Plenty of daylight
On turning 80 (and looking back at it). Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
I ran into a prolific writer named Ramona Grigg in a Facebook group for people who run newsletters like this one. She had a good answer to a technical question I asked, which led me to click through and read her most recent essays.
One of them was her reflection on turning 80 years old (which she actually wrote four years ago and then reprinted). I liked it, and I thought it might spark some good discussions here. So I asked her if I could share it. You can find the original here.
Plenty of daylight
by Ramona Grigg
I’ve been 80 for five months now. In some quarters that’s ancient. I’m fine with it.
When I turned 80, back in September, I thought I should be sad, or horrified, or at least exhausted, but it came just days after I finished 30 hits of radiation to keep the dread cancer away. Turning 80 seemed like a victory to me.
I’ve found since then that there’s something about turning 80 that begs the inevitable navel-gazing among octogenarian writers. (See below.) I felt the urge myself on that auspicious day but thought better of it.
What could I say that didn’t sound like bragging? Not dying beforehand is really my only contribution.
The big deal about turning an advanced-age milestone is not just the need to explore the life we’ve lived to look for something worthwhile; sometimes it’s a reminder to use the limited time left to Do Those Big Things. To this, I plead guilty. I might say it’s a bad thing, but I’m convinced it’s what keeps me hanging around. I have to believe I’m not done yet.
The writer Ursula LeGuin died last week. She was 88 years old. A brilliant writer who, in her later years, still had plenty to say. She wrote often about aging, no doubt because it was something she woke up to every day. (I know the feeling.)
Here she is at 81, after answering a Harvard alumni questionnaire. One of the questions was, “What do you do in your spare time?” (Lifted from Maria Popova’s wonderful Brain Pickings, now The Marginalian.)
The opposite of spare time is, I guess, occupied time. In my case I still don’t know what spare time is because all my time is occupied. It always has been and it is now. It’s occupied by living.
An increasing part of living, at my age, is mere bodily maintenance, which is tiresome. But I cannot find anywhere in my life a time, or a kind of time, that is unoccupied. I am free, but my time is not.
My time is fully and vitally occupied with sleep, with daydreaming, with doing business and writing friends and family on email, with reading, with writing poetry, with writing prose, with thinking, with forgetting, with embroidering, with cooking and eating a meal and cleaning up the kitchen, with construing Virgil, with meeting friends, with talking with my husband, with going out to shop for groceries, with walking if I can walk and traveling if we are traveling, with sitting Vipassana sometimes, with watching a movie sometimes, with doing the Eight Precious Chinese exercises when I can, with lying down for an afternoon rest with a volume of Krazy Kat to read and my own slightly crazy cat occupying the region between my upper thighs and mid-calves, where he arranges himself and goes instantly and deeply to sleep.
None of this is spare time. I can’t spare it. What is Harvard thinking of? I am going to be eighty-one next week. I have no time to spare.
In that same Brain Pickings article, Maria Popova asked: “What is it about 80 being such a catalyst for existential reflection? Henry Miller modeled it, Donald Hall followed, and Oliver Sacks set the gold standard.” What, indeed. I’m finding this stuff all over the place now. If I thought I was unique, forget about it. It’s been done.
When I was around 50, I read May Sarton’s “At Seventy, A Journal”. I remember thinking how brave she was to still be pondering and writing and worrying about her future. At seventy! I imagined, I guess, that at 70 I would be sitting in my rocking chair, wrapped in a shawl, just….sitting.
That was 30 years ago. How young and foolish that girl was!
Age, of course, means nothing. Living does. At 80, my time is probably more limited than yours, but none of us survives this world. I could waste a lot of time planning for at least another 10 years, only to throw the whole thing out of whack by being tossed out of a rollercoaster.
Today I’ll no doubt do my usual things. The time is not so precious, now that I’m 80, that I’ll work to make every moment meaningful. That would be silly. But always in the back of my mind, there’s a count-down calendar somewhere with my name on it.
This is new for me. Two things–having cancer and turning 80–woke me up to the realities of unexpected happenstance. Fourteen months ago I was feeling pretty smug about my health; about how strong and alert I was for my age. Then came the biopsy and the diagnosis, the surgery, the chemo, the radiation. Add to that Donald Trump’s insane and unpredictable rise to power, and I should be cooked by now. Steamed to mush. Fried to a crisp.
But the truth is, I feel good. I’m not in my rocking chair wrapped in a shawl, just sitting. I’m out there fighting the good fight politically, determined to get my writing skills back to where they were pre-chemo brain. (Which could be pure delusion, but still…)
I’m traveling, I’m cooking, I’m cleaning, I’m walking the terrain. I’m writing. I’m loving the love I’m feeling from family and friends and sending it back a thousandfold.
Am I old? I can’t tell. Some days I feel pretty damned feisty. I love what Madeleine L’Engle (who also lived to be 88) said about age: “The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.”
Or, as George Bernard Shaw said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
So I guess what I’m trying to say is, can you come play with me? It’s not dark yet. Plenty of daylight left.
Call for comments: Thoughts on aging, or on reaching other milestone birthdays? Let us know in the comments.
7 other things worth knowing today
Microsoft is buying Call of Duty maker Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion in the biggest gaming industry deal in history as global tech giants stake their claims to a virtual future. (Reuters)
Every home in the US is now eligible to order free at-home COVID-19 tests from the federal government. Again: 100% free. Orders will usually ship in 7-12 days. (CovidTests.gov)
A 14-year-old soccer player, Axel Kei, was signed to a professional contract by Major League Soccer club Real Salt Lake this week. He’s the youngest professional team athlete in the United States. (Goal.com)
A new university study suggests that many workers underestimate how much they could be paid if they left for a different company. The trend is especially strong among lower-paid workers. (The Hustle)
The US lost more than 22 million jobs at the start of the pandemic but has now regained about 18.4 million of them. Two states have net positive totals (Texas and Arizona) and two more are about to pass that milestone (Idaho and Utah). (WSJ, $)
A Tennessee man was awarded $9 million in a lawsuit, after a Cracker Barrel accidentally refilled his water glass with commercial-grade bleach, leaving him with gastrointestinal problems. Because of state law, it’s likely to be reduced to about $6 million. (Today)
A cryptocurrency group spent almost $3 million on a rare copy of the book Dune, after seeming to believe (incorrectly) that their purchase also granted them the copyright to the work. Attempts to reach them and sell them old copies of my books have so far been unsuccessful. (Daily Mail)