Sometimes I can be “slow on the uptake” as my grandmother used to say. Why? This year I joined the ranks of the “some people never learn” club.
Here’s a quote from a Live Journal post I wrote in 2011. “I’ve signed up for a ridiculous number of ballroom dance lessons… for my first competition in June. If I am going to do this sort of thing, I can’t postpone any more; 2011 has to be the year. … I’m fighting tendonitis in my heel from asking my body to do things it might not have even wanted to do 30 years ago.”
So, I sucked it up, put in the floor time, and danced in the comp—here's one of the heats, a Tango with instructor Bob Blake.
That was seven years ago. I didn’t stop dancing after that comp, but continued taking regular ballroom dance lessons until about six months ago. Why have I been out for six months? Because some people never learn.
My goal for 2018 was to become svelte, (reality check—those years are gone), and dance in at least two events. In January, I strapped on my Fitbit and hit the floor running, literally. I tried to do a minimum of 10-14K steps a day. I ran in place on ceramic-tiled floors, jogged on a trampoline, walked extra aisles when grocery shopping, climbed stairs, and packed in as many dance lessons as my schedule would allow.
By early March my knees ached, and the first twinges of tendinitis throbbed in both Achilles tendons. Did I listen to my body? Of course not. Goal-oriented soul that I am, I pushed through the pain. By the time I made an appointment with an orthopedic specialist, went to PT, and had an MRI, my Achilles tendinitis diagnosis changed to tendinosis—a chronic, not acute condition.
To quote my doctor, tendinitis at sixty-nine is not the same as tendinitis at forty, or even at sixty-two. By May I had to stop dancing. I couldn’t even manage a walk around the block. So much for becoming svelte in 2018. Instead I packed on the pounds and packed up all the clothes that no longer fit.
Today I am an enthusiastic member of the “it’s never too late to learn” club. Even after months of PT I’m not 100%, but I am doing much better. My new approach to physical activity is to participate at a level where I can do it again tomorrow. My goals are more realistic, like being able to go for walks with my dogs and my husband, and work in my garden. My life lesson this time is moderation in all things.
Last week I took my first dance lesson in six months (low-key), and my husband and I attended a studio dance party. I do want to dance, but I'll have to do it on a lessor level, which means keeping both my ego and expectations in check. I have vowed to accept the inevitability of physical limitations as I age, and accept them with grace and with as few swear words as possible (don’t hold me to this one). I will ADAPT and modify. Turns out it’s never too late to add to one's list of life lessons.
This summer we bracketed the most intense months of heat with four days a mountain cabin, in northern Arizona. Neither of us are beach people; it’s the serenity pines and sound of the streams that rejuvenate our sagging spirits, especially mine. One morning, hanging out on the porch with the dogs, I was struck by the anomaly of the fast-moving stream against the stillness of the day. I jotted down these thoughts.
Juxtaposed to the pine-scented, serene landscape, the stream gurgles and gushes, polishing rocks worn smooth by years of relentless rushing. An inquisitive squirrel, tail held high, dashes about like Mr. Rabbit at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, stopping momentarily to chatter at the dogs: so much bravado from such a tiny creature. A Blue Jay drops in for a visit and squares off with the squirrel over a seeded hunk of bread. The squirrel’s fast, but the jay can fly, his swift swoop and departure leaving the squirrel dancing from foot-to-foot in fury. I assuage his annoyance by tossing out more bread. He grabs a chunk and runs to a rocky ledge, sits on his haunches, and eats daintily from tiny paws. We play the game over and over.
Fast forward two weeks. I’m rocking in a glider on my patio, watching butterflies and hummingbirds nosedive fall flowers. Two unrelated thoughts strike me: (1) a visual of an old lady rocking on the porch of a retirement home (a bit disconcerting), and (2) the realization that solitary time outdoors is what feeds my creativity.
I’m not the adventurous type. I wish I were, but there you have it. I’ve come to terms with who I am. It’s not likely I’ll ever see a wildebeest on the African savanna or meet a bear in isolated canyon. But I do find deep contentment in the simplest, everyday wonders of nature. A stroll through the nearby desert reveals marvels—the tiniest of wildflowers underfoot, dry seed pods of all shapes and shades, the shadow of hawk circling overhead, the marching of ants, or the first glow of a the sunset turning the underside of clouds a purplish pink. It’s all breathtaking to me.
