At my age (66), permanence is not to be taken lightly. No one ever knows how long he or she has on this earth, and no one really knows if there is an afterlife of any sort. Whether we get to do life again, as with reincarnation; or we move on to a heaven where our spirits live on forever; or whether our life energy just dissipates into the universe–well, no one can be absolutely certain.
It makes me feel good when I encounter someone who is so certain of Heaven or reincarnation. But it also makes me wonder what makes someone good enough for Heaven, and how the universe or gods would judge me for a reincarnate life: have I been good enough toward others? would I come back to life as a person of higher stature, or as an amoeba? Further, I wonder if I have been as good as I could be, or if I have hurt too many people in life with my good intentions? Have I left anything behind for someone to remember me by in a positive way? Would I be missed? Would my loved ones be relieved with my parting?
Life–the one being lived–is the one thing that is not permanent, for sure. True, little in life or Nature is truly permanent. Even Earth will one day be overcome by universal forces and the lifespan of a star, our sun, follows rules of physics, even if we want to believe otherwise. And if Earth one the sun cease to exist, what happens to any spiritual essence we leave behind?
Earlier today, I blogged on permanence in the learning of a new art form, and the relationship of permanence to the learning process, especially of practice work. I don’t claim to be an artist or writer, but what will happen to anything I produce after I am gone? Although there is some perceived permanence to the Internet, how long will that exist? How long will any impression we make on the world be left, whether an impression of our growth or some final masterpiece we leave behind? How long is permanence?
I am so glad that I don’t dwell on such thoughts. For now, just doing what I can to be active, to be me, to maintain contact with my family and friends–for now, that’s enough. I am just glad to be alive, experience new things, and enjoy the moment. I have not always felt like this.
Try hard to enjoy the days that are left to you, no matter how old you are. None of us is permanent. Leave behind the best impression that you can on those proverbial sands of time.
Several hours after publishing this post, I came across this passage in Cat Deck the Halls, by Shirley Rousseau Murphy.
That was the way the world worked, …, in gigantic cycles of change.
But that would be centuries from now, … ; everything about the earth was ephemeral, each in its own time and cycle, nothing on this earth was meant to be forever.
Except … Our own spirits. Our spirits never die, they simply move on beyond earth’s cycles. [p. 16]
Yes, life is happening all around me right now. Some are good, some not so good. Some…well, who knows.
Finally, after months of having to put it off again and again, I scheduled cataract surgery–got appointments set up and flight reservations made. All together, it takes about three weeks to get both eyes done from initial consultation and exam through actual procedure and follow-up, one eye at a time.
Not an hour after I get everything scheduled, I see an email message from my brother-in-law that my mother is in the hospital. We must have been on the phone for the better part of an hour, talking about how she has been, what she says to me versus what she says to my sister and him. You would think that because she lives with them, she would share more information with them. But you have to know my mother. She’s a real handful at the best of times. At age 88, she is still kicking around and refusing help from anyone unless absolutely, positively necessary. And she doesn’t like being “in the way.” She has gone out of her way to avoid allowing herself to feel that she is home. I can guarantee that this is not how she is treated; this is just the way she is. So she also does not tell her family everything that she is feeling physically, either.
Until about a week ago, that is.
That was when she fell and couldn’t get up because, for the first time, she could not feel her legs. She was near a wall in her room, so she was able to pull herself up into a sitting position until my brother-in-law got home. When I spoke to her several days after this first happened, she told me she had been falling fairly regularly, but she was never hurt and she was always able to get up. She also didn’t bother to share this information with the household. As I said, she’s a handful.
Right now, she has congestive heart failure, pneumonia, and one or two infections that are being treated. She is fairly strong, but she is in a semi-delirious state and keeps pulling out her IVs and pulling off her oxygen mask. As I write this, she is being sedated, mostly to keep her from pulling life-sustaining equipment from herself, I think.
