I have never been addicted to anything.

(Although there were years when I struggled with a compulsion to eat raw pasta, that is hardly the same thing as an addiction.)

This is actually a bit odd, because according to all the research, I am a prime candidate for gambling, alcoholism, or worse.  But now I have an addiction to social media. Facebook, to be precise.

It’s not surprising. On Facebook, sometimes I feel visible.

Most of the time, I don’t.

I suppose the vicious cycle of chasing the very occasional high is the same mechanism of all addictions, though.

Addicted to Likes. And hearts. And “wow” faces. And I’m addicted to the diversion.

I am so miserable/angry/offended/envious that I am blissfully unaware of  (thus, not responsible for) my own procrastination.

The scientific studies out there tell us how destructive social media addiction can be. The comparisons we make. And I see that. The dissatisfaction I experience because I am not the poet I know who paddle-boards with famous friends in the afternoons, who lives on the coast with a view of the ocean. I’m not as pretty, not as successful, not as admired–It is sometimes overwhelming: all of the things I’m not.

I often say that I’m not competitive, but that is not true. Aren’t we all? At least with ourselves? What would be good enough? The grass is always greener. And we are all on the Hedonic treadmill.

There are also those who say to follow your envy. Acknowledge it to yourself and you will know what you really want.

Yes.

And no.

This used to make a lot of sense to me. But if what I want, what I am chasing is the image of having done something, of being something, rather than the experience of doing, then envy is not constructive.

dsc_0258-3Since this summer on the plateau, I have fantasized about the quiet.

I’ve wanted to move to a cabin out there and live an isolated life, to call on friends to appear when I am in the mood. (The social exception to the rule of my solitude.)

There would be images of me (taken by God-knows-who) alone on the porch, wrapped in a hand-made blanket, a mug of boiled coffee in hand: the poet looking wistfully over the landscape. There would also be images of candlelight dinners with glinting wine glasses, my lover and all my laughing friends: all on Instagram.

And I would be pretty. Elegant. I would have that x-factor of literary royalty.

I know that isn’t the real world. But it is a horrifying realization: that, at my age, on the level of idealisation of a perfect life, I am still operating with such a narcissistic conceptualization of the world.

In my real life I know better. I need to spend more time here. Because I seriously doubt I would like paddle-boarding , and this whole envy-thing is nothing more than another diversion.

 

As a puppy, no matter how hard I tried to coax her, Kiri would never lay at my feet under my desk while I was writing.

It was part of the image I had in my mind: The writer and her dog. The productive and warm, fuzzy mornings with a mug of coffee and a buzzing computer. The quiet afternoons of revision, before the kids tumbled in the front door finished with school. I would bake, and make nourishing dinners.

I tried that for a couple of years. It didn’t work out.

img_20151001_083944Now Kiri is well over 15, and lying beside me, on the small oriental rug here in my tiny library. But this is not what I imagined.

My children are grown, and have moved out.

And I’ve moved out. Started over again, first on my own, then with a new partner. I would say that nothing has gone according to plan, but the truth is there was never a plan, only an image.

The question I had put to myself all those years is what do you want to be? Rather than what are you going to do?

In some ways, I am grateful for that. For what spontaneity has added to my life. The unexpected is always an adventure. I think it has made me braver than I might otherwise have been. I learned lessons, some very hard (some very hard on the people in my life).

But regrets are a waste of time. Even in hindsight, one can never really know what the results would have been from having made a different choice, at any juncture.

Many years ago, my best friend bought me a print by the artist Brian Andreas:

“If you hold on to the handle, she said, it is easier to maintain the illusion of control. But it’s more fun if you just let the wind carry you.” – Brian Andreas

It is a philosophy I have only half-embraced. I’ve usually used it to comfort myself when I’m faced with my own failure to achieve that “image”–however fuzzy–I’ve had in the back of my mind.

It seems odds with the now-ubiquitous line from Mary Oliver’s poem  “The Sumer Day”:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

But these are only the final lines. There is more to the poem:

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.

(from “The Summer Day”. Mary Oliver)

I never planned to pay attention. But, suddenly, this seems like a very good idea. Instead of dwelling on the past, looking to define lessons-learned and outline regrets, it might be smart to catch up with myself: to pay attention to the present.

Instead of stumbling backwards into the unexpected, to walk face-first with an open mind into the days.

I recently finished Diana Nyad‘s memoir Find a Way. She writes that with age and wisdom comes balance. I would guess this also means the balance between planning and achieving. Following the failure of her fourth attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida, she celebrates:

The journey has been inordinately worthwhile, the destination be dammed (for one night anyway). – Diana Nyad

Pick up. Learn from mistakes. Plan: then pay attention to every stroke, every moment.

There are so many things in life that are obviously not under our control. But where we put our attention is not one of them.

My birthday is Saturday. A big one, but I don’t recognise all the maxims people toss around about ageing. I’m ageing. I like it. Not only is the alternative death, but I’m happier with myself and in general every year that passes.

jærenme

Slowing down? Getting forgetful?

I’ve always misplaced my keys.

When I was 24 I had a boyfriend threaten to break up with me every afternoon, because I spent at least  half an hour (every afternoon) searching for my car in the university lot. Things like that don’t happen anymore. (Neither that particular form of absent-mindedness, nor that particular unhealthy relationship dynamic.) 

My joints are stiff. They are also stronger. So are my muscles. I have much better balance and trust myself physically in ways that I would have never dreamt of at 30. If I break something, I’ll heal more slowly. I’m aware of that. But I also know how to (and do) take care of myself as best I can, and that there are – and have never been – any guarantees regarding the health of this body. I know now not to take it for granted.