My focus narrows when I leave the confines of four walls and step into my garden. My breathing stills at the simple sight of bees diving in and out of crayon-bright zinnias. I marvel at the dexterity of a spider shooing out sticky webby stuff, building a gigantic snare to trap his prey. Nature is as complex and beautiful as it is unapologetic. My mind calms as I work my way through the garden, clipping, deadheading, watering, and asking how everyone is doing. The superb listening skills of my plants give me permission to speak freely and thoughts and words flow with a clarity that eludes me at a desk. Note to self: carry a pocket notebook and pen.
I’m not sure what this all means. Maybe it validates the old saying, “happiness can be found right in your own backyard,” or maybe it means that if you can’t find beauty and wonder in what’s right under your nose, you probably won’t find it anywhere else either. Or, maybe it’s about staying still long enough to listen to that inner voice. Your soul will tell you what it needs.
Reading has always been my drug of choice. I choose to medicate my senses with words rather than chemicals. I’ve been bookworm as long as I can remember. As a kid, summer vacation meant bringing as many books home from the library as I could carry. My reading room was a tent built by clothes-pinning mom’s sheets and towels to the fence and backs of lawn chairs. I passed hours reading in my makeshift tent, soothed by the familiar summer sounds of lawnmowers, neighbors voices, and prop planes droning towards the nearby air force base.
With the exception of the backyard tent, nothing much has changed since childhood. With a book in my hands, I hold the rudder of the craft that whisks me through the space-time continuum and on until morning. I can try another time period on for size, immerse myself in another country and culture, and explore the emotional depths of someone’s life journey. Looking out at the world from behind someone elses eyes sometimes allows me to view the slide show of my own life with a healthy detachment. I can disengage, stand back, and see The Big Picture. A least most of the time.
I’ve always preferred books written by woman. I find women to be more complex creatures than men, and their perspectives are richer and more interesting. Broad statement (excuse the pun), but there you have it! But every once in a while I stumble across a book, written by a man, that challenges this perspective, as was the case with Roxanne Slade, written by Reynolds Price. I actually picked this one up and read it without ever reading the bio of the author. I was honestly stunned when I realized this deeply honest story, told from the POV of an elderly woman looking back on her life, had come from the heart and imagination of a male author. Here’s my review on Goodreads. If you haven’t read this one, I recommend giving it a try.
I've been a hobbyist photographer since I was ten. My very first camera was a hand-me-down, a Brownie box-style that I think belonged to my grandmother. Back then it was all too easy to double expose frames by forgetting to advance the film between shots, or completely ruin an entire roll of pictures if the film was carelessly exposed it to light. I was guilty of both. With my first cameras, the biggest challenge to ending up with decent pictures was finding a dark, shaded place to change the roll of film. Cartridges were an amazing innovation introduced back in the 70s. You just dropped the film cartridge into the camera, wound it to the first frame, and you were good to go. Best thing since sliced bread.
My early photographs were all black and white. Even as a young adult I could rarely afford the luxury of color film. I recently came across a picture of me taken on my nineteenth birthday. Trust me when I say that black-and-white film just doesn’t capture the full impact of a wild, pink and orange, paisley, mini dress, worn with white fishnet stockings and orange pumps. Maybe that’s just as well.
Today, black-and-white photography is an art form. It’s a way of seeing rather than a sign that one is financially challenged. I have to admit that I love the depth of detail and shadow that you can often only get in what is now called Monochrome Mode. Some of my favorite subjects are bare, twisted trees and the stark skeletons of cacti, or rocky outcrops where the shading from lightest grey to deepest black draws the eye and tells a story.
So, the photograph I am sharing with you here is the first photo I have ever had published (SandScript Art and Literary Magazine, 2018.) I call it Feed Me. As austere as this remnant of a living cactus might be, it made me smile. Not sure what that says about my sense of humor.