And while all this is going on–just after I made appointments for badly needed eye surgery–we are also trying to buy a house. This is not an easy task at our age (66), and we need to dip into our retirement funds to make it work. If we dip into them the wrong way, we will be left penniless into our old age, even though my husband is still working full time and doesn’t plan to actually retire until he is at least 70. Basically, he wants to work as long as his employer is willing to keep him on.
So much is going on right now that can once again hamper something so important to me–arranging to be able to see enough at night to drive and maybe even read a physical book instead of using a reading device or a computer. And I need to be able to drive at night, since my husband does not drive at all–doesn’t now, never did.
I wish I could be with my mother to provide some relief to my sister and brother-in-law, who are with her all the time. But I’m no good to anyone without the ability to see at night. And I am reasonably certain that my mother, despite this current setback, will be on her feet and being ornery again in no time.
And I wonder: will this be me in twenty years? Probably not, but who knows?
So why am I worried that I may need to postpone my own needed surgery yet again? Maybe it is because I’ve had to do it so many times before during the past three years…
No good dwelling on that too long. What will happen will happen, regardless of my own needs and desires. As always, I will roll like a shell in the ocean waves that surround the tiny island on which I currently live…
For almost 2 months, I’ve been taking drawing lessons up in Grand Case on the French side of the island of St. Martin. Often, if I feel I have a reasonably successful drawing, or I’ve done something pretty neat (for me, not necessarily for the rest of the world), I post my accomplishment to Facebook as a sort of living portfolio. Last night, because I had gotten up very late in the morning and ended up staying up very late again, I decided I would try out some painting supplies that I thought were really neat. It was a set of three pre-“inked” watercolor brushes that contains the typical three sketching colors: black, gray, and sepia. I had used the company’s water-filled “travel” paint brushes a few times, and found that I really preferred them over regular watercolor brushes, which can be a bit clunky to take along in my purse. I’ve been using the water-filled brushes (when I remember I have them and have something interesting to pretend to paint) with a pocket-sized watercolor set of pan-style colors that came complete with its own attach-to-the-side paint mixing tray–and one of the brushes. That kit and a pad of watercolor postcards is what I take to the beach. When I saw the ink sketching kit, I thought it would be interesting to try. The set of brushes was inexpensive enough, so I added them to a recent Amazon order, and they arrived last week.
Well, you know how it is when you first get something new–you want to try it out (or on) as soon as possible. I was so busy during the week that I didn’t get a chance to even think about it until last night, while watching the same episode of Penny Dreadful for the third time or so. Being me, I knew I would ruin any attempt to use the inked brushes last night; on the other hand, there was no harm in sketching–in pencil–the basic subject I would work on in the morning. Well, the inked brushes clearly take a lot more time to get to know than the pre-filled water brushes. I didn’t wonder about tonal effects and how to get them, or whether I could handle the brushes without practice since I’ve been playing with the water brushes for a while.
And so, I produced a total dud! Yes, I am an inexperienced artist. Yes, I have progressed from poor stick figure drawing to some decent sketches of stationary objects or photograph subjects. But that was with using graphite pencils and sticks, not watercolors–about which I know less than nothing. I wish I had taken a photo of the results using only the inked brushes–but I didn’t think about that. All I could think about was “saving” my dud–making it a little more presentable.
In the process of making it a bit less dud-ish, I used watercolor pencils (which I’ve been practicing with for a while) and even my little kit of watercolor pans. I started to “save” the work first with the watercolors, then remembered reading about how the watercolor pencils can really help define a piece. To my amazement, it was the pencils that saved the work from becoming a complete disaster that I didn’t want to tear up and start working on all over again. The result is the photo above–still no great work of art, but a definite improvement from where it started.
Then I posted it to my Facebook account with an explanation of it being a dud and that I just wanted to post something I wasn’t so proud of for a change. When I look back at some of my earlier “proud of” shares, I can see how much I’ve progressed. So I also know how bad this dud is in comparison to most of my shares. What surprised me was that I got 3 “likes” from the same people who always support my efforts and generally comment on my progress or something. This time, although I had asked for feedback on how to improve it, all I got from my fan base was the likes.