The big difference I have noticed this year (my 50th – during which I hiked a 14-pointer for the first time, and went downhill skiing for the first time) is that I’m learning what is important to me, and choosing more carefully how I spend my time. I’m no longer interested in the latest fads. I don’t need to stay up-to-date and “relevant” because much of that information it isn’t relevant to what is important to me: I don’t need the social clout of celebrity gossip to try to stay in step with my peers.

And sometimes it is just a case of “been there, done that”: Lady Gaga’s mermaid in a wheelchair, anyone?

IMG_20160420_134954
My fiftieth birthday present to myself.

I can honestly say I have much less fear and anxiety when it comes to what other people think. (Notice, I did not say “no fear and anxiety”: we all fear the trolls, I think.)

Yes, I’m the only mature adult on the slope with her arms out “like an airplane landing” – but that is not “childish” or “child-like” – it is fearless, make no mistake. 

“I’m too old,” is what people say when they haven’t found the courage to say, “I don’t want to.”

I know what I want.

Now.

And I know that what I want is also likely to change. At least I hope so. 

I’m not bothering with snap chat or vine or whatever the latest social media is, not because it is “too complicated” (like so many people promoting ageism whine), but because I spent a month teaching myself Flash right before Mac decided not to use it with the iPad, and it became suddenly obsolete. All those containers for information become obsolete.

People don’t. The content of life doesn’t.

Choosing where and how and with whom I spend my time on this earth is wise, not a sign of failing intelligence.

I disavow all self-deprecation when it comes to ageing. 

Young people are amazing and have a lot to offer. But, as far as I can tell, teenagers don’t need pandering to.  The ones that are bright have moved into the realm we know of as “knowing we don’t know” anyway. Let’s be smart enough not to undermine or discount our own value. If you have lived 50 years and think you have nothing to teach a 16 year-old, or that you-at-50 have nothing to learn from an 80 year-old, well…. I’m really not sure what to say. 

I’ve been lucky to have a few wonderful role models to prepare me for this shift. The people who, after life stops forcing changes on you (education, job, kids), still seek out change and growth. I love you/them for that. They’ve made me realize that, beyond the curtain where media doesn’t venture, there must be a pony*.

If I am “slower”, it’s because I take  more time to rummage through all the prerequisite knowledge I’ve gathered before drawing conclusions. Hell, I should probably aim at being slower in that way. That would be the wise thing.

Maybe the wisest thing is no longer being afraid to write a friend – or my kids – and say, “I miss you. I want to see you.”

I will slow down, slowly and surely, but the turtles that hold up our place in the universe are damned wise – all the way down.

I believe I have just written my middle-age manifesto. 


*Yeah. A reference to an episode of a very bad 80s sitcom. The little girl suspects that all good things happen after bedtime. She’s right. There was a pony.

“You may begin to notice that you’re invisible. Especially if you’re short and gray-haired. But I say to whom? And so what?” – Grace Paley

 

Reading Brainpickings this morning.

I have been thinking a lot about this “invisible” thing. Wondering if it is true. Thinking, yes, I suppose “I” am invisible to Make-up companies, to Coca-Cola, to Nike… I’m fine with that. Maybe it is because people like me are too experienced to be seduced by the idea of buying an identity, so companies don’t waste their money trying. I know from experience what works for me and I research alternatives based on recommendations, not images. I’m not “stuck in my ways”, but I am less-easily manipulated. That the media realises this seems like a compliment – or at least a (-n unwitting) recognition of my resistance to dazzle.

12622519_975338355855194_1068449626315872291_oAm “I” invisible to the television networks? Well, maybe it is because “I” don’t watch much television these days because I realise that my time is limited and no longer want to spend a lot of it in a fictive world – or a world dedicated in part to the worship of fashionable, crass ideals? Or maybe simply because the sponsors of programs want to reach a demographic that they can still manipulate?

I’d rather go for a run in the woods. I do find books and films about people my age, if I look. They aren’t the blockbusters. They are the quiet books and films, without product placements or merchandising. There are stories out there, behind the loud curtain of 30-something.

I will be fifty this month, and I am not on my way out of the world. I think I see much more of it now than before. I am also far less concerned with how much of the world sees “me”. I am not any more invisible than I was at 20. In fact, I am probably increasingly visible as an individual, rather than a knock-off of a stereotype for someone’s consumption.

A wolf-whistle is not evidence of a person’s visibility.

I saw this on facebook today and it seemed to lock into place something I have been thinking about this week.

I find myself nearly every week telling at least one hurting teenager that it does get better. That these are definitely not “the best years of your life” for everyone. I hated high school. Even college was a struggle. But I love my life now. Every year, things got better.

Except that, well, maybe they didn’t.

I saw a quote going around instagram or twitter or facebook – I don’t remember. And I don’t remember to whom it had been attributed either – as if that matters when it winds up as a meme on instagram or twitter or facebook. We all know Meryl Streep said it.

Basically, the quote was about how life doesn’t get better; we get better at handling it.

I’ve been lying to my students. Things get increasingly complicated as we grow up. The choices we make are more complex. We no longer only have parents and friends to consider, but children and careers, when making plans for our future, when deciding whether to post that photo on instagram or twitter or facebook.

There are bills. And insurance. And taxes. Pension plans and adult diapers. And office politics are as nasty as playground politics.

I’m not going to lie to my students anymore. I don’t think it helps them to think that they really are on the receiving end of all the world’s meanness. They aren’t. They are learning to deal with their little share of it. They’re learning to do it better.

We all are.