‘When I’m 64’ birthday book project for 2016 – 2017

A poem that inspired my book project.

Today is the final day of last year’s birthday activities.

A few months ago, a sidewalk poet in Fort Collins typed up a few lines for me that inspired the “When I’m 64” book project that begins tomorrow.

My 63rd year starts uneventfully tomorrow, May 2nd, with well-wishers on facebook and that will be the extent of it, but a yearlong celebration is stacking up to be action-packed. A smattering of events include:

  • a screening of “Aging Gratefully: The Power of Community” at the cohousing conference in Salt Lake May 19th
  • finishing up two documentaries – “New Deal Art in Wyoming” and “Art of the Hunt”
  • starting some new projects – in August “Plein Air in Thin Air” with a trek up the Grand Teton, teaching Arapaho kids movie production, Prince project in Wyoming
  • going fly fishing

When I turned 60 back in 2013, I had big plans to kick off a productive and action-packed decade.

Instead, it was a big mortality wake up call. I barely made it through 2013 with a big reevaluation of life which is why I continue my tradition of celebrating for the year.

The cohousing community had a talking circle tonight about transitions over the past few months.

Most of the conversation was rather dark about health issues and mortality.

I tried having those conversations a couple years ago with my neighbors which largely fell on deaf ears. Funny how people believe their own observations. It will be interesting to see if their perceptions will match up with reality.

As many of you know by now, May 2013 started out uneventfully – the Bolder Boulder; then the top of the Cyclone roller coaster; then a shingles attack; then too much work – “Mahjong and the West, Governor’s Arts Awards, a wedding; then a week stint in the hospital and then another six weeks in the hospital – that time on my death bed.

I snapped out of it and now every day I wake up, I’m grateful. I’ve been culling through my stuff which includes  a bunch of newspaper columns and other muses.

I’m compiling all that into a memoir woven through my health recovery experiences over the past couple years.

I took a couple writing classes to scrape off the rust, but turns out there are a lot of authors with worse cases of writer’s block than me.

The class exercises were helpful for structure and topics. Though, hearing about and helping others slog through their writing struggles was the most worthwhile. I thought I was stuck, until I met with my workshop-mates who are really stuck – scared to start.

I may run some parts of the book for you to check out. I still have a few things on my 2013 list to complete including weightlessness, skipping stones, climbing a tree and writing a book.

Would you invite your future self out for lunch?

I must be around two years old. My maternal grand parents visited on Christmas. My grandfather lived to be 103.

I must be around two years old. My maternal grand parents visited on Christmas. My grandfather lived to be 103.

I subscribe to a blog called the Gero-Punk Project and the query in a recent post was about futurism and asking readers, such as myself, to look forward.

“Would I go out to lunch with my future older self?” There were a bunch of questions, but I narrowed and modified them down to these:

How much older are you than you are now and how far into deep old age are you able to travel in your imagination? When I was laid up in 2013 and couldn’t walk, feed myself or wipe my butt, I thought this is what I would be like when I was ready for hospice care, hoping that would be in my late 80s or 90s. I have a family history of longevity and I don’t envision myself in that bad of shape. If I were to ask my future self out to lunch, I’d likely be in my 7os or 80s. A friend of mine who lives in Tucson in his 80s is quite active, works and contributes to the community. I see myself like him – he’s very computer and tech savvy, is still able to drive and get himself around. I can see myself in that way 20 years from now. Ten years from now is easier to envision. I see people around my neighborhood in their 70s and they are quite vibrant and keeping up with current trends. My mom died at 77 and I can see myself being like her and living actively up until my last breath. She lived long but died short of a massive heart attack in her sleep.

When you try to imagine your future older self, how do you feel? What sensations do experience in your body? Since resurrecting myself back to relative good health, I’ve become much more aware of my entire body, more so than when I was younger. I notice little things – aches and pains, itches and scratches more so than in the past. I lost quite a bit of weight – 37 pounds – that I want to keep much of it off (I’ve gained back 20) and still getting stronger from when I was bed ridden. The acid test was the Bolder Boulder 10K road race three months after being released from the hospital, which was a success. I had to take a swig of oxygen going up the last Folsom Hill into the Stadium. One of my neighbors in her 90s managed to finish the Bolder Boulder up until the year she died.

