Amanda Kovattana

Middle-aged musings in interesting times

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Hello Sixty!

Having made it this far I am given to indulge myself on this most auspicious of birthdays with a brief account of how I got here in such a self-congratulatory mood.

To Begin With

When I was a child I had the hands of a much older person. The palms were so hard and dry that other kids didn’t want to play games with me that involved swinging from hand to hand. They didn’t want to grab my hand because it creeped them out. The lines of my palms were so clearly lined they were of interest to palm readers, most of whom told me I would have a long life. This being Thailand there was a lot more status and respect given to those who were old. In fact you didn’t really have the status of an adult until you were sixty. Sixty being the fifth cycle of the Chinese astrological calendar. I looked forward to turning 60 as the marker of when I would finally have a say in things Just as people listened to my grandmother because she was the family elder. No one dared to openly defy her.

My hands continued to remind me of my destiny as I traveled to the West where the messages about being old were embodied in the Beatles song —will you still need me, will you still feed me…when I’m 64. What a brutal culture this was though fresh and exciting for the young.

My hands aged faster than the rest of me. The backs of my hands were wrinkled and the flesh underneath scrawny. It fascinated my lover to lay these hands against my full young breasts and photograph this contrast as if these were the hands of an old woman fondling the body of a younger one. 

Just Keep Moving

My love of old movies gave me my first role model of aging in Fred Astaire. When I read that he could dance and rehearse longer than performers half his age, I was heartened to know that being physically fit didn’t quit if you didn’t. While searching for what he had to say about aging I see that he sums it up nicely.  “Old age is like everything else. To make a success of it you have to start young.” Yes indeed the problem with aging is that we spend too much time youthing. Fifty is the new 30. Staying up until all hours, working a fifty hour week, running marathons on the weekend and making love as if our vitality depended on it should all be possible by sheer force of mind. After all we’re as young as we feel, no? Not to mention we need to look like we’re thirty just to stay visible. Pass the youthing cream please.

My young parents were role models of fitness playing tennis every weekend. They brought home the Royal Canadian Air Force Exercise Plan For Physical Fitness book that was popular at the time. Hardly more than a pamphlet it offered 5 exercises and a chart on how many reps to do given age and gender. My father demonstrated them. I insisted on doing the boys exercises because, being already a feminist at age 15, I thought the book was adhering to cultural gender biases. My father did not object. Thus I learned to do a real push-up instead of the half baked one. 

None of us kept up these exercise, once we had proved we could do them. But a little later when I felt I had lapsed into a non fit state sitting in a darkened movie theater catching my breath after I had run just a block to make it to the opening credits, I thought to get some exercise into my life. Something called the Parcourse had been installed in various parts of town. I loved this adult playground idea. So that’s where I took up my free fitness regime jogging from station to station to do my push-ups and pull-iups. 

My favorite parcourse was on the Stanford campus so I could pretend I was a student there and feel smart at the same time. I also joined the students who marched in the Take Back The Night march and was angered by the vulnerability of women as a target for night time assault. And when I attended a kung fu performance at the International House on campus I was so smitten by this fighting dance form I decided to take up martial arts. Thus killing two birds with one stone learning to defend myself and perform a skill from my Asian heritage.

In my thirties a book came out that was full of glamour photos of buff aging athletes. Called “Growing Old Is Not For Sissies”. Just to look at the cover was enough to assure an entire generation that to age was to prevail. And with Jane Fonda at the helm having launched the home exercise video market there was no excuse. The Boomer generation would beat this thing called aging. But still that didn’t quite do it for me. I had not finished my quest. There were other aspects of aging that couldn’t seem to be bucked with exercise.

While Waiting

As a young person I was noticeably hard of hearing from the age of ten when I was first tested. So I knew that some features of aging were not just age related. My hearing loss was some kind of congenital problem or genetic thing for my great Auntie Jessie was quite deaf early in life. In my late twenties I got hearing aids and here again was a talisman of old age. Maybe I had to be old first before I could be young like Merlin living backwards.

At a spontaneous walk-in reading in the town of Mt. Shasta, a psychic told me I would achieve success when I was 50. Hmmm. Nothing to do but wait. Meanwhile I could tell my story for I was tired of explaining myself, the whole multi-culti, mixed race thing. I would write it down which then prompted me to find a writing class so I could figure out how to construct a narrative. Being a writer was also an actual profession I could claim befitting my station in life (the one that expected a profession of me). I told my mother I was writing a book. For 20 years I worked on this book. I had time after all.

While still in my thirties I learned that the brain did not stop growing. It was in fact flexible and plastic that way. I was thrilled with this as I felt I had never been quite smart enough to keep up with my peers most of whom were long into advanced degrees and professions; this would give me a chance to catch up. I talked about it on the way to an end of year lunch with a group from the Stanford Psych Department where I was working at the time. Being only a staff member I was hoping to impress the learned people with their PhDs and research papers.

“So I figured I could grow my brain enough to become a doctor,” I said after summing up my discovery. 

“Yes, only by that time you’ll realize you didn’t want to become one after all,” said one of the learned woman smiling at me. I laughed for it was true I didn’t want to become a doctor of any sort for I did not want to be indoctrinated by an institution. I had found them to be limiting and authoritarian. I just needed permission not to bother with a degree (apart from the low status commercial art degree I got at a state school so my parents wouldn’t completely give up on me). 

I would forage for my knowledge at the public library and fend for myself like Truffaut’s The Wild Child a film that fascinated my therapist mother. What I would become was on its own schedule I felt. And I did by the age of 50 publish my book, but it brought me neither fame nor wealth nor an appearance on Oprah, but reading from it at the book party my writer’s group hosted for me was the happiest day of my life. It was huge this milestone and I sold copies to all my friends and colleagues until I was satisfied that I had gone with it as far as I could go and I was likely going to have to grow old to get on with it.

