A Blogger’s Life

I’m about to write my 800th newspaper column. Or I wrote it a few days ago. I don’t really keep track.

It just occurred to me. Just eyeballing my history, roughly estimating. Guessing, although with some solid numbers.

Sixteen years of this, or close enough. Averaging 51 times a year (not really accurate; most of my missed columns came during a short sabbatical), and let’s say 850 words per, brings us close to 700,000 words published, printed, maybe read. That’s not counting guest op-eds and other writing, but the weekly column is the bulk.

For some perspective, that’s the equivalent of about 10 middling-length novels. Or one 25,000-page one. This covers multiple newspapers, but all owned by the same parent company, and none of them rocking the country. Just small papers, appreciated and supported by communities who want to hear about city council meetings and high school sports, and sometimes me. Small fish, small pond.

Here’s why numbers are on my mind: That 700,000 figure has to be dwarfed by blogging.

I started a blog 14 years ago, just on a whim. I’d been reading blogs for a couple of years, proto-blogs really, back when the term was creeping into conversation but not in a clear way. Mostly it was where the kids played, on Diaryland or LiveJournal or, eventually, Blogger.

But a writer friend suggested that it might be useful, and it turned out I had a lot to say. So I blogged and kept blogging, often cross-pollinating the column and blog, working out ideas, capturing stray phrases. It was writing gym, and I can’t begin to count the words.

My first blog has disappeared from all but The Wayback Machine, and at some point I’d gone back and deleted a bunch of posts. Since 2007, I’ve been writing at my own site, sometimes surpassing that 850-word mark every day for weeks, sometimes letting the whole thing slide back into cobwebs. Twice as many words total? Three times? No idea. There might be a couple of million words there, sent out into the world as spontaneous bursts of consciousness, written fast and published immediately. A couple of million at least, I think.

There’s nothing prolific about this, or nothing worth remarking on. Lots of people write as many words over the same period of time and never think of themselves as writers. Just emailers, report assemblers, relentless tweeters and texters. Not much to see here, in other words.

Still, I’ve spent the past week, from time to time, rereading out of some necessity and mostly curiosity. I’m about to move my website from one host to another, and taking advantage of this to rework everything. Since my current site holds 10 years’ worth of writing, a lot of it daily, I’d prefer not to lose that stuff. Then again, it’s not like someone will go back and read a couple of thousand posts. I just wanted to preserve the moments somehow, and since there were some technical problems involved in backing up the entire installation and copying it over, I settled on just saving it.

In the process, though, I ended up rereading quite a bit. Quite a bit.

One of the most influential books in my young life was “The Actor’s Life” by Charlton Heston. I wasn’t a huge Heston fan by any means, although he was hard to avoid. This book, though, was a collection of his journal entries over a couple of decades, from the mid-1950s to the mid-70s. To a teenager interested in acting, it was a gold mine of anecdotal time capsules, with plenty of films and screen icons making appearances.

It was Heston’s realization, on rereading all these old entries, that has never left me, though. His epiphany was obvious but important: It didn’t happen the way you remember.

Spot-reading my way through blog posts and columns, I hear this loud and clear. I found myself surprised on several occasions, my words from the past correcting my recollections.

I guess I’d suggest this practice—journaling or blogging or really whatever preserves the moment—to anyone, although “better late than never” is an interesting concept to me, right now. Some things are just late, and their relative utility diminishes.

So, maybe I’ll just stick to me. I’m glad I did it, glad I have it, and not sure what use it might be to anyone else, but I definitely own it.

And over the next week, I’ll own a new site. If you’re a regular blog reader of mine, be aware that you might have to adjust your bookmarks (just head to chucksigars.com and you’ll find it). Also make sure your tray table is locked, and that your seats are in a fully upright position. Might be bumpy.

 

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Sam

Sam Elliott and Laura Prepon in “The Hero”

First things first: Sam Elliott is not an icon, or an archetype, or a legend. You can make a case for all three, depending on the level of affection you have, but Sam Elliott is an actor. Wanted to be an actor, became an actor, stays an actor. He’s made a career out of it.

I feel obliged to note the distinction, if only to point out the obvious: He wasn’t born with that moustache. The now-famous Sam Elliott Cameo (see: The Big Lebowski, Up In The Air, Thank You For Smoking, etc.) created this contemporary Remington portrait of an American…something, I dunno. But whenever they haul Sam out for one of these moments—and they’re usually pretty effective moments—they slap another coat of paint on the statue, and I think it’s a shame.

