Aubade

It’s not that we spend so much time on minutia, but that we spend so much time on stuff that isn’t nourishing to us.  Minutia are actually pretty great if you attend to the right things.  

au·bade
ōˈbäd
noun
  1. a poem or piece of music appropriate to the dawn or early morning.  (In the middle ages it referred to lovers needing to part with the dawn.)
    Strolling to the shore

It occurs to me how far we all come in life.  I came across this poem by Philip Larkin, one of the great depressive geniuses I studied in college oh, about a million  years ago.  It seems at once relevant and a bit shocking, the kind of thing a young person would study without any particular grasp, or at least not a visceral one, of what is really going on in the author’s head (and heart).  Here’s an excerpt (I redacted the really awful bits, since it’s a rumination on death, but you can look it up here).

Aubade

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.

Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.

In time the curtain-edges will grow light…

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse

—The good not done, the love not given, time

Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because

An only life can take so long to climb

Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;

But at the total emptiness for ever,

The sure extinction that we travel to

And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,

Not to be anywhere,

And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true…

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.

It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,

Have always known, know that we can’t escape,

Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.

Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring

In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring

Intricate rented world begins to rouse.

The sky is white as clay, with no sun.

Work has to be done.

From this perspective, and not the one I had when I first came across this 40 years ago, I can’t help thinking of this is a call to action rather than an admonishment to acceptance.  What particularly resonates with me is not the idea that the world goes on per se, but the more important one in terms of transitions that a lot of the stuff I (we?) used to worry so much about is pretty irrelevant.  “…telephones crouch, getting ready to ring / In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring / Intricate rented world begins to rouse.”

waiting-for-a-call1.jpg
It’s not that we spend so much time on minutia, but that we spend so much time on stuff that isn’t nourishing to us.  Minutia are actually pretty great if you attend to the right things.  Think about the following passage from a quite different author, someone who is probably unknown compared to Philip Larkin, writing about the simple wonder of a day from the perspective of a pet:

Crystal Ward Kent

When you bring a pet into your life, you begin a journey – a journey that will bring you more love and devotion than you have ever known, yet also test your strength and courage.

If you allow, the journey will teach you many things, about life, about yourself, and most of all, about love. You will come away changed forever, for one soul cannot touch another without leaving its mark.

Along the way, you will learn much about savoring life’s simple pleasures – jumping in leaves, snoozing in the sun, the joys of puddles, and even the satisfaction of a good scratch behind the ears.

If you spend much time outside, you will be taught how to truly experience every element, for no rock, leaf, or log will go unexamined, no rustling bush will be overlooked, and even the very air will be inhaled, pondered, and noted as being full of valuable information. Your pace may be slower – except when heading home to the food dish – but you will become a better naturalist, having been taught by an expert in the field.

Too many times we hike on automatic pilot, our goal being to complete the trail rather than enjoy the journey. We miss the details – the colorful mushrooms on the rotting log, the honeycomb in the old maple snag, the hawk feather caught on a twig. Once we walk as a dog does, we discover a whole new world. We stop; we browse the landscape, we kick over leaves, peek in tree holes, look up, down, all around. And we learn what any dog knows: that nature has created a marvelously complex world that is full of surprises, that each cycle of the seasons bring ever changing wonders, each day an essence all its own.

You will find yourself watching summer insects collecting on a screen, or noting the flick and flash of fireflies through the dark. You will stop to observe the swirling dance of windblown leaves, or sniff the air after a rain. It does not matter that there is no objective in this; the point is in the doing, in not letting life’s most important details slip by.

dog-sniffing-flowers2In it’s simplest form, this isn’t a novel sentiment; we’ve all heard the expression “take time to smell the roses.”  But it’s really more than that, something that is ageless, timeless and offers possibility in a way that we too often take for granted.  For me, it ratifies the conversation I had with a good friend last night, about moving past the urge to be what I was before, to run things the way I did as a CEO, and perhaps a way of subverting or at least taming the sense of annoyance that surges to the surface whenever something isn’t the way I want it.