Aging In America

I continued asking around to get to the bottom of aging in America and how to go about aging successfully. No one had any real advice despite the insistence that aging could somehow be avoided. Fifty being the new 30 after all. There were clues from women I admired. One colleague a generation senior to me made a point of keeping up with new technology where I was more likely to resist kicking and screaming and hang onto traditional analog ways. 

When I asked her how she came to have such an open mind to technology, she told me of her exposure to the innovators of her day. If a speaker was in town she invited them to dinner because being a mom with young children at home she couldn’t attend their lectures. This being the birth of Silicon Valley conversations that transpired at her dinner table gave her a jump start on how to receive the future. She was thus prompted to learn and incorporate these new technologies into her life as she went along. This conversation changed my idea of the attitude one should take as an elder. Keeping up with emerging discoveries and innovations with the long view perspective of time was a good mission for an elder I decided.

I asked my chiropractor what caused all the aches and pains of old age for I feared arthritis. He said they were mostly accumulations of injuries that had never quite healed. So that’s what old age looked like I thought. You were a walking collection of past injuries. I took note to get myself tuned up for the slightest pain or out of whack joint. I’m in his office every month now. When I asked why people seemed to have more joint problems than ever he said he believed that increased use of vegetable oils was the culprit due to oxidation producing the free radicals that led to inflammation. I read “Good Calories, Bad Calories” and learned that cholesterol was what the body used to patch up that inflammation. And soon after we saw the return of saturated fats and I laid it on thick with the butter and eggs even bacon.

Another colleague also contributed to my picture of aging by proudly telling the story of her mother who was so against sugar she scraped the icing off the doughnuts she brought home for the kids. When the paramedics came to get her at the end of her long life (in her own home) they noted how unusual it was that she did not have a bedside full of prescription drugs. So that’s what old age looked like in America I thought and took note to stay away from prescription drugs (and avoid sugar). 

My chosen career as a professional organizer also had an impact. How could it not? So often was I called in to help clients with a backlog of unsorted paper, memorabilia and accumulations of stuff. This window into the lives of ordinary people often took place after some kind of crisis. Usually one that disabled normal tidying up procedures (if there ever was any). Had I not seen it for myself I would have blithely hung onto everything too. 

People somehow think that their sunset years will be filled with time. Extra time to go through papers and stuff after a lifetime of procrastination; unfinished projects they’ll have time to finish one day, memorabilia they’ll want to revisit, organize and put into albums. But no, it turns out people have less time as faster and faster they try to cram in more on their already overextended schedule trying to get in that last bid for success, that last dream, that last love relationship before time runs out. 

Crisis is what drives people to deal with stuff so they throw it into a storage unit for a future that likely won’t match the contents. Possibly a future less friendly than the current one. Better to sell the most valuable items and buy something useful I reasoned when I learned to e-bay. Like solar panels, a hand crank clothes washer, empty five gallons buckets and a bag of sawdust…

One more thing I am grateful to have learned from my profession and that is to choose words carefully and speak using nonjudgmental adjectives framing things in the most optimum positive perspective so as not to humiliate the client with their own mess. (And no I never use the word “mess”.) I was also mindful of how I described things less I betray values other than the ones held by the client. An energy worker would say this strategy allowed me to vibrate on their same vibration and thus more effectively help them. As a side benefit this stance allowed me lots of room to observe people in their natural habitat allowing them to play out all the scripts from the playbook of their life so I could step aside before I got run over.

Don’t Go Down Fighting

There was one remaining bugaboo of aging that concerned me. My maternal grandmother had had dementia; my mother was spooked by this and feared that it was hereditary so I too saw it as a possible future. I read “The Nun’s Study” and other emerging research. I adopted tactics to keep my memory fresh and my brain agile. There was no point in reading books to learn new things if I didn’t remember the things I learned I reasoned so for every non-fiction book I read I wrote a summation of all the new knowledge I’d gained and posted it to my Flickr account along with a picture of the book. Thus I created a very handy, searchable, visually-cued library for myself which became quite useful in heated online arguments as I sharpened my sword on unsuspecting commenters on Facebook.

This however may be my downfall for as I am beginning to realize with the help of my acupuncturist, it takes way too much energy to fuel the brain with such emotional vigor. This hyper vigilance on top of my usual stage fright and performance anxiety didn’t let me rest. I was on all the time. Throw a year of family drama on top of that and I was so drained from all that unfolded I was likely on my way to adrenal failure of some sort. I did not come this far just to fight I realized. 

I looked for ways to lay down my sword. Use some of those non-violent communication strategies one can’t seem to avoid learning as a leftie in California. My liver was much happier if I told stories of personal process and didn’t stew on frustrating, unresolvable problems my doc counseled me. I had to come up with ways to break the log jam of my brain. Breath deeply three times. Think of empty space. Try not to forget what I was doing after the first breath. Count to a hundred so slowly I near let a thought slip in, then catch myself. Expend energy miserly while on this thin ice. Nurture the root energy back. Slowly, slowly I was recovering.

Hello Sixty

And now finally (trying not to get too excited) I am so ecstatic. I have arrived at last and in better shape than expected. Not dead yet. No chronic pains, no prescription drugs, able to fall expertly owing to 30 years of being thrown to the mat in karate. And having insured my bowel health by maintaining my Asian squat I am good to go. Heh. I am ready now my lovelies. Ready for my third chapter, ready for my mission, ready for whatever I have come here to do. Vibrating my frequency, calling to me my destiny…


Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home

Earthworm. Get yours at