.  Because getting away with my wife for the occasional weekend takes some stamina and planning.  Because this film will be released in the spring or early summer and it’d be fun to say yeah, the hardest part was gaining 20 pounds so I looked a little older than I am.  Because I haven’t done push-ups in a few years and I used to feel really good when I did push-ups.

Because change for change’s sake isn’t a bad idea at all, but change for the sake of improving the quality of life is an attractive goal, and I’m attracted.

So, maybe.  I’ve got three days off this coming weekend, with a quiet house as the reverend heads to Grandson Land, so it’s time for cleaning and straightening and maybe thinking about this next year.  Maybe documenting it, too.  But definitely thinking about doing, which will require examining what I’ve done and where I can improve, which means sort of a confessional experience, which is, as it turns out, the definition, archaic as it is, of shrift.  Let me not short it, then.

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A Dangling Preposition

“Middle age” is a Potter Stewart condition, mushy in terms of definition but knowable when seeable.  Or feelable.

(Potter Stewart was the Supreme Court Justice who said that hard-core pornography was hard to define but “I know it when I see it,” thereby providing lazy writers with a pocket metaphor. Much appreciated.)

At least for the Brits, or at least some of them, the ones who knew a survey when they saw it and took it.  Beneden Health conducted this sampling of 2000 adults with accents and came to this conclusion, although nobody is surprised.  Middle age is a concept ripe for denial; like the existence of God or most roughing the passer penalties, everybody has a take and they know they’re right.

I specifically remember someone calling me on my own personal definition a couple of years ago, in fact, teasing me a little about referring to myself as middle-aged.  So screw you, buddy; it turns out a majority of the Queen’s loyal subjects think you enter this phase at around 53, which MAKES ME EXACTLY RIGHT.

I mean.  It doesn’t mean the numerical middle of your life, we all know that, right?  It’s a stage and a state of mind, a biological but mostly philosophical purgatory where we review our exaggerated youth and wait for joint replacements.  Where we’re not there yet, which is all it is.  Not there yet.  Middle age.  I know it, I see it, I am it.

What made the survey interesting to me, though, was the nice listicle-like finish to the piece, a top 40 of the signs and symptoms of The Beginning of the End (look, I used “listicle” in a sentence, only slightly inappropriately!  I am so not old).

Looking this over, as I did sort of obsessively, it seems the Brits are pretty much like Americans, except for the expected vocabulary oddities that don’t cross the water, and a few references (“listening to the Archers” is a sign of middle age.  Good to know).  And I admit that “flogging the car” threw me at first.  But hey.  I like it.  “Gonna flog the car this weekend” is now just waiting for an opportunity.

And while attitudes and tastes about music showed up several times, I have no such attitudes or tastes with which to compare.  Seriously.  Even when I was a kid, I was only barely aware of what the kids were listening to.  Even when I was a DJ at my college radio station, I sometimes took a song request and then had to ask somebody else.  I’ve always been a little neutral with music.

But I was surprised to see technology only show up once, albeit in the top spot.  I can’t think of anything driving the zeitgeist in our time more than technology.  And I think about stuff all the time.

It comes up because I’m heading out to lunch today with a couple of guys my age who hold different places on the technology ladder, although more in a horizontal sense than vertical (they’re aware of what’s there, just don’t have the need or desire).

I compare them to people I know who are slightly to more than slightly older than I am, half to two-thirds of a generation ahead.  An aunt of mine at my niece’s wedding last month asked about my grandson and assumed I had “a whole stack” of pictures somehow miraculously stashed inside the pocket of my JC Penney sport coat, and then backed off when she saw me pull out my phone (“Oh, you have them on…”, trailing off exactly like that, a dangling preposition that told the whole story).  These are people who have reluctantly agreed that yup, a cell phone might, on certain special occasions, come in handy, but they tend to carry the latest 2002 model and they treat it as we used to treat long-distance calling in my childhood: Only when absolutely necessary.