I’m not saying he’s one of our best actors. I don’t think he is. But I think he’s a better actor than this iconic crap allows for, so I was glad to see “The Hero” get made. Somebody thought Sam deserved his very own movie, and about time.

Somebody was writer-director Brett Haley, who had cast Elliott in his 2015 feature, “I’ll See You in My Dreams.” Traveling together with Sam to do promotion for that film, Haley and Elliott developed a closer relationship and “The Hero” eventually came out of that.

Sam Elliott has taken some pains recently to point out that he’s not playing himself. The film is about an aging actor, Lee Hayden, who’s been plugging away for 50 years. He’s been working, hard enough for any actor, although his best role is decades in the past, and he mostly seems to do voiceover work, smoke weed, drink bourbon, and watch Buster Keaton movies with an old friend (Nick Offerman, who has some nice moments). He’s divorced and semi-estranged from his daughter, and early in the movie he’s given an ominous cancer diagnosis. Life has been a disappointment, we get it.

As Elliott notes, he’s been married for decades, he has a great relationship with his own daughter, and, as we can see, his career seems to be just fine. He’s got a Netflix series (The Ranch) and a new movie in the works (A Star Is Born, playing the manager to Bradley Cooper’s doomed musician).

I saw “The Hero” yesterday, noticing that it appeared to be on its way out of town after a week or so in theaters. What can I say? I like Sam.

I just don’t like the movie that much. Again, I’m glad to see him get a star turn, and he does some good work, but this film feels like it was written in a week. What seems to want to be a character study ends up swamped by its own sentimentality and just dumb ideas. Recurring dream sequences are occasionally visually striking but irrelevant and, again, dumb. As is a mid-movie set piece, a hokey awards ceremony in which Lee Hayden makes a grand gesture that, honestly, I’d like someone to explain to me. Using small words.

And cancer. Don’t forget.

It’s not a horrible movie, not at all. It’s just an aim and miss. Kind of dull. Nice to see Sam. That kind of movie.

And it’s nice that it exists, if only to give us a solid dose of Sam Elliott. We also get to see his wife of 35 years, Katharine Ross (playing his ex-wife in the film), although she’s on screen for maybe a total of 45 seconds and her only direction, apparently, was to frown a lot.

Offerman manages to play a drug dealer and still come across as he usually does, a well of common sense and wisdom about ordinary things. Laura Prepon is physically striking (those eyes) and has her moments, although she’s burdened with character traits that feel tacked on (she likes older men! She takes a lot of drugs! She’s a STANDUP COMIC!).

Krysten Ritter, the fine actress playing Sam’s daughter, is also handcuffed to a couple of facial expressions, none of which are all that flattering.

I searched through reviews of “The Hero” last night, wondering if I was just in a mood. Aside from an odd Rolling Stone review that was of the “mark your Oscar ballots now!” variety (not likely), I got a strong sense that critics were being gentle because, you know. Sam. “Rising above the sometimes weak material” and so on. Again, it’s just nice to see him get the screen time.

“The Hero” runs two hours, and I can’t think of a scene that doesn’t include Elliott. That’s a lot of Sam, and at age 72 there’s no movie magic. He’s a wiry, ropey senior citizen with decades etched into his skin, the years rumbling from his vocal cords, every bass note drawled out under that impressive facial hair. You can’t miss the drawl, an echo of his Texas roots.

Except he doesn’t really have Texas roots. He’s a California boy, born and bred, working his way up and down the west coast over the years but not straying east (and south) except for roles. That drawl? He’s an actor, folks. He appropriated it, and good for him. It’s a nice fit.

It also allows us to remember that this has been a long haul. He began acting in his 20s, leading-man looks getting him plenty of work, and eventually found a career. If we can all, maybe, remember specific roles that we can’t seem to forget (for me, it was his laconic, existentially challenged lifeguard in “Lifeguard” in 1976), it might be easy to forget the “working” part of working actor. He’s done a lot, and he’s a better actor for it.

I just wish he’d been given a better movie to act in. Haley’s other film, “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” is a much better movie, and allows Elliott to slip in and out of the story with ease while Blythe Danner does the heavy lifting (this one is definitely worth your time, if you can find it, although some of the same problems show up).

And I’m not discouraging you from seeing “The Hero,” or I don’t want to, anyway. I found it a little slow; your results may vary. If you want to catch it in a theater, you might want to hurry.