That made me wonder–are they liking the photo just to indicate that they saw it? are they liking it because they are trying to be supportive? are they liking it because of my self-criticism and agreeing with it? I will probably never know, but it makes me wonder if my friends think I’m fragile and can’t handle the truth, or if all they see is another attempt at something new and just want to show support, either without reading the comment, or just without giving their opinion?
Next I started to wonder about what I do. Like these three friends, I would undoubtedly “like” whatever they posted to indicate support. But I don’t know whether I, too, would not leave a comment. After thinking some more, I decided that I would leave something along the lines of “nice try with a new medium” or “nice first attempt,” or something equally as inane. Since these are friends I actually know and went to high school with years ago, and since they’ve seen the same cat in many positions as a drawn critter, maybe they just felt no comment was necessary and that just liking the photo indicated that they know I’m there and that I’m trying.
One of my friends has become a real outdoor photography fan–something I wanted to do since I was little, but couldn’t afford the supplies that went with my little Brownie camera from Kodak. That was back in the days when black and white film was inexpensive, but photo development and flash bulbs that burned your fingers if you tried to take a couple of shots relatively close together cost more than my family could afford. My father subtly suggested I turn to another hobby, as my mother was complaining about the cost–particularly of film development. Now, of course, the cost is in the DSLR equipment itself if you really want to learn about photography in all its aspects. But my friend was using his iPhone camera and went from typical snapshots to some really masterful pieces shot in and around Philadelphia and any trips he took with his son. Over the past two years, he has become quite good, even if most of the photos are either of his son or of woods or old historic buildings. We all “liked” his work, and some of us took time to comment on how much his son is growing or sharing reminiscences of past outings where we saw the same subjects. And, as I said, his photos really improved. The process was gradual, but he is learning to do magnificent things with his iPhone camera.
One of the problems with us Boomers is that we didn’t get the same kinds of opportunities many Gen-X-ers had in schools. In hour town, the schools were so overcrowded that the junior high was on “split sessions” (7th and 8th graders from 7:00AM to noon; 9th graders from noon to 5:00PM), and the high school was on some incredible schedule that you needed a slide rule to figure out when to be in school on what day. By the time my class reached high school, we entered into a brand new building that was big enough to accommodate us all at the same time. But in 7th and 8th grade, although we were lucky enough to have art classes at all, we were limited to 35-minute classes for one-quarter of the school year. And there is not much that can be accomplished in an art class in 35 minutes, especially when your teacher goes on to become one of the great sculptors in the art world for quite some time. So we didn’t even get the basics, and students whose parents could afford it sent their kids for private art lessons or private group classes. The rest of us were pretty clueless, except that our parents seemed to all agree that music needed to be part of our education, whether lessons given in school or those given privately. For college prep students, art wasn’t even an option as an elective in high school, although I can’t for the life of me remember why not. The school offered art classes, but seemed to reserve those for non-college-bound students. Instead, our electives tended to be things that would either help us succeed in college or that were musically or theatrically oriented–band, orchestra, drama. Some electives were preselected for certain students–the school newspaper, the yearbook committee. But I really don’t recall the physical arts as being part of our offerings.
And so I missed my chances at becoming a better drawer or photographer, as did many other Boomers who attended city schools. That is one of the main reasons so many of us, as we approach retirement or are in retirement (or are pretty much unemployed, like myself, with retirement looming before the year is out).