And they certainly view it as a phone and a phone only,  just a portable version of that old reliable.  Last week, in fact, having coffee with a couple of guys who (with their phones) match this description, I pulled my iPhone out on several occasions and they both asked me – NOT JOKING AT ALL – if it was the same phone.  Which makes sense, really, given that I was demonstrating different functions and moving fast, slipping it in and out of view like either Penn or Teller (whichever one you like more), but even a couple of smart and savvy guys like this can’t fall behind the technology curve and ever hope to catch up.

So this is a sign, and I know it’s coming.  I’m currently caught up, I think, but it’s heading my way.  One day soon something new will show up and I just. Won’t. Do it.  I’ll realize my comfort in obsolescence, and while I might pretend to be just “retro” we all know that it means I’ll just not want to learn anything new anymore.

And then I’ll be middle-aged, truly.  And middle age is the new old age, and so on.  Looking forward to lunch with my friends, at any rate.  I’ve got pictures to show them, after all, and if they’re surprised by my phone, then, well.  I know old guys when I see them, and look, nothing up my sleeve.

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Seasonal Thoughts

In the summer of 2010, while my wife was out visiting family in Texas, I took a look at a small savings account I’d created on a whim, and decided it was too full.

So John and I went to Best Buy and came out, and came home eventually, after some serious negotiating with our backseat, with a new TV.  Not the one I went looking for.  A better one.  Less expensive and still better, just having the good fortune to go screen shopping on the day of a big sale, and I was glad to do it.

One of the myths I tell myself about that summer was that I bought this new TV to entertain my wife during her recovery from brain surgery, but you know that’s false.  Brain surgery wasn’t in the picture back then, not even a hint.  Whatever was going on with her vision was ominous and scary, but neither of us was thinking tumor.

And it turned out she mostly did crossword puzzles while she recuperated, and she didn’t recuperate for long.  She was teaching in two weeks or so, something she shakes her head about now but who knew?  She just wanted the pesky tumor gone before the fall semester got fired up.

The tumor is not gone, by the way.  The recent MRI, report of which sits on the kitchen counter, is pretty clear about this.

And had I known about MRIs, about how many she would undergo over the next three-plus years, and about how much they cost when no one will sell you health insurance, I might have saved myself a few hundred bucks, all things considered.

The TV still looks good, though.  It’s a 44-inch plasma, with still bright colors and sharp contrasts and all that good stuff, which makes sense considering it’s essentially still brand new.  We just don’t watch.  Most of its hours on, I imagine, have been spent when John gets bored and hooks a video game console to it, or else has a friend over to watch videos.  I’m eyeballing it at maybe averaging 40 hours on.  Per year.  And that may be high.

Most of those hours lately have been devoted to professional football.  The local team has been getting progressively competitive for the past couple of years, and they look to have a quarterback for the books.  Young but composed, polite, respectful, aggressive, mobile, very talented.  You need a guy like that.

And a beast of a running back, and an amazing defense, and surprises, etc.  This is how these things work.

This is how we work, too: After growing up in families and with tendencies  ourselves that created football-watching compulsiveness, my wife and I both drifted away.  JK went through a period when she experimented with spectator sports of all stripes, figure skating, bull riding, that Canadian thing, but mostly we watched baseball and were OK with that.  Baseball is easy watching; you don’t really even have to watch.  You can listen.

After baseball, though, most other sports seem sort of ugly.  Football, in particular, feels brash and really violent, although we’re both still drawn to spectacular plays with appropriate gasps and screaming.  And of course it’s fun to hang our hats on community passion, something that everyone is talking about, so if we’re fair-weather fans what of it?  Nobody’s business but ours.

Still, I’ve had the awkward feeling these past few months that there was a good reason I stopped watching football.  It feels too important, 16 games spread thickly over 17 weeks, and each loss and win takes on seven days’ worth of oppressive passion.  When I find myself reliving Sunday’s game on Thursday morning, I’ve entered a frame of mind I’d rather exit.  There are too many other things.