I did a google search on aubade as I was writing this.  It’s apparently a sexy French lingerie company.  Who would have thought?  Take that, Philip Larkin.

It’s all good.

Lack of Disinterest

There are paths, they’re just different. Smaller. Ones that lead to quieter places instead of ambitious leaps. And maybe we build up to something bigger again.

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I woke up a little while ago, let the dogs out for their morning potty run, and sat down at the laptop to write. Not sure what I’m going to do today, but this is a start. It’s also the second entry of the morning, so I’m on a bit of a roll.

I just stumbled across an article in Psychology Today, home of BS psychobabble, that describes anhedonia. It’s a term I’d not previously heard of, a depressive-like state that “comes not from a reduced capacity to experience pleasure, but instead from an inability to sustain good feelings over time…maybe pleasure is experienced fully, but only briefly.” I like this better than depression, a nasty catch-all label if there ever was one, and one that ignores most people’s ability to experience at least transient pleasure even in the throes of chronic and refractory moodiness.

As I googled for related articles, I came across this idea: “…my hobbies and interests are sleeping under my skin.” It’s one of those aha phrases, the ones that are at once succinct and (just maybe) profound. I don’t want to believe that being over 60 means we’ve lost the desire to do stuff we’ve always like to do, but rather that the paths we used to follow have gone from a bit overgrown and hard to follow, to so full of brambles and fallen tree trunks that they’re impossible to navigate anymore.

brambles

Self-help for seniors suggests there are so many cool other paths to follow, if we just open ourselves up to them. Things like gardening. And starting a lifestyle company. Or giving back by mentoring the younger generation with advice they rightly put into the category of obsolete. How about putting on a blue vest and greeting people at Wal-Mart? Okay, that last one was a bit snarky, but it leads to my next point.

Which is this: Just because traditional paths to gratification are limited or closed, doesn’t mean we suddenly become capable of taking the new ones. People with social anxiety don’t acquire gregariousness because they need something new to do. People reticent to try new things don’t become adventurous because they’re too bored to live in stasis. People who worked for someone else, being told what to do throughout their working lives don’t suddenly become entrepreneurs because they have become otherwise unemployable.

My wife reminded me the other day of an experience that seems apropos. We were hiking to Delicate Arch in Utah a number of years ago. It wasn’t a particularly challenging hike, and we paced ourselves and reached the top of the trail in due course. Off to the right from the path we took was the arch itself, maybe a couple hundred yards away across a natural bowl in the sandstone. The natural bowl, which was hundreds of feet across and on a gentle slope, ultimately fell off to a thousand-foot precipice. My wife, who has no problem piloting a small plane but doesn’t like other kinds of heights, nevertheless bounded across to the arch itself. I, on the other hand, who generally have no issue with heights per se but have a very big issue with edges into the abyss, literally cowered behind a boulder. I.could.not.help.myself.

Delicate arch bowl

There’s a song by the Drive by Truckers I like, called “I used to be a Cop.” Well, I used to be a CEO. Nominally, I still am, but it’s as the head of a small lifestyle company, not the big consultancy I once ran that I built from scratch. I know how to be a CEO, I like it, but I’m not much of a mind to build the company out that much. Well, I am intermittently, but not on a daily basis. That’s over; I just don’t care enough to work that hard anymore. But I do like to think, and to make things happen, and I don’t like working for anyone else after much of a lifetime working for myself.

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I’ve compartmentalized this in order to do thinks like teach and run a program helping new startup companies, both inside a university.  I don’t have to pay much attention under these circumstances to bureaucratic nonsense, other than go through the necessary motions. I’ve had a good career, I’m comfortable in semi-retirement, and most of all I’m not dependent on their money so I don’t have to put up with anyone’s bullsh-t.