Sometimes good ideas don’t work out as well as we might hope, that’s all. I’m pretty sure Sam Elliott has that figured out by now. The dude knows how to abide.

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Six Years Wide

I got a text message, six years ago. It was late and I was already in bed, exhausted by a day of bad news. By months of bad news, actually, crawling and lurching its way into our reality until it never left us. It never does, it turns out.

And on July 6, 2011, we reached the peak, where it was easy to look back. In August 2010, my wife’s long struggle with her eyesight, with headaches, with word-finding difficulties, with all sorts of oddities had become understandable: She had a brain tumor, and she needed to get rid of it. The next few months would all be about this, surgery and recovery and adjustments.

In the spring of 2011, demonstrating technique to a young singer, my wife suddenly had pain. The next day she couldn’t climb stairs, and so on. We added a heart attack to her medical history, then, and there would eventually be anticoagulation and stent placement, and recovery from that.

While she was being worked up, routine mammograms detected what we thought were probably calcifications in both breasts. We thought wrong, and so the specialists talked to each other and juggled treatments, needing to keep her blood thin to treat her cardiac condition and yet needing to do a biopsy. It was tricky, and took weeks of waiting, but a biopsy was eventually done.

We sat down together, at home, that July 6, and listened to her doctor on speakerphone. This was a strange throwback; this physician was actually my first doctor on moving to Seattle. I remember bringing my infant daughter with me for an appointment, and my doctor coming out to the waiting room to admire this beautiful baby.

Now my daughter was 26, living in Texas and waiting by the phone, as we were. This doctor was calm and measured, describing the cancer that had invaded my wife, explaining that it was early and treatable.

But, again: We’d been climbing this mountain for a while.

I posted a cryptic Facebook message, then we headed out to a long-scheduled picnic. I baked a couple of pies, nothing new but now I wonder. Have I made a pie since then? Funny what you think about.

This is old news, of course. I wrote a book about these years, about how one goes about negotiating with dispassionate fate. No one to blame, nothing to attack. Bad stuff happens. Occasionally it keeps happening.

And six years is nothing. I know all about that July, and how July bucked us up. It’s our beginning of summer up here, and the sunshine and warmth buoyed us, a little. As did love and friendship and good surgeons, whose care was personal and kind. And expensive, although by then the costs had faded into fatalism. We were spared bankruptcy, but not going broke. If you can appreciate the distinction. It wasn’t a great time of life to go broke, but tell me about a better time.

This text message, though. I’ve discovered an intimacy to this, a few words that travel a thousand miles and nudge me in bed, keep me from dreaming for a moment while I read. It was from an old friend, just getting around to Facebook. She thought she knew what my comment was about. She wanted to touch us, comfort us, rail against the universe with us. It was a kindness.

People mostly didn’t know what to say. Mostly, they just showed up, and most of that was a digital presence, opening my eyes to the ways of the world. Proximity is nice, but long-distance love is still a pretty sweet deal if you can get it.

So love was good. Support was good. And time, ultimately, was good. The five-year mark has come and gone. Chemotherapy is over, and my wife counts fewer pills these days. Her routine appointments in three specialties have spread out a bit.

Live long enough and tragedy will sharpen its outline. You’ll see it when it happens, and understand that it happens all the time, to everyone. I have nothing new to add. Two months after the cancer diagnosis, our beloved pet, Strider, left us. My wife’s father died in 2012. The love of our lives, our grandson, was rushed to the hospital in diabetic ketoacidosis, changing everything. These moments come and go, the devil being in the details but the details keep changing. It’s just life, and it happens to all of us.

Six years later? I’ll stick with my thought from that particular summer. If the sea is so big and your boat is so small, prayer is good, friends are good. Love is good.

But maybe you need to get a bigger boat. Ours is six years wide now. We know every inch, and we know that ultimately we are not the captains. The sea will never give us a break. It’s beautiful to look at, though.

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Sam the Man

I noticed a typo in this week’s column just now, something I first assumed was an editor’s error. Surely I wouldn’t write “Alex” Baldwin. I’m pretty familiar with Alec Baldwin.

But it turned out to be all on me, for some strange reason. Maybe a suggestion from spellcheck, but as I typed it right now I noticed my fingers automatically hitting the “x” and not the “c,” and again right this second. Go figure.

Here’s the column, anyway. No surprises, I would think.

What did surprise me was I’ll See You in My Dreams. But first a word about podcasts.

