Friday, November 13, 2009

The Clock is Ticking

I'm taking a deep breath as the last hours, last minutes of my fifties slip away. For some reason, it feels both melancholy and surprisingly hopeful -- an occasion worth observing.

Our lovemaking last night was something special -- the connection between two old dogs -- I'd like to say, two sweet old dogs, who know each other very well and have been through some rough times and come through a little bit scarred, but with our gratitude and humor sharp in equal measures. We took a shower together, gently soaping each other up, well aware of our flaws and the niches, aches, wrinkles, bumps and lumps of the bodies we still manage to love. Because these are the bodies we have. And they still ache with surprising desire -- earthy and persistent -- more than you'd think, really, for a couple of old dogs.

I'm now the oldest woman my husband has ever made love to -- by many years, actually -- and he claims that he's looking forward to a continued erotic life with a woman in her sixties. With THIS woman in her sixties. This is, to be sure, uncharted territory for us both.

And today, a long walk through the neighborhood, and I found myself saying, "this is the last walk I'll take in my fifties" and now it's getting ridiculous -- this is the last blog I'll write in my fifties, this is the last cup of herb tea I'll drink in my fifties, this is the last time I'll pee in my fifties, this is the last time....okay, I'll stop now.

Curled in spoons after lovemaking last night, we talked into the almost dark, golden light of two vanilla candles, about how getting old requires finesse. The fear always lurks, a sharp-horned little gremlin -- the inevitable end ahead and god knows what will come between now and then. So we pledged to be happy, to choose to be happy. To not die until we die.

So, here in the last 170 minutes of my fifties, I say, "I'm happy." I am happier tonight by far than when I turned 30, and 40, and 50. I'm proud of that. And relieved -- that my life has taken me to this happier place. Tomorrow, when I'm 60, I'll get up with my husband and pet my cats and go to breakfast at my favorite spot and wander around at the Farmers Market and get together with our friend Teddy and hang out and gossip and dish about UM politics and the sorry state of the world, and tomorrow night Ted and I will go out to dinner together and then to "Hair," a frivolous little trip into nostalgia and we'll come home and find our way back into our happy bed and life will go on, as joyfully and for as long as Fate permits. And so tonight I breathe deeply, from the diaphragm, composing myself, and tuck away, at least for now,l the fear.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Sunday sunset in Flint

What is it that makes autumn leaves smell so tangy? Somebody knows the answer, but I'd never asked myself that before. Tonight, walking back from EVM's offices in the light of a beautiful sunset, I took advantage of my recent breathing improvements -- yes, I really DO have a diaphragm and have been relearning how to use it -- to savor the season's spicy fragrance. Ahhh...this has been a lovely weekend.

Walking into the Fire

Gary tells me I need to get back to blogging more. I always do what Gary says. So here's the start of my new East Village Magazine column. To see the rest, pick up hard copies around Flint starting Friday.

This month I’m starting my seventh decade. If the Biblically-allotted three-score and ten bears out, I’m down to the ten. It’s a bit shocking.
I’ve been experimenting with calling myself “60” for several months, but it still feels as if that ancient person with my name is somebody else.
Nonetheless, my left brain and the calendar tell the truth: I really was born in 1949.
According to family tradition (most of the principals are dead now, freeing me to embellish as needed), my mother went into labor after hitting a high note at choir practice at a little church in Ohio where my father was pastor.
Her labor, her third, was quick and easy and I was lifted out into the world by Dr. Homer Keck, a beloved neighbor and friend, before midnight. I’d like to think the rest of the choir – not exactly a band of angels, but a motley well-meaning bunch, were still singing. They were supposedly delighted by the fact of the preacher’s new baby, and I was born into an atmosphere of hope and joy.
There’s no way to know if any of this is true, but I’m grateful music – enthusiastic and a little off-key – was part of the hours just before my birth. I was born into music and art – albeit their religious branch -- and I have needed them later, when hope and joy, inevitably complicated by other realities, faltered and got harder to claim.
It’s art and music to which I increasingly find myself returning as I get old. I’ve recently rediscovered Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, for example, and I’ve been avidly absorbed by the spiraling, gorgeously complex movements loaded on my iPod as I walk the neighborhood. It reassures me: humans are capable of creating order and transcending evil.
And on a recent Friday afternoon, I had a chance to meander once again through the galleries of the Flint Institute of Arts. I cherished the pleasure of doing so with Kathryn Sharbaugh, the FIA’s assistant director of development and a fine teacher and ceramicist. As she told stories about the collection, I was touched anew by the power of two particular pieces.
First is a mask in the African art gallery. It’s from the Guro tribe of the Ivory Coast, and was a gift to the FIA from Justice G. Mennen (“Soapy”) Williams. It’s roughly a water buffalo, a feral, dog-like head with horns, jagged teeth and protruding, primal eyes. Sharbaugh said it was worn for ceremonial occasions – often to dance for rain.
What captivates me is the creature’s snout. Three or four inches up, it’s roughly coated with black ash. Here’s why: Sharbaugh said to get the gods’ attention, the dancer would sometimes walk right into the fire, dipping the mask into the flames.
That smoky snout stuck with me. At first the gesture of dancing into the fire seems reckless, even ignorant.
But who among us hasn’t had our trial by fire? And who among us, for that matter, hasn’t sometimes chosen to walk right into the heat of desperate action because there is no other way?

Friday, November 06, 2009

Harmony with the Body at Last

What I like about Tai Chi and yoga are that they're so not-Protestant. When I grew up there was talk of the body, but it was all suspicious and guarded -- the body was a foe, a problem. Rhetoric repeated endlessly that our bodies were the Temple of God but I always felt as if that meant I had to watch myself...the body certainly wasn't mine.

It has taken me my whole life to begin to experience some harmony with my body. I'm very grateful for the lessons of this last year -- for the wonderful tai chi classes this summer under the giant fig tree in LA, and now the Monday and Wednesday night yoga classes at UM - Flint with Rachelle.