So there’s the push-me-pull-you of this part of my life. I want the CEO-ness and I know how but I don’t want the burden of it. I want to do something with my in-the-trenches knowledge of business, but many of the students I’m charged with teaching aren’t very good at learning. And I don’t want to work for anyone, because I’m too much of a control junkie to follow any directions that don’t make sense to me. (Not that this is a particular problem given rampant age-discrimination that ultimately puts everybody except the self-employed out to pasture.)

In other words, a lot of us are faced with a bunch of overgrown paths that used to be clear and tangle-free. So we tease in our minds other ones. I clicked on a link in Facebook yesterday that took me to the lifestyle in New Zealand. I saw an ad for St. Jude’s Research Hospital that made me want to help children with cancer. I wrote a manifesto for a new political party out of desperation for the direction our hopeless, inane government is taking us – that is, over that precipice I talked about earlier. And I ultimately landed on the baby step of writing this blog. It’s not big like I’m used to. But it does enable me to express myself, and maybe it draws in and creates a conversation around shared experience, and it gives me an outlet for writing (pending the emergence of that novel I’ve been saying I want to write since college).

Big - Tom Hanks

There are paths, they’re just different. Smaller. Ones that lead to quieter places instead of ambitious leaps. And maybe we build up to something bigger again.  Or not. I’m coming around to the idea that it’s all good.

Tapping

We can search for whatever lights up our brain all we want, but the reality is the best way to get there is to find it in front of us.

I’m compiling entries. I want to get a bunch of them done before I start publishing, so I have a backlog for when I get writer’s block.  What I noticed as I wrote two entries this morning is that mental acuity is variable and dependent on active engagement.  I was running on eight cylinders as I worked to finish a book last year, then more or less went into neutral with intermittent consulting sputtering the neurons back into life.  It’s easy to convince yourself you’re not as quick or as sure as before, but the reality is that it’s just inertia and just requires a downshift to higher rpms. For example, I did almost nothing yesterday (unless you count cleaning up after the nest full of starlings that’s been decorating our back porch), before I got things running again this morning. Such behavior is of course reinforced if we’re around others with a tendency to do the same.

Buick Fireball
Buick Fireball

It wasn’t inertia but weather that pushed me into neutral last week.  It was too rainy and cold to ride the two-wheeler much, but Sunday began with a glorious ride that took me past a Long Pond, a lake not far from here that was still and sparkling in the morning sun. I didn’t grow up around water, but there’s truth to the womb-like effect it has on most of us. My favorite place of stillness in the world is a magical, pristine lake on top of a mountain that I’ll only identify as somewhere in the northeast.

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I took a picture off the deck of our house a couple of weeks ago; we were at extreme high tide and the water was almost to our fence line in the back. Combine that with the climate predictions and breakaway Antarctic ice shelves and I guess in a few years we’ll be waterfront.  Depending on the timing and progression of age, that could be very convenient for putting me on a raft and pushing it out to sea.   (Kidding.)

It’s quite nice being away for the summer, but I tend to hang around the house more, and there’s an occasional feeling of displacement and pull to “go home” at least for a few days. I recognize the symptom as a desire for change rather than escape, because really what is there to escape from?  It’s pretty chill up here, nobody’s bugging me with any deadlines at the moment, and I’m having a really good time rehearsing for my second appearance in a community theater gig this summer. There’s a heap of dogs and cat around us in the evening, after a glass of wine and episode of House of Cards (we all thought it was just a TV fantasy), and the biggest thing likely to disturb my sleep is the early sunrise and chirping outside the bedroom window.  (I confess to being the “Princess and a Pea” when there’s any noise or light filtering into the room.)

boost-oxytocin-levels

The only thing that’s really missing is a jolt of oxytocin (that’s not the same as oxycontin, look it up). We all seem to be most alive when we feel acutely in lust/love, because it’s the ultimate unbounded intermingling of desire and purpose. We feel it in a less acute sense but as the underlying drive behind other things we do, whether that’s as mundane as fixing something that’s broken, as mood-lifting as cocktails with friends, as psychically gratifying as getting on stage, or as professionally satisfying as getting plaudits for completing a client’s project, the finish line is feeling a sense of purpose.  It’s all perfectly explicable as behavioral science, but of course it’s really all determined by dopamine, endorphins, serotonin and other brain chemicals.