Personally, I think it is remarkable that people who have not seen each other in many years–especially those of us who live so far away from our home towns and no longer have family to stay with–are able to keep in touch and support each other’s efforts through social media and share the progress we are making on things we only dreamed of taking up in our youth. When we graduated from high school, computers were used only by the biggest businesses and institutions. Our high school had a computerized grading system, but I am certain that the computer was not “on site” and that information was sent out (probably to the school district offices or the state department of education) and reports were sent back. During my own teaching days, personal computers–nothing like what we have in our homes now–came out after I had already been teaching for more than 10 years. I took a teacher training class on a computer that was so slow that today’s kids would use it only as a door stop–except that it was too big and ugly and heavy to be aesthetic enough to please even the least aware young person. But I fell in love with the things, dropped out of teaching, and went into computers for a ten years, working on mainframes for large companies in the greater New York metropolitan area. By the time I was ready to learn to program personal-sized computers, I had remarried and moved across the country, where the whole world of computing was so different that I went back to teaching.
I’ve remained in education in one capacity or another ever since, but have only recently started taking up art forms. Even my drawing lessons were predicated on a theory about educating both sides of the brain, either for people recovering from stroke or the loss of a dominant writing hand, or for students with special needs who might benefit from learning to become ambidextrous.
But back to my original problem: Are my friends being supportive, or are they afraid to give their actual thoughts? I’ll never know, and wonder how much I care. Feedback of any kind is supportive, even if positive critique is even more important. I’m finding that as I develop my creative writing skills. Whether taking a course online or in a classroom, writing students are as reluctant to share positive or constructive criticism, too. It’s not like being with your best friend who tells you exactly what they feel and have no guilt about telling you the absolute truth. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I started a small writers-in-training group, with the help of WordPress, for those of us who were feeling we were not getting the level of feedback we wanted from other participants. On the other hand, there were about 130 students enrolled in an intense one-month class of writing, and no one could get to reading more than five people’s submissions per day, with or without honest and constructive and positive feedback. Even in the small group, only two of the five or six participants are actually giving “real” feedback.
Should I expect more from my friends on Facebook than I get in the writing group? No. I should not. My friends want to be supportive, not critical, and–although I am much more likely to be the one to give a different opinion–I have tried to respond with either a “like” or a positive or otherwise very supportive comment. We are all flawed beings, no matter how wonderful we believe ourselves to be, and we each are involved in those things that are meaningful to us, whether we are doing a “great job” or a mediocre one. Each of us is living one day at a time, especially at our time of life. Why spoil things by being critical?
It has been twelve days since I returned from a six-week trip back to the States. At the age of 64, it is merely a page of a tome. I went “home” for a variety of reasons, including medical, family visits (especially a family wedding!), and escape from my current home–not necessarily in that order. Upon returning, I am finding myself pondering my children’s lives and lifestyles, the differences among family members and what they consider important, climate differences, and my own bumbling trek through life. Mostly, I have been trying to examine just who I am, how I got to this place in my life, and where to go from here.
During my trip, I made two major mistakes: the first is that I didn’t journal; the second involves my daughter, but that will be the subject of another post–titled along the lines of “The Making of the Shrew”, or “Daughter Dearest”. That I didn’t journal and that I’m taking so long to put my observations and experiences in writing concerns me most because I don’t know how accurate my recollections are any more. Inaccuracy might be a good thing, though. I might be able to inject humor into the few complex situations that fell into my path!
The obvious things I’ve discovered–or re-discovered–about myself are the following: capability, awareness, and the ability to love (among other things). I am fully capable of traveling on my own, even with excessive luggage. My spinal stenosis, spreading arthritis, and general weakening of muscles gets in the way of my desire for full freedom of action and movement, but it is not so debilitating that I lose all sense of independence. One thing I have learned is to accept help somewhat more graciously than I have in the past, and that there are always wonderful people willing to help an old woman when she is obviously baffled and at loose ends. Long ago I discovered that there is always at least one Good Samaritan in even the most ignoble throng. During my travels, my faith in humanity was not dimmed, but strengthened. Trust in the basic goodness of people, and even a frail ole lady can travel the world.