When you imagine your future older self, what are your surroundings? I’m thinking I won’t be needing any assisted living 10 years from now and probably still living where I am at Silver Sage. Twenty years from now, I hope to still be living independently. Even though living in “community” can be a big pain in the butt, it is nice to have neighbors around. I suspect the surroundings are going to change since I’m one of the youngest people here and in 10 years and for sure in 20 years, there will likely be some deaths and people moving out to assisted living, nursing homes or in with relatives and new, younger people moving into the ‘hood.

What are some ways in which you can experience enjoyment, freedom, and passion … in your aging body? I don’t want to out-live my peers, which is starting to happen. I’m making an effort to befriend men and women who are now in their 30s and 40s. I’ll live as full as I can. I tried shooting some baskets a couple summers ago with a kid, which was a cue for me to get stronger and get more flexible, which is why I started yoga class at The Little Yoga Studio. There aren’t a lot of men who attend, I’m pretty sure I’m the oldest person. I made a vow to myself not to end up being the old guy in the club. I could use some passion in my life as I get older. Time is getting away!

Who are your co-creatures in later life? With whom do you spend time and enjoy life? Over the years, I’ve accumulated a lot of acquaintances and able to stay in touch with many of them through social media. I’ve made a point of not befriending many of my cohousing neighbors. In cohousing, other than basic neighborliness,  my main interaction among everyone is conducting business. That will change as households age and there’s more reliance on a property manager, which is a transition that’s happening now. I don’t have any family of my own. I have a domestic partner, but she’s several years older than me and has her own family. It’s hard to say if I’ll still be in that fold if something happens to her. My cousins are scattered all around the place. They all have their own lives elsewhere and I’m not counting on them to pay attention to my well being later in life. I come in and out of a couple friends’ lives who would be a good companions — but life is about timing.

What is the quality of mind — the form of consciousness — that you bring to your aging experience? Cable TV must be the domain of old people. All the ads are for arthritis, diabetes, and Alzheimers. I’m finding that I don’t remember proper names like I did. I still remember faces and details about people but remember a name on the spot? Forget about it, the name will eventually come to me though. I hear that if you play word games that helps keep the mind sharp, but I don’t think that slows down the aging process. Most places I go, I find that I’m the oldest person. I don’t know if others view me like that though, but I notice. I visit a friends and neighbors at the rehab center over in the nearby rehab center. It was one of those “one size fits all” places with basic physical rehab to long term nursing care in the same building. It was eye opening to see how people end up – unaware, wheel chair bound and just waiting it out. I hope I don’t make it that long.

What do you see as your purpose in your later years? When my dad retired many years ago and I was still living in Lander, Wyoming and “commuting” back and forth to Boulder working on a project for the Northern Arapaho Tribe, I learned about a guy named Rabbi Zalman Schachter who wrote a book called “From Aging to Saging.” I gave a copy to my dad when he retired. He was a bit freaked out about what he was going to do with his time. He wasn’t a golfer or recreater. He was thinking about getting into multi-level marketing, traveling. He ended up doing quite a bit with the Presbyterian Church – mostly because my mom was pretty involved. She was a watercolor painter and they were a team. She painted pictures, he matted, framed, hung and took down the shows. He didn’t really do much social change type work, but it was better than sitting around and watching sports on TV. I see myself still working. I’ve slowed down a bit, but I hope to be producing meaningful content for digital media, maybe helping organizations with fund raising.

What new things are your future older self learning and experiencing? I’m trying to keep up with the basic innovations and have always been on the leading edge of things. I used to be an early adopter of technology, but with things changing as rapidly as they are, I’ve been slowing down my consumerism. My dad never learned how to use a computer, although my mom did and was quite proficient at email. She didn’t make it through to social media, but I’m pretty sure she would be facebooking along with the best of us. Within the next 20 years, I’ll still be going strong keeping in touch with people the best I can.

What changes in your thinking and acting do you need to make in your current life in order to have the embodied old age you envisage?  I have to downsize. Get rid of stuff. I have started this and it’s a very tedious task. My sister has squatted on the family property that’s full of three households of junk. There’s no telling when that’s going to be purged. I don’t want to be stuck with the detritus of life. She still is clinging onto our parent’s past lives. It would be nice to get rid of all that property and my sister can get a life of her own.

If you invited your future older self over for lunch, what would you ask him? “Why the hell did you allow yourself to get so old?”

