Thursday, July 9, 2009

I Will Age, But I Refuse to Grow Old

It took me a while to get down the stairs today, navigating gingerly with every step. I paused at the bottom and my husband reminded me that I should probably move from high-impact activities to more joint-friendly sports. I hate that he’s right, and I hate more that I am coming to the sad reality that I have used and abused my body. I don’t regret the wear and tear that I’ve put on it, and I regret even less the life I have been afforded by being active, but I have to come to terms with what is happening to my body, my face, and my life as time goes by. A common expression in our house is, “Man, I’m getting old,” and I don’t want to say that any more. I am not starting a quest to turn back the clock, but rather, I choose to take a new approach to the inevitable. Yes, age is happening, but “old” is a choice and my choice is to never grow there. Just like good wine or tasty cheese it's aged, but old wine or old cheese sounds like a dangerous decision.

I’ve been out of high school 15 years and some of my friends have been in my life for over 20. That sounds ridiculous to me, when I say it out loud, because I feel like I did in college. Minus the body that insists on betraying me and the fact that life has happened enough to me that I’ve been married for over a decade and my kids are practically pre-teens, I don’t feel like I’ve changed. Logically I know better, but I think this must be the initial stages of mid-life contemplation because I feel compelled to prove to people that I am really not getting older. I want to ignore the fact that workers at fast food windows continually call me ma’am, and that I haven’t been carded in over 6 months. Every fiber of my being wants to rail against that, but with deeper consideration, I accept the fact that I do not have the time or the energy. So how can I better accept that pesky second hand?

It is impossible to talk about aging without talking about the abstract existence of time. It is overwhelming to really wrap my mind around it, so concrete metaphors are my only way to conceptualize. One of my graduate school professors explained the time continuum like a stack of papers that goes from floor to ceiling, and that the very top page represents the amount of time that humans have been in existence. WHAT?!? That is mind blowing, but with what scientists have been able to piece together about how long things have been around, including the rocky mountains that draw me to them every summer, it is probably a fairly accurate example. Nothing that we wonder about happens in an instant, and our lives need to be savored in much the same way.

Every time I drive south on I-25 toward Colorado Springs I am struck by the scar that marks one of the foreground foothills. If you are familiar with Colorado at all, it is a mark of miners that tore away part of the mountain in search of gold, and what remains is a manmade imprint on a timeless treasure. On that large stack of papers, that mark on the mountain was likely less than a punctuation mark on that top page, yet it has become a part of the landscape and a great story for curious kids who occupy my backseat.

Why do I value the scars that mark my body any less? They are the scars that tell the moments of my life and how I lived when that mark was made. I can take my finger and trace on the smiley face and squiggly scar that crowd my knee. I can feel the double scar on my abdomen that represents the entrance of two of my kids. My body is a map of where I’ve been, and how I’ve lived. My sagging chest is the remnants of the life I could offer my kids when they were newborns. Those crowfeet that insist on pinching in my eyes are from smiling and laughing with friends and family. My left ring finger that locks on me regularly reminds me that I miscued too many basketballs, but then I look at the ring that lies just under that stubborn knuckle, and I’m taken to even more stories and moments.

So, life will continue to wreak havoc on my body, and I have a choice about whether I will celebrate the changes and force myself to enjoy the aging process, or whether I will fight against it and invest my time (and money) in erasing the life that has happened to my body so far, bitterly complaining that I am getting old. Now don’t get me wrong, I will continue to work toward the most healthful body and mind I can, and that does take energy and time, but most of all it takes acceptance that what I have been given, and what is yet to come, is a beautiful gift worth celebrating.

He hath made everything beautiful in his time. Eccles 3:11

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Aspiring to be a Man in the Mirror

There is not much left to say that hasn’t yet been said, and to be honest, I am not completely committed to adding something new to the conversation. I am not overly emotional about the passing of Michael Jackson, but I am intrigued by the social phenomenon that surrounds his death. It is newsworthy, and superficially interesting, but there must be something to this hoopla that I have missed along the way. I know most of Michael Jackson’s lyrics, and many of my childhood memories could easily be accompanied by an MJ song, but even so, I would hardly consider going to a memorial site to write my name on a monstrous banner. Or stand in line to get tickets to attend the memorial, and I would most definitely never be caught with flowers and stuffed animals so that I could place them on a memorial site. I do, however, find myself turning my head toward the television to watch his tearful daughter say her goodbyes, and I cannot help but to well up when the people who really knew him are choked up while honoring his life. I even felt compelled today to introduce my 9-year-old to the “Thriller” music video that scared the pants off me when it was first released. He really was a remarkable man, and in so many ways I hope I can affect even a fraction of the change on the world that he managed along the way.

