Saturday, May 18, 2013

PAST 90 (1) : Looking Anew Through Eyes Grown Old

From here on my blog switches gears back and forth between memoir (“Past 90”) and OpEds on current happenings. “New Post” announcements will usually be sent out for OpEds, not memoir entries — just an occasional reminder invitation to visit me at this site if you have the time and inclination.


There was an article recently about a woman of 104 years busily engaged in writing a book that is eagerly awaited by scholars acquainted with her earlier writings. That’s beyond remarkable. She still has her marbles and memory (at least enough of them) and the work habits to carry on.

I’m “only” 91 and in pretty good shape for my age, so I feel obliged (to myself) once more to reflect in writing on my life and times. Years ago I would have thought such ambition remarkable for a nonagenarian. Now, however, it’s nothing to brag about. Being over 90 is almost unthinkable for me, but the put-downs greet me: ‘Oh, someone I know is 98 and still playing tennis, or 93 and jogging around Lake Merritt!’

Though the last of Shakespeare’s seven stages may come later than it used to, it still looms over our vanishing years.

Aging is full of surprises. They start appearing early. It was a shock, when playing pick-up basketball into my late 40s, I suddenly discovered I could no longer leap high enough to reach the rim of the basket. I felt I was jumping as always, only the results were different. Not long after, an opposing team assigned a 12 year old to guard me. It was past time for me to give up.

That was long, long ago. Getting back to surprises of the present, particularly the ones that may impinge on my writing ambitions: I get very sleepy throughout the day. I doze briefly but repeatedly when I read, go to a play or a concert or watch tv (I avoid lectures altogether). Even news of great interest — in newspapers, on the internet or tv — is not sure to keep my eyes open without cat naps. I still manage to take things in and I’m passionate about what goes on in the world, about books and music as well as politics, but it’s a constant challenge of will.

Then there’s the memory problem. A lot is remembered, even details, but the wheels turn very slowly to churn up what’s there. A serious surprise is the deficit in concentration. I used to be able to keep more than one thing in mind at a time, to hang on to thoughts and call them up as I wished. I even remembered dreams and ideas that came to me as I lay in bed. Now nighttime thoughts mysteriously disappear in seconds — something seems very clear and important and a moment later I can’t even recall the subject.

I think this “concentration” problem — difficulty with multi-tasking or multi-thinking, the tendency to be easily distracted — is a common and serious aging affliction. At least it is for me. Maybe that’s what makes driving somewhat riskier for old folk. My reflexes are good and I drive well, but I have to focus with determination and avoid being distracted by conversation.

Here I am, on the high end of physical condition and mental health compared to most people past 80 years of age, but I now have a different grasp of “dementia” than when I first heard that jarring term. For most people, aging doesn’t bring a drastic loss of mental function as with Alzheimer’s or anything like it. But things are not what they used to be. How could they be? Even though I still walk the three miles around Lake Merritt with friends, as I have for more than 20 years, I puff and wheeze on small inclines or stairs. How could my old mind not do some wheezing of its own? 

Of course the marvelous brain, even an old brain, is much more malleable and capable of adapting to new challenges than an old knee or hip. I’m counting on that.

Anyway, on with my journey. 

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