I’ve been listening to pods for over 10 years. The first was the Slate Political Gabfest, but as various radio shows started offering episodes in a podcast format I gathered quite a few.

The problem with listening, for me, is that I have to be moving. I have no patience for sitting and listening, and probably because I’ve been walking and listening forever. And since my walking has been pretty light this winter and spring, I’m left with listening while working around the house. This summer should explode my opportunities, but meanwhile I try to be selective, given that I only seem to find a few hours a week when my legs are moving consistently.

I end up picking and choosing, then, based on topic or subject interviewed. Occasionally I’ll subscribe to a new pod just because I want to hear a particular episode, sometimes keeping it around and sometimes jettisoning them quickly.

I saw a short one that interested me the other day, although I doubt I’ll continue to listen. Too much to do, too little interest. But Sam Elliott? I’ll listen.

It was a nice interview, and surprising in what it covered considering that Sam tends to speak slowly. You think? He was promoting his new film, The Hero, written with him in mind and apparently a gift for all of us.

He mentioned another film, though, by the “Hero” writer/director, Brett Haley, and that was I’ll See You In My Dreams. I was a little intrigued, and found it streaming on Amazon Prime. Stream away, then.

Sam Elliott is a good actor. He’s appeared in nearly 100 films over nearly 50 years, and a slew of television. His voice is everywhere, as is his moustache (favorite reference is in Grace & Frankie, when Sam Waterston says, “There are only 10 men in the world who can pull off that moustache, and he’s nine of them”).

He’s not my favorite, or close to it, but when he appears my eyes are drawn to the screen and pretty much stay there. I was ready for as much Sam as I could get.

The movie stars Blythe Danner (and ditto for her; always a treat, a reminder of what a special actress she’s always been and getting a little Meet the Fockers taste out of my mouth) as Carol Peterson, a southern California woman in her early 70s (just taking a guess here; the chronology of this character is confusing). A former jazz singer and then teacher, she’s now comfortably retired on her husband’s life insurance, a small benefit from being widowed, suddenly and tragically, 20 years before. She lives quietly in a nice, unremarkable house, alone but for her dog, Hazel; an apparently slow, a little dull and fully predictable life.

And she’s lonely, especially after her beloved Hazel dies after 14 years. She strikes up an unusual friendship with the guy who comes to clean her pool, played by Martin Starr in really the key characterization of the film. Without Starr, it’s a soap opera. With him, there are enough crackling elements to keep my eyes from glazing a bit.

The soap opera is still there. The film is clear-eyed about mortality, and death shows up in various forms (both past and present) to remind us in case we forget. YOLO and all that, we get it.

Sam Elliott murmurs, “Bittersweet” at one point, in the middle of a master class on how to listen supportively while male. It’s a bit much, and hamstrings Elliott’s wry side, but that’s the word. It’s a bittersweet story, saved by the actors from a snoozy fate.

I enjoyed it, even as I turned it off three-quarters through and only finished a couple of hours later, feeling incomplete (didn’t help that I looked the film up before I watched and so got the big plot points ahead of time). Danner was a joy to watch, Starr was amazing, and the supporting cast all got their moments, particularly Mary Kay Place, who shows up in these things playing a woman of a certain age and always seems 20 years younger than she’s supposed to be.

As does Ms. Danner, who does get a chance to play with wry. This is a showcase for her and she elevates the film with just her presence, allowing us to understand how baffling aging can be to someone standing still for 20 years.

It’s not so much a showcase for Sam, although if you like watching him you won’t be disappointed. If we share the skepticism of Carol, who more than once questions his lack of romantic partners (this guy should be swarmed wherever he goes), his character is grounded and wise. His initial appearances belie the character we’d come to know, but why say more? If you like Sam Elliott, and I’m not sure we have anything to talk about if you don’t, you’ll want to watch I’ll See You in My Dreams.

Keep an eye out for Martin Starr, too. He’s done a lot over the past decade, from Party Down to Adventureland to his current Silicon Valley role. This helps explain why.

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The Very First Amendment

My cell phone carrier is Verizon. I’ve been a customer since forever, long enough to shock a young employee there, which has happened more than once.

I don’t know much about Verizon. I’m sure at least a few of their corporate policies I would find objectionable in the abstract, by which I mean I don’t really care. Companies of this size aren’t likely to institutionalize blatantly controversial behaviors; their scope is too big, and they want it to be bigger. If anything, they seem more likely to have progressive, inclusive attitudes when it comes to social hot-button issues, if maybe for cynical reasons.