I reached a point after an unsatisfying spring in the classroom where I was feeling teaching to be pointless, and was pretty sure I didn’t want to do it anymore. I’ve been wrestling with this over the summer, and haven’t yet found the right, so I’ve been rationalizing the possibility of continuing based on loving the classroom and providing value to the subset of students that actually take some benefit from learning.

Which brings me back to Agespots. We can search for whatever lights up our brain all we want, but the reality is the best way to get there is to find it in front of us. My wife once brought me a t-shirt from a trip she took that was a parody of the “Life is good” brand – it said “Life is crap.” I felt curmudgeonly and ungrateful after being visibly underwhelmed by the gift, and I’m not sure in retrospect why I reacted the way I did…either something about it rubbed me the wrong way or maybe I just felt it wasn’t a message I wanted to billboard. Because even on those days when it really all feels like a nadir, there’s a recognition in some remote part of my head that it’s just not true.

Okay, we’re all aging (better than the alternative), and the joints need a little Tin Man “oil can” attention in the morning, and it’s a pain in the arms to lift the kayak onto the roof, and if we don’t keep thinking about cool stuff our brains get a little lazy. And I’m not even going to go there about the interesting conversations we have lately about not being able to hear each other. But it’s really all more good than bad. So what if I did almost nothing productive yesterday? It’s hardly a sin.

People have different ways of dealing with this thing called age. A buddy of mine, older than me, is concertedly sowing his oats and claims to be acting like a syrup tap in a forest full of maple trees. I get it, but I think I like the idea of that more than I’d like the reality, as it would surely make your back hurt afterward.

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If you have to ask…

This blog is going to be about the day-to-day experience of the world through older eyes.  The perspective will be from this later phase of life, and the objective will be to enhance the sense of purpose that is fundamental to appreciating who we are at any stage.

I thought for a while about what to call this blog … until Age Spots popped into my head, and seemed the perfect holistic expression of what I’ll be talking about on this site.  If you’re of a certain age, I don’t need to explain.  If you’re not, you might find the blog useful or amusing in an “old people say the funniest things” kind of way.

Sunset (just as inspiring as sunrise)

Getting back to what this is all about.  I’ve reached that point in my life where the balance of prospective to retrospective has pretty clearly shifted to the latter.  So have a lot of my friends and business colleagues.  We talk about all the stuff we’ve always talked about, but especially about what it means to find ourselves here.

We still listen to rock music, but our idols are getting scratchy of voice, crabby, and too frequently “moving on” – for good.  Many of us still work, at least part time, but careers seem less a central focus and certainly don’t involve the same amount of angst or carry the same ambitions they once did.  We strive to remain vital and relevant, but face the reality that we rejected as the baby boomer generation that yes, Virginia, moving body parts do start to get just a bit creaky.

Most of all, we seem to struggle with the hurdle of remaining relevant in a youth-centered world that we made that way.  I once lived in the university town that is now my daughter’s home, and loved it for the fact that everyone in town seemed to be under 30.  While the place has grown threefold or more over the years, that essential characteristic remains.  Except that when I visit now, the place can make me feel like an alien.  We visited a very hip cocktail lounge last time I was there, and the bartender rolled his eyes and couldn’t accommodate my “exotic” drink order – a bloody mary.  Seriously.

So this blog is going to be about the day-to-day experience of the world through older eyes.  I will write my thoughts, usually in response to something in the news, or an article that caught my attention, or something intriguing from the fields of art, science or literature.  The perspective will be from this later phase of life, and the objective will be to enhance the sense of purpose that is fundamental to appreciating who we are at any stage.

I invite and encourage your thoughts, and will facilitate the conversation by maintaining the dialogue in subsequent posts.  In the immortal words of that great sage Timothy Leary, thanks for tuning in.

~Scott@agespots