Archive for November, 2011

“Do you feel 74?”

my 71-year-old brother asked me when he took me to lunch on my birthday.

“How should I know? I’ve never been 74 before.”

His question got me thinking. Do I feel 74? How is one supposed to feel at 74?

I’m as strong as I ever was. Last week, as you know, I moved, assembled, and put in place seven 50-lb. bookcases. I have moved myself, by myself, from a sheltered retirement community in Baltimore to an apartment in a barn on Vashon Island, from the East Coast to the West Coast, where I have to take my recyclables by car to the recycling center. No one picks them up at my door. I swim a mile three days a week. I walk two miles every day, rain or shine.  I’m healthy. I’m doing fine on my own.

To think of myself at 74, it’s interesting to compare myself twenty years ago (before ME/CFS) and now.

Well, I am different at 74 from 54–physically and spiritually/psychologically. At 54 I was 5’5″ tall and dissatisfied with my weight at 132 lbs., even though I wore size 8 or 10.

This shot of me at 54 is from a newspaper article in which I was featured. I was in my office. My hair started graying in my 30s and I liked that.

Now I’m 5’3″ and I weigh 112 lbs. My swimsuits from Lands’ End are size PS 4. That’s fine.

  • Every time I look into a mirror, I am reminded how old I am.
  • My back is becoming rounded—kyphosis, a natural curving of the spine, even though I try to hold my shoulders back.
  • Though I’m thin enough, I have a little belly that two years of working out has not made flat. But my always small breasts are flat.
  • I can’t rise from sitting on the floor as quickly as I once could.
  • I’m not as agile getting from the kayak up on to the dock as I once could have been.
  • On uneven surfaces and stairs, and in places like dark movie theaters, I am cautious and slower, paying attention.
  • My teeth are not as white.
  • I use pantiliners because  I can leak a drop or two on occasion.
  • I have hearing loss and wear sophisticated hearing aids. Even so, I don’t hear as well.

Mentally I’m different, too.

  • My memory for names and other nouns is unreliable. Often the word comes to mind eventually.
  • I think a lot about aging, death, and dying—subjects that I would not have been as interested in when younger.
  • I don’t have a smart phone and can’t think of any reason to want one. Though I love using technology, I hate having to learn how to do it and I struggle with it.

I’m different in other ways, as well; but I don’t know whether the difference is due to aging or to my experience of years in seclusion.

  • I’m certainly not as venturesome and fearless.
  • I try not to have opinions, and those I have, I’m skeptical of.  I hold my opinions lightly.
  • I resist giving advice.
  • I try not to offer information unless asked.
  • On current events, I have an historical perspective. Maybe that’s partly due to my years, partly due to my meditation practice, and partly due to my reading. I don’t get excited about current events in the world.
  • I don’t have any sense of status.  I’m no one. It doesn’t matter anymore.
  • I’m no longer ambitious. I don’t need to achieve any goals. Though I enjoy practicing the piano, developing needlework skills, studying, writing, and trying to do well whatever I’m doing, it’s for the sake of doing it, the pleasure of doing it. It’s not to achieve an objective.
  • Although I still wish I were more accomplished, I don’t feel competitive anymore. I  just think, oh well, I’m never going to be able to do that.
  • In my family, I feel more an observer than an active participant. That’s okay. They’re all very busy. I don’t want to be.
  • I used to love entertaining. Now I’m terrified of doing it.
  • I love being alone.

At 74 I’m quite content with my body and my stamina. I know this will change. I’ve seen plenty of the aging process in others. Unless I die first, I will become less and less functional, needing help. For now, I ‘m happy with my body–more so than I was at 54.

I’m happy that I’m no longer so achievement-oriented (except when it comes to getting my space organized!). What a relief! At 54 I had a management consulting practice. I was billing well into six figures annually, and I was constantly anxious about  maintaining that income. I was active in the community, chairing education committees of the Greater Baltimore Committee, the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, and the Citizens Planning and Housing Association. Ernie and I were going to business and fund-raising social events regularly.

I was actively involved with my family, especially with the grandchildren, who frequently stayed with us. That year I took grandsons Caleb (9) and Matt (6) to Ocean City with DIL Anne and her two kids (3 and 1) for three days. I stayed overnight to give weeks-old Josh his night feedings several times. Ernie and I hosted gatherings for family, friends, and my clients. I traveled for work and to visit children and grandchildren in other states. My life at 54 was full, rich, and satisfying–and stressful.

I would not want to be 54 again. I do not want to be any younger.

At 74, and finally done with the moving process, at least for now, I’m curious about what kind of life I will create. How will I spend my time? What will be my priorities? I am very drawn to solitude and silence. During my housebound years, I came to love solitude. Then, in recovery, my body would not let me sit still at home. But this week, I am mostly sitting still at home alone.

That means I’m feeling better. I’m very glad to be here on Vashon Island. (The view from my bed this morning.)

At this moment, that’s how it feels to be 74–glad to be who I am and where I am, and also very aware that my time of being physically and mentally active is limited. I am an elder. Maybe a few years from now I will be able to answer: How did it feel to be 74?

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Fortunately or unfortunately, I require orderliness. I need a place for everything and everything in its place. Without organization in my space and without structure and routine in my daily life, I neither feel well nor function well. Since arriving on Vashon two months ago, I have been obsessed with working to achieve both. I’ve made significant progress.

Last week the seven bookcases I ordered were delivered. They arrived in boxes weighing 50 lbs each. Despite the illustration on the boxes showing that they should be handled by two people, my gracious and strong landlord carried them all up the stairs to my apartment, leaving them on the deck. I moved them into the apartment. Here’s the last box standing on the deck.

Immediately I set to work assembling them, even though the instructions showed that two people were required. Here’s the best shot I could  get of myself at work.

The bookcases were delivered Monday morning. By Friday night I had all seven of them assembled–by myself. On Saturday I spent most of the day placing and loading them. Here’s the result.

Son Geoff and I had hung the art the  previous week. There will be further re-arranging, no doubt; but having my books and art where I want them makes a huge difference. Here’s how my space looks now.

That big TV screen is obtrusive. I’m working with the owners’ furniture, you may remember and that’s pretty much where the TV has to be at present.

Here’s my office space.

I’m going to live with this arrangement until I know how I want to live. Will I be having guests? Do I want to be able to seat people around a table? Will I return to doing needlework design and execution? Will I need a design board? a work table? more storage for materials? In other words, will I want a work space? Will I want space for socializing? What about my clothes, which are hanging in the closet on the deck? At present, I have some hanging in the bathroom! Will I want to create closet space inside the apartment? What about lighting?

Wait and see.

Meanwhile, back to the point of this post about organization. Since I’ve gotten this far with making a home for myself in the barn, I have finished the needlebook project. You may remember that I made myself a traveling kit for my first visit to Vashon last July. Until a week or so ago, I had not been able to work on it. ADHD and too much to deal with. But you may also remember that I do not have UFOs. I always intended to finish this project. Now it’s done, and here’s what it looks like; the front first, then the inside, and the back.

Embroidery and crewel needles, and beading needles on the left.

Tapestry needles.

Even my scissors and needle threader.

And the back.

I’m pleased. It’s a simple design, simple color scheme, all worked in #5 cotton pearl. Mainly, I’m pleased that I was able to finish it.

Maybe now I can get back to making things. But first, my next project is going to be properly mounting my grandmother’s crewel work.

I’m not fully recovered yet, but the signs are good: I’ve read several books! I’ve written a book review! And I’ve stitched!

That’s why it’s important for me to be organized–so I can be productive. As you see, I’m blogging!

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