And if I do find something so objectionable that I don’t want to be associated with them, I’ll go to Sprint or somewhere similar, although I doubt there’s a flawless competitor. Sometimes you live to fight another day.

I have no problems with boycotts and protests. If you don’t like Verizon and want to march outside or organize a campaign, more power to you. We don’t truly have a free market, and we tolerate near-monopolies because it’s convenient or necessary, but hey, power to the people. I’ve got your back.

Kathy Griffin, whose humor doesn’t particularly appeal to me, was much easier to attack than a telecommunications company. And that’s the way the market works, too. Go too far and risk losing everything; risk, in some fields, is your business. Not losing any sleep here over Kathy Griffin.

Nor over Julius Caesar, which has prompted a backlash based, apparently, on less than a working knowledge of the play, or its history (it’s always been the most modern of Shakespeare’s plays to my eye, ripe for translation to current events without much stretching). A Trump-like character as Caesar (who, good grief, is the good guy) probably works as well as the ones with an Obama-like character or a Hillary-like one. Don’t care for the controversy? Pull your sponsorship, don’t buy tickets, protest…do it, fine. Seems awfully misguided to me, but fine.

And now Alex Jones and Megyn Kelly. I am a completely uninterested spectator, not being a TV watcher or a Kelly fan, but I suppose if you object to this then your recourse is pretty obvious. And if you can’t bring yourself to just not watch it, then boycott or whatever away.

What bothers me about all of these situations, but particularly the last, is the notion that some things should not be seen. Alex Jones is some sort of low-level monster, I have no doubt. And his listeners are active participants in his monstrosity.

And I completely understand the Sandy Hook families being outraged at any media attention given this jerk. I understand everything. Go for it.

But don’t tell me that some people are so reprehensible that journalists should just not ask them questions. Don’t tell me we shouldn’t lift up the rock to see what lives underneath. I want to know what’s under the rock. Megyn Kelly aside (I have no real sense of her integrity), interviewing awful people has been a mainstay of journalism, and I think a civic responsibility. Don’t watch, of course. Write letters, organize a boycott, sure. It’s a consumer world, and a particular network news department is in the business of profits, so.

But please don’t tell me that we should be spared mean words from an asshole. Shine that light, shine it brightly, see the cockroaches scatter, etc.

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After The Fall

On August 25, 2007, I decided to make chili. I thought I had all the ingredients I needed, but it turned out I was missing an onion, so I made a quick trip to the store for that one item.

I remember this because it was supposed to be a special day, and it was. It was the one-year anniversary of my first day in a loooong time without drinking, and while that particular day doesn’t mean a lot to me in general, the first year felt special. It felt like chili, at least.

So I grabbed my onion from the bin and headed to checkout, but first I had to turn a corner. Where someone had conveniently left one of those plastic shopping baskets, on the floor, hidden from view until a guy with an onion turned the corner and hit it with his foot.

Many things happened, none of which are hard to imagine. I was at the time over 260 pounds, a roly-poly guy, and gravity was not in a mood to negotiate. My foot got tangled, I tried to compensate, I failed, and the fat guy took a spill in the grocery store.

It turned out OK. I filed a report with the store manager, just in case, but I had a bruise and some sore muscles, all of which were minor and didn’t require medical attention. It was just a fall, awkward and embarrassing but ultimately not worth remembering.

But the day, and the chili, and so on. I remember, although I hadn’t thought of it in years. Since I didn’t know at the time if I’d injured myself in a significant but as-yet-unknown way, I remember thinking that security camera footage would be interesting. I assumed there was such a thing. I’m pretty sure there was.

I just don’t know if there still is. Not worth mentioning except I had a thought: What if it turned out to be actually a funny video? One that some security person clipped and saved, to share with friends? I’d probably watch it. No harm done, and who can resist a fat man falling?

It just struck me today as an interesting visual aid to the future. Here I was, marking a year of better health, better everything (except waistline; I’d gained about 30 pounds that summer), and fate and chance were letting me know the path ahead wasn’t necessarily going to be smooth.

I’d have a good year after that, lots of movement, fortifying myself (I think, now) for the rockiness that would soon come. And in 2010, my wife was diagnosed with a brain tumor and we were off to the races. No health insurance, looming brain surgery and multiple MRIs, and of course the heart attack and breast cancer to follow. Rockier, as I said.