Add to this the almost-daily noise about the miserable lives of former football players, the brain damage and other health issues, and my ethical side (which is pragmatic, for sure, sometimes) starts to jerk me around a little.  My small fanboy status perpetuates this massive industry that doesn’t want to look at the consequences, at least on a tiny level.  Stopping watching won’t change any of this, but it might make me feel better.

So I wonder if this is the last year, and I can reclaim some Sundays following the first week of February.  I’d like to think so, actually.  But yeah.  Go Hawks.

———-

A high school friend of Beth’s stopped by yesterday with sugar, all wrapped up in cupcakes and cookies but I have a good eye: I know it’s sugar.  And I know what time of year it is.

We had a nice visit, though, and talked about baking compulsions when the days are incredibly short (dark at 4:15pm now) and the background music is of a particular sort.  I’ve got the compulsion myself.  And other, darker compulsions, most of them involving my hands and my mouth.

You just want to give up, right?  Just call it Christmas and eat it, promise yourself to do better, and I’m completely on board with this philosophy, but still I try.  Her two boxes of goodness were locked in with Scotch tape (my nemesis, for unknown reasons) so I had a good excuse to look and not snack, but you know I will.

On the other hand, I read a review of a pedometer app for my iPhone 5s, which has this fancy new motion sensing capability, making exercise tracking even better.  I don’t need any new apps, since Runkeeper watches when and where I walk, and I really don’t actually get the point of pedometers (what do steps really mean, in the big picture?  Calories burned, sure.  Miles walked or pedaled, absolutely.  Time spent, I got that.  But steps?  What’s good?  And baby steps or giant steps?), but it was free and runs in the background.  Since I tend to keep my phone in a pocket at all times, just in case I get a text message that must be read RIGHT NOW, I gave it a shot, and also tested it on a walk yesterday.  Pretty good; matched closely with what Runkeeper (and just an ordinary map) told me in terms of distance.

And it clicks away constantly, regardless of my inattention.  So when the Seahawks game came on Sunday morning, I stayed home from church but felt guilty.  Instead of sitting in front of the screen, then, I kept it going and cleaned, cooked, scrubbed, and apparently walked 1.2 miles over the course of the game.  Which is better than brain damage, and safer than sugar, although the season is still young.  Too young.  And Scotch tape is manageable.

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For Dad, On His 77th Birthday

An outdoor wedding in November is a risky proposition, even in Scottsdale, but it went off smoothly, a couple of puffy clouds in the sky, temperature in the 70s.  My niece and her new husband glowed, surrounded by family and friends, the way weddings are supposed to surround us.

There was a cocktail party on the roof of the hotel following the ceremony, prior to the dinner and reception, and I wandered around, taking a million pictures with my phone, looking for Instagram glory, not having much to do.  Just a million throw-away shots, nothing remarkable at all, just a collection of faces and cityscape, and now when I skip through them, remembering, that’s where I spot you.

Talking with Ben.  Arm around Berg.  Teasing Brendan.  Chatting up the bartender.  Gazing out over the Valley of the Sun, the city you lived in and worked in for so long.  You can probably spot favorite bars from the roof, even on the east side.

You look pretty much the way you did four years earlier, at Beth’s wedding in Santa Fe.  Scotch in hand, smiling, enjoying the excitement and the young energy, the event, the family.  You had them all together in 2005, at your 50th anniversary party, but it was always nice to see them in one place, as scattered as they are.  Time to refill that Scotch.

I can’t give you a cigarette to smoke.  The cigarettes killed you, sorry.  You knew they would, one way or another, but in order to make this counterfactual work I have to take that one bit of you away.  You remember that time in 1981 when you got so sick, when your epiglottis swelled and they put you in ICU, a trach kit by the bedside?  I’ve decided that’s when you quit.  Thirty years was enough, you figured, and nobody wants a tracheostomy.  So you stopped then, at 44.  Let’s just say.

