My father lived to be 59, and mother 39. Attaining the age of 70 isn’t something I ever imagined, yet here I am.
At seventy I can no longer pretend I am “middle-aged”—let alone young. No, seventy is not the new forty or fifty, no matter what the wishful thinkers and health pundits may say. You won’t put off the reality of aging by taking lots of vitamins, exercising, or not eating meat. Sure, you can generally live longer or at least better by controlling your weight, getting outside as much as possible, not eating all kinds of junk food, or drinking yourself into stupor every day. Still, I know plenty of drunks, couch potatoes, and garbage-guts who have lived long lives. Some of it is your genetic inheritance, and much just luck. Anyone can slip on a banana peel, get in a car wreck, get exposed to toxins, or just get some random mutation that kills them quickly or slowly at a young age.
I discovered some interesting things in my sixties. The most amazing revelation was how mentally flexible we humans are, and how much we can still learn as we age. I don’t memorize songs as fast as I did in my thirties or forties, but I’m still improving as a musician. When the pandemic started I set for myself the pleasant challenge of learning to play the “standards” and jazz tunes. My entire adult life I have played rock and pop music professionally, and I’m reasonably competent at that. But I had never learned to play songs by composers like Rogers, Porter, Gershwin, and the other greats of an earlier era. Amazingly, after a year and a half of woodshedding, I find I can play those songs, though I certainly will never play like Barney Kessel or Joe Pass!
In my fifties and sixties I wrote two musical theatre pieces, a fair number of songs, published two novels, and edited and published my great grandfather’s memoirs. By comparison, my creative life was not nearly so populated in my youth. In my sixties, after living my whole life in the Northwest—Alaska, Washington, Oregon—all wet, cool climates, I discovered an intense love of the desert. Now I take every opportunity to ramble through the “empty” spaces of Eastern Oregon and Nevada. In my late sixties my granddaughter was born. Perhaps the daily interaction with her, though at times trying, helps keep my brain, if not my body more supple!
In my thirties, forties, and fifties, while my wife and I raised a family and worked, I had the energy to build and remodel our houses; build a wooden sailboat; perform in rock bands; design and operate a recording studio; run long distances three or four evenings a week; and participate in community service activities. My family, music, sailing, construction and cabinet-making occupied much of my time. Writing, literature, and studying history were important even then, but now I have more time for the arts, reading, road trips, and just daydreaming—one of great benefits of retiring from the workaday grind, if you can manage it.
Now seventy, I hope to continue the learning process as long as I can. The world is full of wonders. Perhaps the most profound realization of my “mature years” has been the substantiation and confirmation, decade after decade of the knowledge that it is futile and a waste of time and energy to look to the so-called holy books, religion, the words of preachers, or superstition for inspiration or truth with a capital “T.” I was fortunate to understand this at an early age, after an intense study of mythology, history, anthropology, and some experience with psychedelic plants. This world and what we can see, hear, and feel is more than sufficient. Rereading “Desert Solitaire” again after so many years, I find Edward Abbey summarizes my attitude perfectly: “For my own part I am pleased enough with surfaces—in fact they alone seem to me to be of much importance. Such things for example as the grasp of a child’s hand in your own, the flavor of an apple, the embrace of a friend or lover, the silk of a girl’s thigh, the sunlight on rock and leaves, the feel of music, the bark of a tree, the abrasion of granite and sand, the plunge of clear water into a pool, the face of the wind—what else is there? What else do we need?”
For the future, if I survive and am up to it, I hope to accomplish a bit more artistically. I have several more book projects either in process or in mind; including a sequel to “Cape Decision,” a science fiction story collection, perhaps a book about building my wooden sailboat in Alaska, and a children’s story. Of course I will perform professionally as long as I am capable of it, and continue this musical journey as long as I can—and yes, those desert places still beckon…
From this 62-year-old, thank you for a reason to not fear growing old as much.
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Inspiring words Mike. I’d like to think that our best work will come in old age as demonstrated by the amazing Frank Lloyd Wright. Knowing we don’t have very many decades of productivity left keeps me thinking about how best to leave some accomplishment that will shape the memories of us by generations down the line.
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Always lovely to find such moments of quiet and contented reflection.
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