So it makes sense that my first mention in this blog about a water line leak was that summer, the summer when money started disappearing and never came back. That helps explain, at least to me, why I kept kicking the can down the road, fixing leaks every couple of years, knowing that line was crumbling but seeing no way I could to afford to replace it.

Yesterday it got replaced, anyway. It was anticlimactic, thanks to technology. A new generation of PVC-like material produced a pipe that can be shoved underground with a bore and delivered, without additional fittings in the middle, the 190 feet from the street to my house, under my neighbor’s yard, driveway, and fence. Not even a ripple in the sod. It took about six hours, start to finish, including cutting out a square of concrete in my garage.

The water seems and tastes cleaner; hard to say what’s my imagination and what’s real about that. I’ve got water, though, and went another $8500 in debt, a drop in the bucket but a drop that I have to think about.

And what I think is this: I don’t think God, or the universe in general, is picking on me. Water lines break. Unexpected expenses are part of owning a house. The piper eventually needs to get paid, and so on.

I’m left, then, with gratitude that my wife is alive. I’ll pay for that.

Just a bruise.
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Not A Drop

Starting in the late ‘70s and lingering through the early 1990s, developers began using a new kind of PVC-ish material for water lines up here in my area, inexpensive and supposedly more durable. Although you had them at inexpensive, I’m sure.

And, it turned out that, no. After a while, this blue poly vinyl crap (actual name, I believe) begins to crack, which is never a good thing in water lines. There was a class-action lawsuit, etc. I had no idea about any of this.

Until a few years ago, some 20-odd years since installation, when my neighbor (downhill from me) started complaining about a soggy lawn. I dug a big hole and a plumber eventually stopped by and fixed the leak, warning me about the blue pipe.

I repaired another leak later with the help of a friend, and then there was another and, yup, another. Each time, I briefly researched the cost of getting a line replacement and each time I balked at the thousands of dollars involved, as compared to a couple of a hundred to push the problem down the road.

And here we are, at the end of that road. It’s been leaking for a few months now, nothing above ground, just a rising water bill, and then this past weekend I noticed the puddle. It began to spread a little and dribble down the driveway, and I wasn’t about to start digging again.

It’s just part of being a homeowner, of course. Except that over the past nine years, we’ve come face-to-face with big bills that pretty much had to be paid. Not thousands as much as tens and hundreds of thousands, actually. We ran out of money pretty quickly. Bills kept coming. You get it.

But it’s hard to live without water, so these days I turn it off as much as possible while I wait a few days until the line can be replaced. It’s an interesting thing, doling out water to ourselves, improvising and not flushing so much, and it actually can be done pretty easily. It feels like camping, a little.

So, $8000. It’s not an overwhelming number, just frustrating. At least I get to watch this trenchless process, where they shove new pipe underground, under my neighbor’s yard and driveway and fence, 175 feet to my house. Not exactly good money down the drain, although you’ll excuse me if it feels a lot like that.

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Aging Gracefully

I watched If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast last night, an HBO film about…

I’m not sure. About life, sure. About Carl Reiner a little bit. Mostly about other people, all in their 90s or 100s and all keeping pretty busy.

I came to it with a little help: I listen to Marc Maron’s podcast a lot, and a couple of years ago he interviewed Mel Brooks. It was a great fit, and they seemed to bond a little over comedy and being Jewish and just stuff. Brooks set him up with Carl Reiner, and eventually Maron interviewed Dick Van Dyke too. All comedy legends, all getting up in years, and all remarkably engaged and active.

Listening to these three conversations so close together, I started wondering. How was it that these guys, all well past the average lifespan, all having outlived women in their lives, were doing so well?

I thought at first that there must be something about the comic mind that keeps age at bay, although this film shoots through that theory. The subjects of the film are all up there in years, but what they do varies a bit, even given that Reiner and the director have chosen mostly show biz types (and there’s no mention of economic insecurity, which has to play a part).

And all show signs of something that’s just now occurred to me, oddly on my mind the past few weeks: People get better. Listening to James Taylor the other night, it struck me that he was an awfully good guitar player, something I don’t remember focusing on when I was younger, and suddenly it made sense. He’s been playing guitar forever; of course he’s better at it.

We see some of this, in the most amazing harmonica playing I’ve ever heard, in a centenarian singer who still sounds sharp and clear, in some stunning piano playing and dancing and running and yoga. It’s a remarkable display of living.