Awareness is more than knowing where things are and who is nearby. It is also the quality of understanding one’s often disruptive role in a host’s household or hearing the unspoken words and noticing the climate of a household or environment. I learned to listen to the spoken and unspoken words of my grandchildren, all of whom are in disrupted households. I learned to notice when accommodating me into a routine was becoming stressful on my children–not always right away, and not always correctly, and probably not about every situation, but enough times where I recognized that I have my own set of expectations and habits that are less conducive to behavioral change. Interestingly, although I found my children’s households to be devoid of a certain amount of privacy, that did not bother me so much as I thought it might. When I unexpectedly stayed with my sister for the final few days of my trip and when I visited a close friend in Lubbock, TX, I had a room to myself where I could retreat if I so desired. However, what I learned even in the latter two places is that a bedroom is nothing more than a place to sleep and hold one’s belongings–much the way I generally treat the bedroom in my own home. I like to be in the middle of family members and friends; my preference is not to be alone, even if the company is pets. My very early years made me an observer, and there is little to observe when one is alone in a room or dwelling.
That “love is a four-letter word” has always been an incongruous and trite observation to me. What is love? Why do we feel love? How do we feel love? What do we mean when we say to people, “I love you”? I have learned that love is more than a feeling of comfort and more than a necessity for close human relationships. For me, at least. I love my children, even if I don’t particularly like one of them (back to the daughter later). I love my grandchildren, even those that are grandchildren by marriage or living arrangement, as each is a delightful individual with a unique personality and set of talents. But why do I love them? Loving is not the same as being in love, yet we utilize the same word to describe both the affection we have for family and friends as well as the for the draw and excitement we feel for a romantic partner. For those of us who have lived beyond the age when sexual attraction is an issue, the difference is between genuine caring for an individual and lustful stirrings. But if that is the case, why do I say that I love certain people while merely liking others? Where do we draw the line? At what point do we say “I care about this person but not so much about another”? What I learned about myself is that I can love a person fleetingly as well as long-term. I met people on this trek of mine with whom I made instant connections. I cared–and still care–about them, even knowing that I will never encounter them again. It had nothing to do with what they could do for me. In several cases, I “did” for them rather than the other way around. I encountered people who were traveling home, people traveling to new and exciting destinations, individuals who were starting a new life chapter or closing one, etc. Each was instantly stirred affection in me for different reasons. I met these people in airports, on planes, at ticket and store check-out counters, in lines, at kids’ sport functions, in restaurants–in short, everywhere I went. To say I instantly liked everyone is far from the truth. For example, I found myself disliking an individual at an airport security check-point in Midland, TX, because he confiscated an item of “contraband” that I had overlooked while packing. The item was a butane lighter that I was given as a gift. The lighter had been in my purse when I passed through every single check-point: here in Sint Maarten, in Miami, in Dallas-Fort Worth. The conversation that took place over this lighter at the Midland-Odessa Airport made it obvious that the security person liked it and planned on keeping it. There was no point in arguing about it as I was wrong to be carrying it in my purse, but I found the blatant “thievery” obnoxious enough that I could find nothing to like about the person. And that makes me think that love involves trust. Can you love a person whom you don’t trust? And what makes me believe that all the other people I encountered were/are trustworthy? Is it deviousness that makes a person unlovable to me? Did I find my grandchildren instantly lovable because there was already a family connection? Or do I love them because of their candidness? Is it primarily people who are disingenuous that I dislike and for whom I feel no affection? Is the fondness I feel when I meet new people love/affection or something else? How different is love from like? What do we mean when we say we like a person? Why do we feel–I don’t know–elated or warm or warm-fuzzy for some people but not for others? All I know is that I feel genuine fondness for people whom I don’t almost instantly dislike. To me, that is some sort of love. I also know–now–that there are very few people for whom I feel no love.
So this Li’l Ole Lady is finding much to contemplate about her life, and is finding more and more resources to discuss in future posts. And I had better get those thoughts down as quickly as possible, before they fade into the general pool of life experiences…