Home again home again riggedy jig — and how does it feel? Wonderful and overwhelming. After over a month of various missions on the road, my lower yard — once a garden — has turned wild: waist-tall grasses of various weedy kinds are punctuated by long-stemmed dandelions poking up their yellow faces. The rhubarb needs picking and watering; ditto the raspberries.
The deer love it. I can see their curl-up spots in the long grass. But Jackson is banished from the “meadow” (I use this term loosely) because of all the sticky weed seeds that get caught in his fur. I felt like a mama gorilla grooming her baby the other night as he sat in my lap and I picked nearly thirty pods and stickers off his hairy little body.
Then there is my seasonal argument with the crows and robins who have alerted me that my cherries are just short of being ripe; which is, of course, when they descend and begin pecking at them. My tree is too big for a covering net, so I lamely go out and screech like a banshee, which the birds increasingly ignore. It’s just a couple days shy of my cherries being perfectly ready for picking and pie making. “So it goes,” as Kurt Vonnegut would say.
And can we talk about laundry? In between road trips, I’d crash at the house overnight, dump one suitcase out, and load up another one, so — let’s just say there was “deferred maintenance” in the domestic department. Also every counter top in the kitchen is buried with pots and pans, and there’s no clean silverware in the drawers. So, dishes! Then I discovered I’d left, unplanted, a bag of seed potatoes on the front porch. One word — fruit flies. (OK, two words.) Lots of them.
I have to admit I thought briefly about camping out in my own driveway; but I decided to do what I know has worked for me in the past — I invited a couple friends over for morning coffee two days hence. I respond well to deadlines (as my 10-year weekly column stint illustrates!). So my cleaning marathon began.
I conquered, at least in the public spaces of my home. Thus, yesterday morning I sat with two long-time friends to talk; the topic was aging. Not the loveliest of topics, but it was a lovely conversation. My group of friends is at that age — mid-60s, 70s, and 80s — in which not only are we losing tribe members but we’re watching compatriots whose aches and pains have turned into serious illness.
Family DNA, poor choices earlier in life, or just plain bad luck are starting to catch up with some of us, so that though we may have the same number of years attached to us, we find that we all have differing states of health and wellness. But we’re still kickin’! — so how do we square it all?
Mortality is a bitch. But it’s what makes the world go ‘round. As illustrated by my return home, entropy is the primal force for disorder in the world. Objects, events, backyards, and bodies do not become more organized and beautiful over time; they tend to disorder. Each one of us is on a trajectory first of tending to perfection (we think, we try); then, as we inevitably discover we are not in control, tending to fall apart. It’s all part of the natural cycle of life.
Best of the best
Here’s the crux of the matter. For those of us in this chapter which irrevocably tends to disorder and that arc of finality, we must ask ourselves, “How do we want to spend our diminishing energy?” I’m talking about the energy both of our bodies and of the resources we’ve collected. And when I say “resources” I mean of all types: social, experiential, and financial.
If we’re lucky we have friends; we’ve accumulated a little wisdom over the years; we might even have a bit of extra money in the bank. Now what do we do with that? It’s time to make some choices about how to spend that array of capital. It’s time to choose the best of the best.
Start here. It’s fairly easy to make a list of things we don’t want in our lives (if we can help it), and things we do want. Now toss the “don’t want” list away — it’s no good worrying about those things anyway. On the “things I want” list, what are the top ten? Now the hard part. Of those top ten, what are the best of the best, those top things we want to spend energy on when there is a limited amount of it. (This is, of course, the case throughout life, though we don’t begin to actually feel it until later.) This list of one or two things is the best of the best.
Now write these “best of the best” in gold and stick them up on the refrigerator. Travel? Great — put a map up on the bedroom wall with pins in it and get out the suitcases. Always wanted to study German? Good, start by looking at Clatsop or Grays Harbor College courses and actually sign up for something. Play the piano? Right — find a good and patient teacher, or just get yourself a used keyboard and get to it.
What gives you pleasure?
But what about those fuzzier states of mind — happiness? There’s actually some technology for that. Meditation; talking more to your spouse or touching him/her more often; listing all the things you’re grateful for; even smiling more — each of these seemingly simple activities have all been shown to increase one’s well being.
Even walking more is a good way to improve one’s life. And now health scientists have shown that 10,000 steps is not the goal: 4,000 — a round trip meander to the grocery store — will do the trick. Or, even better, just turn off your phone for a day and smell the roses around town.
And what about reading? Just say “no” to the activities you really don’t want to do (your friends will understand), and sit in a chair all day with a book you’ve had on your bedside table for months.
Life is short! — and, sorry to say, we’re all on a countdown. As Mary Oliver so cogently asked, before she too traversed the event-horizon, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life ?”