But hey, look at this.  You got another 30 years to play with, along with 7 grandkids and a couple of great-grands just to point out that time doesn’t mess around.  I’m already prodding you to take a road trip to Austin to see August Bix Beauchamp.  It’s time for your special gift, I say, tightening the nut, and tell the story again, about how you came up to Seattle to see Beth when she was three months old, and it was you, playing with her on the floor, who provoked her first giggle.

“Your grandpa taught you to laugh,” I told her, years later.  She learned well, too.  That, and how to appreciate good Scotch, something that baffles you but makes you giggle a little, too.

So you need to get to Texas and teach her son how to laugh, I say.  It’s up to you, and you sneer a little but I know you’ll do it, and soon.

And I’ll call you later today, your 77th birthday.  We’ll talk about how well my Seahawks are doing, but how your Cardinals aren’t out of the picture yet.  You’ll gripe a little about how much time Mom spends on her iPad, but I know your secret (you use it too).  You’ll give me some shit about something or other, and I’ll take it, recognizing the strands of truth in what you say, and then I’ll hang up and Julie and John will want to know what I was doing, and I’ll just say, “Talking to my dad,” and life will go on.

It will.  It has.  I’m sorry you missed these past 10 years, although that’s a tricky sorrow, leveraged with fantasy, the kind that invites wallowing and I don’t do that anymore, not really.  I’m pretty firmly stuck in the present these days, and I like where I am.  I don’t regret the past, nor wish to close the door on it, things I learned the hard way but at least I learned.

I just wanted to say happy birthday, I guess, and how funny it is that I look at pictures of my happy family, and I see you in them, and how of course you are.

 

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Shivering Our Timbers

I think we should took take advantage of the situation and rejoice in our brief, rare moment of unity, one nation, under God, indivisible, all of us very cold.

The Arctic air that snuck across the border undetected and now is about to unleash something that looks suspiciously like winter on most of the country is actually old news where I live.  We’ve been in the 20s since the beginning of the week, although it’s been clear and sunny.  Cabin fever isn’t a problem, then, since we’re naturally drawn outside because of the sunshine and then we just freeze in place until somebody pours hot water over us.

It’s not that cold, either.  I’ve missed some transitions here, having spent a fair amount of time elsewhere since late September, but I’ve got a weather widget on my desktop and I’ve seen relatively few numbers below 40 so far this fall, and now wham.  So, 22 degrees feels colder than it is.  It looks colder.

———-

I had my annual physical exam a couple of weeks ago, and mentioned to my doctor that it had been a pretty unremarkable year,   health-wise.  “I’m not sure I even had a cold,” I said, and immediately regretted it.  First, who remembers colds?  And second, I know enough about modern medicine to understand that the Health Gods punish mortals who get cocky.

So it feels like I have a cold today.  Just a tiny cold.  Nose a little stuffy.  Could just be the heaters all going full blast, stirring up dust.  I feel fine.  Just a couple of sneezes first thing this morning.

But there’s the real sense that I was tempting something by being stupid enough to think that at this advanced age, I’ve developed a super immune system because of regular exercise and overall goodness.  I feel vulnerable, suddenly, and I feel as though I deserve what’s coming.  If it comes.  As I say, I feel fine.

Now somebody pour hot water over me.  I’m starting to get self conscious standing here.

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I’m Not Ignoring This Blog

Just taking a breath.  Seems like my life has been turned upside down in a good way these past few months, and sometimes it’s enough just to get done what I can.  But I feel as though I’m gearing up for another marathon, maybe a solid calendar year of daily posts.  Aren’t we all excited.

In the meantime, this week’s column is now up, in which I talk about dirty pictures and how I should avoid posing for them.  Good advice, I think, for all of us.

And while at my age, any number of youthful indiscretions can still linger on in the form of interest rates, dry rot or scary chest X-rays, what I share with younger generations is that moments of bad judgment can often be preserved forever in a single photograph.

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