“Never do I return home with the character I had when I left; always there is something I had settled before that is now stirred up again, something I had gotten rid of that has returned. …our minds are recovering from a long illness; contact with the many is harmful to us. Every single person urges some fault upon us, or imparts one to us, or contaminates us without our even realizing it.” – Seneca
I rarely think of myself as an “age.” When someone asks me how old I am, I generally have to calculate it. My age doesn’t come readily to my mind. I take the year, subtract my birth year, and there you have it. Not so hard but it amuses me. I, along with every other person I’ve met, feels that they are not their physical age. Inside, in our guts, we all feel our youth.
Even funnier is when our gut does not comply. No, in this case I mean our actual gut. It is more sensitive to what we eat or don’t eat. Drinking to excess hurts more. Our joints hurt in the hot or cold, it’s tougher to want to move, to think, to do just about anything. Entropy is fatal, I know that, and yet… it has taken up residence nearby. I don’t like that. My mind still feels as if it’s seventeen, ready to have my body stay up all night or do a cartwheel. Yeah. Not so much. Our minds are youthful gymnasts where our bodies belie the truth of our age. My father, at 84, is fond of saying ‘these Golden Years are not so golden.”
I find that at times, our minds can get a little lost, too. I have learned a whole lifetime of language of self-talk and most of it is not good. There are soundtracks that I’ve forgotten about, repeated phrases that are said in my head, at a whisper, that I’ve just learned to accept. The vernacular gets tiring at times but still, I fall back to it when it’s comfortable. I hate it. I know it’s wrong, I know I don’t want it there…but…yeah. I get stuck in my mind quite often, generally in a feedback loop of negativity and failure. It’s entirely self-directed. There are times, though, when I also get frustrated with my fellow humans. Kids who play really loud thumping music, wear their pants around their knees, or are crass and rude in public. I try to laugh it off, think, “this is what my parents said, too” and then I think that I am adopting the rigor mortus of aging. My mind and habits and ways of being are crystallizing. Apart from the inevitable pains of deteriorating flesh, this horrifies me most of all.
Now, to be fair, I never really did like some of those things, even thirty years ago. Thumping bass music has always given me a headache and kept me up at nights. People who are rude and embarrassing in public have always made me want to run away. Some of that is just who I am. I do my best not to judge and I am aware that I do have my own likes and dislikes. I work hard to keep my personal affectations personal. I think what I’m most annoyed about is that people in our country seem fit to impose their own likes, needs, wants, bad days, dreams, complaints, and problems onto others. It is as if there has become a shared responsibility for individual emotional need. Egotists and narcissists. I don’t think that’s something that has sprung up because of my age; I think it is a symptom of the age and the culmination of our social experiences in the digital world. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” seems like such a quaint notion. I feel so old to even wish for that state of social interaction.
I, personally, tend to like the weird. I like the people who wear plaid and polka-dots over their cartoon-festooned flannel pants. I have had my hair purple and red, orange. I am convinced that the only people who make good coffee in cafes have more than three piercings and four tattoos. I like to challenge the status quo, and myself, probably more often than is healthy for my career or friendships. And yet, the relationships that I have garnered over the years also celebrate the weird and off-beat. I am variety girl. This is why the idea of crystallized thought forms is so horrific. I can’t settle. I never seem to buy the same shower gel twice. I hope I never do. I want to experience all the smells.
A few years ago, I was head over heals for Crossfit. I loved and still love the variety of physical challenges. I had a wonderful coach, Saul, who is an example to all of us who have spent our careers in the Information Age. He lived, and ultimately escaped, it to move into the Crossfit arena. Saddled with poor posture and a computer attached to our fingers and wrists, we who were born in the computer age have suffered for this digital art. We’re aging differently in America because of it. When I started doing Crossfit, Saul worked with me to help me understand how to adapt a computer-wrecked body to do the physical work of Crossfit. It wasn’t easy. I think, though, that the most important lesson I learned from that time at Crossfit and with Saul was that if you think you can do it, you can do a little more, and that the only constraint to keeping you from a goal is your mind. There comes a time when you hear the feedback loop of “I can’t do it,” and you just say screw it, and you get it done. You push through the mind block and the pain is gone. You can do it. What you feared would happen, failure, doesn’t because you just chose to do what needed to be done. I can’t do it becomes I did it. There is that moment, that quintessential moment, when your ego (fear) gets out of the way and you really remember that you can do anything you set your mind to do. I’ll never forget the first moment that happened, on the rowing machine and ready to puke, when I realized that the “I” that is Kris is my only set of chains. I can do what I set my mind upon.
Of course, without wings, I’ll never fly, but that is another challenge entirely.
And, let’s be honest: walking with a broken leg or some other injury like it precludes this mind over matter thing. What I’m talking about is that niggling little feeling you get when you are ready to get up from a chair and think, oh, what if my knee gives out, or my back hurts and I can’t walk further. This is your mind controling your boundaries not the actual state of your body. And, when it comes down to it, this is my point: when we succumb to the mind telling us we can’t, then we age. That is aging. This is why variety girl may always be variety girl; the idea of letting my mind ‘settle’ equates to aging, to getting old, to stagnation and ultimately, to decay. I hate the feedback loop of negativity and when I do recognize it, I kick it to the curb. Like my knees, I have to overcome the idea that my choices in life, my thought processes, and my decisions have to be ‘settled.’ I’m doing what I can now to preserve my mind and keep it nimble. If this means always pushing myself into new activities, and failures, so be it.
Women have the extra baggage of hormonal changes as we age, coupled with the ideas of how we’re portrayed and valued (or not) as we age. Our roles as women shift from beauty icon to mother to crone in American society. Yet, women over the age of fifty aren’t what they used to be. My mother, at 50, struggled with an identity and self worth. She was sickly and rarely got out of the house. Today, I’ve seen 80 year-old women bodybuilders, skiers, gymnasts, dancers, artists, photographers, and singers. The paradigm of aging for everyone but especially women is changing. Women no longer see themselves as dried up husks, finished with childbearing and rearing and set out to pasture to care for the aging members of family and ultimately becoming that aged old crone. Older women are vibrant people capable of bringing real depth and art to society, to be role models and champions of aging well, gracefully, with energy and life. The one thing our generation has brought to America is the idea that getting old doesn’t mean wooden rockers. It means hair-band rockers.
It’s work, this getting older thing. It takes paying attention to your body and your mind in ways that you didn’t think necessary before. It means moisturizer. It means one glass of wine, not one bottle. It means taking care to push mental boundaries and never get stuck, and at the same time revel in what you have learned. Appreciate yourself but never settle. The brilliant moment is when that epiphany happens: the mind is the only prison we really have and that achievement can be had at any age if we really want it. We don’t need anyone to toss us the keys to get out, either. We can walk right over to the wall and get them ourselves.
“Spend your time with those who will improve you; extend a welcome to those you can improve. The effect is reciprocal, for people learn while teaching.” – Seneca