My moonwalk is unsteady and I cannot hold a note above high C, but there are some themes to Michael Jackson’s life that resonate with me, and thankfully resonated with millions of others. The body of work that he leaves behind will undoubtedly completely overshadow the bizarre nature of his public life in recent years, and for that, music lovers can be grateful. He changed the landscape of popular music and the lives of every musician to follow him will most likely have been influenced by his talent. Something is moved within me when I hear a song from the 80’s that recalls an emotion, a memory or an indescribable feeling that can only be reached through song.

I may never write award-winning songs or move an audience to screaming with my hip gyration, but maybe, just maybe, what and who I leave behind will be just as moved by my legacy. Isn’t that why people are drawn to memorial services like MJ’s? Don’t we wish that our lives counted for as much as his did, along with the fact that he moved and changed us while he was here? Maybe those who fought for tickets today want to be able to say that with their lives they really lived by attending the memorial of the greatest artist to walk the earth. For me, that is not enough of a legacy to leave behind, and I want to keep working toward that greater change.

I will take a page out of Michael Jackson’s book and start that change with the man in my own mirror. I hope to reflect in that magic glass a daily influence and a legacy that might amount to something.

If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place, Take A Look At Yourself, And Then Make A Change

To be honest, I will be thrilled if my kids are not the ones offering the tearful memorial, but rather my great grandkids, and because I have made an imprint on their lives too. Thanks Michael for all that you’ve left behind, and thank you for coming in a time where you can be visited regularly, on youtube.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

To FB or not to FB...That is the Question

I have had a facebook account for over three years, but in the last three weeks, I actually started to invite friends there and post information. I have fully committed myself to proposing my book to publishers, and it is apparent that I need an online following before any publisher will even give my proposal a sniff. I went to twitter first, in May, curious about the mysterious activity promoted on every news station as an invitation to “follow us on twitter.” It was out of pure curiosity that I followed and received followers in the strange land called “twitter”. It has its own language and cultural expectations, and I am most definitely still a foreigner there. It became a fun distraction during the weeks that my husband was working in Colorado while my kids were back in Minnesota with me. I didn’t have anyone to talk to at night, except for the short phone calls, and nothing makes time completely disappear like navigating online, and most especially tooling around on twitter. So I want followers, and I am intrigued by all those other people who want them too…is it really a bad thing?

I am not the only one who is fascinated by this social phenomenon. It seems only natural that people are flocking to these bright light websites like moths to flame. Everyone wants to be followed. They want to know that they matter to someone, that there is a person in the world who wonders what they are doing or who they have become. It is a different addiction to seek out names from the past and connect with people than other more destructive addictions, but I see potential for disaster there too. Stay-at-home moms are seeking treatment for their computer addictions, and I have found myself shuttling my kids off to an inane activity so I can blog, or tweet or FB (all verbs that were not in existence 10 years ago). My husband and I can be found most nights these days plugged into our own outlets glancing up at the tv behind the laptop screens, occasionally commenting on the story that flits across the screen. Maybe if he were on facebook or twitter, he and I could actually connect again, but he is working and I am sidling up to my distraction. He is living in his own cyber world and I in mine.

I have found that very few people I know, in the “real” world, have visited or choose to visit twitter regularly, and some still do not have facebook accounts. Several people I respect highly have no deep-seeded need to be followed or friended, and I cannot find those intriguing people on either facebook or twitter, so they must know something that I do not know. What is wrong with me? I tried for a really long time not to get sucked in, but it seems to be the new community, the new connection, and if you are not tweeting or FBing then you are not connected in today’s day and age.

I want to be able to pull the plug and connect better with the people immediately around me, but I think that is precisely why I am finally sucked into the cyber-community. Our family has not stayed in one place long enough to have established the connections that every person needs and deserves. I have friends from all the places we’ve been and the life we have lived, but it is not in one physical place. The nature of our lives is not conducive to unplugging the connection that really can only happen for me online. The one place that a large majority of my friends and family can actually be found is that silly screen that stares back at me into the wee hours of the morning. I would miss out on a lot of life that is happening and being recorded on those sites. If I unplug, it is the end of a fledgling writing career, and then how can I telecommute for my actual paying job?

This is my new distraction. The reason I can feel connected to something when the someone I hope to be connected to is plugged in somewhere else. Is there really anything wrong with that? We all want to feel connected and isn’t it okay to be connected to family and friends who are actually interested in how things are going? It is not that my husband is not interested. He and I have both been consistently committed to doing what we need to do to stay connected, but this time of year, it is hard for him, and actually unfair of me to expect from him, to be all the connection that I need. I need the witty comments of my crazy friends, and the satisfaction of curiosity about what others are doing. I need a nudge of hello and a cyber-smile when I have screaming kids in the background.

I vow to stay connected. I want to plug in to what people are doing and saying, but I vow too, that I will not do it at the expense of the living breathing people here in this house. I want to be able to say how amazing our day was and how witty and fun and entertaining our kids were. I want to close up the laptop and flick off the television and laugh late into the night with the man who has always been and who will remain my best friend. He may not be on facebook or on twitter, but I know he is following me, and I him. I’m lucky I don’t need the email updates to remind me of that.