It’s not a great documentary. Some interviews are dull, and the one with Kirk Douglas provokes more sympathy than insight; it was included as an example of persisting when facing serious illness in later life, although Douglas’s strokes have left him hard to understand, and he’s much more impressive when writing.

There’s also Jerry Seinfeld, a full generation or so behind these people, who provides a little context but for the most part seems to be there because he’s Jerry Seinfeld.

And it’s a little scattershot, but that’s enough. I enjoyed it immensely, and it’s nitpicking to compare it to other documentaries. It’s definitely worth watching for just the joy these folks seem to experience daily. Inspiring is the obvious choice of words, but it’s more than that.

I spent some time yesterday in conversation with my grandson on Facetime. They just moved out of the city to a beautiful house on a lake, well into the hill country, and I watched him toss rocks into the water, in his element. The lake is full of bass and catfish, and I see a fishing rod in his future.

And I see this, which is enough.

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Loose Change

I’ve been stealing from myself. This isn’t a good sign, even if it’s less cannibalization or recycling, in my mind, than pulling words out of a (public) notebook. I use stuff I post here in columns all the time, for example; sometimes this is the first draft.

And I’ve mined my own columns for new columns, although this is rare and usually a sentence or two that I think, yeah, that deserves an encore. You can make a case for self-plagiarism, which is a thing and which has gotten writers in trouble before, but not at my level of writing. I don’t have a big enough audience, and my newspaper readers are, as far as I can tell, uninterested in reading me on social media or at this here blog. Once again, I’m pretty sure I could write the same 52 columns every year, with minor changes.

But. Of course. However. I need to modify or qualify here.

Yanking a phrase or graf out of an old blog post or column for a new piece doesn’t keep me up at night. Doing it because I can’t write the same way anymore is another matter, and more of an issue. Although I still sleep pretty well.

I used to jumpstart myself by reading more, finding a voice I liked and just letting it wash over me. Even if it felt artificial sometimes, as if I were just imitating rhythm and tone, I was still grateful for the boost and satisfied with the end result.

Now I can’t even do that, and I spend my time scouring archives, trying to find my mojo. Doesn’t seem to be working, either.

I’m not complaining. None of this odd, barely-a-career public writing was planned or anticipated by me. If it seems logical in retrospect, well, duh. Everything looks deterministic with hindsight. Had to happen that way because it did happen that way, etc.

But so will the end. I don’t feel fatalistic but I sure feel realistic. And optimistic, even, as bizarre as that sounds. I don’t feel done. I might be done with a readership, though.

There are reasons I feel muted. As much as I’d like it to be otherwise, I don’t seem to be a writer who disconnects from his life. And my life is complicated right now, at least in a sense. There are things on my mind I can’t write about, because I don’t want to add to a situation and there are other people involved.

And now I’ve written almost 500 words about not writing. There’s a room in Writers Hell with my name on it.

My daughter and her family are moving this week, something that makes me ache. It’s great news, really, and fits neatly into the plan; Austin is expensive and she always talked about moving further into a rural direction, which mostly meant closer to San Antonio. Which is what they’ve done, renting a house southeast of Austin, more in hill country and on a lake, actually. The house appears nicer than any I’ve ever lived in, which is part of the aching.

Meaning, I’ve barely moved since marriage. Two apartments in the first year, a rented condo for the next three, and then we bought this house in the fifth and that was it. So as much as I do believe in change or die, and this is pretty much a win for them, I still miss their first house in Austin. I seem to be desperately searching for consistency, and forcing Emerson to rattle around in his grave (foolish consistency and all). I imagine I’ll get over it.

I’ve been back in the HBO saddle lately, since I like a couple of series very much. Silicon Valley is a joy, goofy and profane and comedy gold. I like VEEP a little less, but not by much. And it’s even more raunchy.

But I saw the latest episode, in which Hugh Laurie reprised a role from his arc over the past couple of seasons. Always nice to see Laurie, and in fact when I shaved my beard a couple of months ago I got a couple of comments about a resemblance between us. I don’t see it, but I’ll take it. But then I have to take this:

Talk about foreshadowing. This hair loss pattern is very familiar to me, and Laurie is my age. His may be a bit more advanced, but I’ll get there. And it won’t be pretty.

The comfort here, of course, is that vanity isn’t really an issue anymore. These ego blows are glancing, easily shrugged off by someone sprinting toward 60. And I don’t look at the back of my head.