Ode to Greta, and other furry friends

gretaGreta got to the end of her leash.

My long time friend, Barbara is probably my best friend considering we’ve managed to stay in touch after bouncing in and out of each others lives for 23 years – including some small and large emergency situations, which now includes pet hospice.

Over the past few years, I’ve grown to know her German Shepherd, Greta, pretty well – good company, great traveler, friendly, attentive and smart. Your basic good dog.

Neither of us have children  which is one thing that binds us together and as such, I feel bad about Greta. Losing a pet is certainly not the same as when a close relative dies on you, though.

I relate to Barbara losing her dog. It was emotional. Losing my cats was emotional.

george and gracie smallMy tan and gray tabby cats,  George and Gracie, were given to me by a coworker when I was in Lander, Wyoming close to 40 years ago. Both were the runts of the litter. I fed both with a medicine dropper until they were able to get around on there own.

Both took a liking to me.

They better have.

Gracie stayed mostly indoors, but George was an outdoor cat and would  be gone for a week or more at a time. I’m pretty sure he had a second life some where else, but he’d always come back like nothing happened.

Every morning George would sit on the sink while I was in the shower. I don’t know what it is about cats and bathrooms.

One day, he wasn’t there.

It seemed like he lost his self esteem, was depressed. I started finding him laying in his litter box.

A friend of mine, John Mionczynski from nearby Atlantic City, Wyoming was a pet herbalist. John most recently is well known as a cable TV Big Foot expert. He came over and diagnosed George as having cat leukemia.

He prescribed a goldenrod mush. That worked for a while and George perked up for a few days.

In retrospect, it wasn’t the best choice since the treatment prolonged his agony. I picked up George and put him in the basket where he liked to sleep. The next morning I found him lifeless on the kitchen floor.

The loss of that cat was hard on me, harder than any of the other critters I’ve had to put down over the years.

I went through that alone.

I haven’t heard of many animals who die naturally, as George did. In Lander, there was a vet who made house calls. He was gentle but very matter of fact.

I asked about an autopsy. He told me not to worry, which sounded like he would take care of George.

I didn’t want to be a “crazy cat” guy and bury him in the back yard, but it wasn’t a very ceremonious departure. The vet placed George in a black trash bag and hauled him off.

As for Gracie? After George died, I moved to another house and she disappeared, probably got lost trying to find her previous home.

As for Greta?

I helped Greta to her bed on the porch. She had degenerative myelopathy and lost the use of her back legs and bladder. She was still with it, checking out the horizon, sniffing the air. She couldn’t hear much anymore.

After scratching behind her ears, I bade her farewell. Barbara had a couple other friends over for when the vet came.

Over the past year, I’ve been to memorials and wakes for three family members – my Uncle Rich, Aunties Jeannie and Elsie.

Those three relatives went out with little notice. They didn’t want a big fuss, considering that past funerals in my family were pretty big deals.

When my dad was in hospice care at the hospital, I had a good talk with him when he was still lucid and conversational but I wasn’t present when the plug was pulled.

I was unemployed for the first time and finally landed a job. We talked about that and both agreed I should show up to work for the first day on Monday.

He must have taken a fast turn for the worst because he died that Sunday.

Dad had a good run, but a miserable life the last few years with COPD. I think I had what he had, but his was misdiagnosed. I came out of it because of better technology – namely the Video-assisted thoracoscopic Surgery (VATS) lung biopsy.

I probably should have stuck for an extra day to support my mother. She died of a massive heart attack in her sleep three months later.

Deaths are for the living.

I wonder why dead people try to control others from the grave. In both my parent’s cases, they wanted people to get together. Those were a couple pretty good wakes.

Funerals are about the only times all the cousins get together anymore, at least the ones within a few hundred miles. Auntie Elsie denied us of that, because she didn’t want what she considered a big todo, it actually had the opposite effect.

It’s odd that it takes a tragedy as an excuse to get people together. 

Pets on the other hand, alive and dead, are all about their people and happy we’re there regardless. Closing out a pet’s life is way less complicated than all the paperwork that goes into being sure a human is actually dead.

When the vet arrived, I imagine Greta didn’t know what was coming, but I know Barbara is okay with my mourning and the well wishes of others. I’ll always remember that dog.

As for me, there’s now Moon the cat who will likely out-live not only me, but everyone else.

Forget estate planning, who’ll take care of the cat?