But vanity intersects at this age with health in some ways, so sometimes I look at other things. I’ve slowly dropped some pounds this winter and spring, not a lot but then. I’m wary, let’s say, although given my state of flab I wonder. Not that much.

After I got back home from Arizona, though, I was in the nip-this-in-the-bud mood, so I went for my go-to and ate ice cream. This depresses me, resorting to sugar to keep from thinning out, but it’s easy and fun and I ain’t gonna live forever.

It’s not like I’m clueless. I knew a long time ago that if I ever reached a point where my desire for something sweet ebbed enough that I’d be uninterested, I’d drop a lot of weight without really trying. Which is exactly what happened, and why it continues to happen.

I don’t have to be this way. A little discipline and I could fill my plate with good stuff, plenty of food to keep my mind off the scale. I just seem to lose interest, not a good sign.

On the other hand, apparently I can still get compulsive. My inner overeater is still alive and well, and I’m like everybody else: Food can be comfort, and sometimes comfort is necessary. Combine that with a big ice cream sale at Safeway, where I could score some favorites for less than $2, and c’mon. It just makes sense.

And it helped solidify a theory I have, and other people (many other peoples) have, which is about One Food. My son decided to cut way back on the soda, that’s all, just soda. He was tipping past 270 pounds a year ago, and now is in the upper 220s. For a guy heading toward 6’3, that’s almost normal. And it was just that One Food.

And mine is ice cream, obviously. Two weeks ago I weighed 164. Yesterday my scale said 176, even though the calories in and out suggest I might have gained a pound. There is no alarm here, the result of years of obsession with the scale. I can’t gain a pound a day.

I can’t. You can’t either, probably. No matter what the scale says, it’s unlikely that someone who eats fairly normally (i.e., not pathologically), even if that tends to be too much, could eat enough on a daily basis. From an energy perspective, for most of us that’s getting close to 6000 calories. It can be done, although you’d probably have to snack constantly, and snack on sugar and nuts, calorie-dense foods that don’t fill us up. Hard to do for any length of time, I’d think.

I recently read an article by some person who decided to weigh herself multiple times during the day. Meh. Done it, lots of times. No surprises, either: Her weight seemed to fluctuate 8-9 pounds, and I’ve seen a 10-pound range the times I’ve tried the same thing.

Everything weighs something. My two cups of coffee in the morning weigh almost two pounds. Step on a scale after and not before, and it might be ugly. So this persistent cold goodness has upped the amount of food I’m carrying around in my body. Probably. Or else it’s just one of those metabolic mysteries. At any rate, I was 172 this morning, and if I skip ice cream for the next few days that should settle down to something more accurate, around 165 or so.

None of this matters to me, of course, except to show me that it wouldn’t be hard to pack on 50 pounds if I got in a mood. After 10 years, I don’t see that happening, and I’m not sure I care that much. It’s just weird, and sort of fascinating, which I think means I need to get out more. Or something. Maybe move to a new house. It’s an idea.

 

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Once And Future

I’ve been reluctant to post here for a while. I just realized this.

It’s all housekeeping, although I haven’t felt particularly inspired anyway. But I’m going to move my domain to a new host soon, or I think I am, and it’s possible I’m starting over from scratch. This appeals to me for several reasons.

I have 10 years of blog posts, though. Right here. You can go back and read posts from May 2007, if that’s your idea of a good time. And while slate-cleaning sounds nice, I note that I wrote 58 posts in that month a decade ago. It’s hard to consign that stuff to the WayBack Machine.

Still, it may come to that. My current host is a friend’s server, offered up a dozen years ago or so. It’s like getting free rent but without recourse, or not much recourse. There appears to be some sort of minor backdoor bug in my backup file, which would explain some hijacking people have complained about when they click on a link to my blog on a mobile device. My virus software will not even permit the download, so unless I can figure out how to fix that I’m not going to be migrating anytime soon.

And before you ask, not that you would, tech support for this server is strong but, of course, I can’t really ask people to divert their attention to my little site from paying customers.

So, you see, whatever I write today may be essentially gone by next week. I’m really comfortable with the ephemeral nature of what I do, but that doesn’t mean I’m happy to toss it away. And I won’t, even if I have to manually scrape it for anything worth saving.

The empiricism intrigues me. Does a blog post exist if no one reads it anymore?

This is what’s on my mind today, at any rate. Along with a bunch of other stuff, none of which I feel inspired to write about at the moment, which is probably the key to all of this anyway.

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