Friday, January 1, 2010

I am older than...

One thing about getting older is that you spend a larger and larger percentage of your time with people who are younger than you. Fortunately, I like young people. Some of my best friends are young people. Nonetheless, being the old guy, reverses the pattern you’ve experienced for your whole youth and middle age. It takes some getting use to.

For example, I have had the same doctor for over 20 year. I started seeing Steve Maguire in 1986 when I was 41. I am pretty sure he was in his early to mid thirties. It was the first time I’d had a doctor who was younger than I was. I have stuck with Steve Maguire because he seemed thorough and thoughtful about my care. I think he is an excellent physician and a pleasant guy. However, on an emotional level, it has felt to me that doctors should be older, wiser men of some authority; someone like Marcus Welby, MD, who could cure your illness, but also show you how to be a better person. (Robert Young, who played Marcus Welby, was born in 1907 and Marcus Welby, MD, the TV show, went on the air in 1969 when he was 62. If I had Marcus Welby, as he appeared on TV, for my doctor today I would be older than him, too, but just barely.) Over the years, I haven’t always followed Steve’s advice or filled the prescriptions he has written for me. I wonder if I would have been a more compliant patient if my doctor had ten years on me rather than the other way around?

When you turn 50 then 60, it gradually dawns on you that you are older than the policeman who stops you and politely informs you that your inspection sticker expired two years ago. You are way older than your dental hygienist who patiently goes over again the need to floss regularly. You are older than the dentist who follows her into the office to show you the x-rays and explain the options for replacing that tooth that is bound to shatter the next time you bite down on a kernel of popcorn. They, the policeman, the hygienist, the dentist, all refer to you as Mr. and sir.

You come to recognize that you are older than all professional athletes, even the golfers, network newscasters, weather men, experts who discuss the issues on PBS, anyone presented in the movies as sexually viable, the guys in the Viagra commercials and those who need to pee frequently because their prostrates are enlarged, all the senators and congressmen from your state, the president, nominees to the Supreme Court, and most of the sitting justices. Not long ago The New Yorker published a gallery of photos of world leaders. Each photo was accompanied by the powerful person’s date of birth. I learned that I was older than the presidents of Bolivia, Poland, Venezuela, Rwanda, Ukraine, East Timor, Iran, Pakistan, and Kiribati. (I don’t even know where Kiribati is.)

By the time you are 64 the only people left who are older than you are The Rolling Stones.

This self-portrait does not exist as a physical object. There is nothing in my sketchbook that looks like this. It is the digital file. I started with a photo of me that Andy DeLong took last August in Botswana. I did a colored pencil drawing of the photo. Then I laid a sheet of acetate over the drawing and drew on it with Sharpies and other magic markers. I photographed the two layers together and cropped and enhanced the photo. Even though I made it, it seems slightly strange to me that this picture is not "real." I bet I have that reaction because I'm an old guy.

I'm actively seeking comments on any aspect of this blog. I'd love it if it turned into a conversation on art, portraiture, aging, and/or The Rolling Stones.

Happy 2010,



  1. Well, in this one, you look pretty darn happy for an old guy. Is that REAL or was that manufactured/manipulated? I'd like to hear you talk about how the concept/achievement of happiness may have changed for you over the decades.

    Great idea. Look forward to following your visual and verbal expressions.

  2. There is a great freedom in your face in this portrait - no shadows, no questions, simplicity and joyful work.

    I began to feel older when Robert Redford got a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Oscars. I used to love to watch the Oscars but now all the popular romantic leads look to me like they're twelve and I find myself happy for their mothers when they win. I've had the same experience with doctors - many of my conversations with my doctor are giving him parenting advice as he has young children!

    This is the first New Year's that I am terribly aware of the weight of a decade. In many ways, it's encouraging because I am optimistic that I can make much more progress in learning the craft of writing in the next year and perhaps I am not too old to see a novel published. But, it's also daunting to think how many life passages lie ahead with older parents and children entering adulthood.

    I love this blog concept, John! I've been exploring writing about myself in the third person in order to work through certain issues and it occured to me that your self-portraits are a similar exercise in a different artistic medium! Love it.

  3. i am thrilled to be a part of this discussion. the aging process
    ( suddenly finding myself "invisible")
    rattled me at first.
    however i have found parts of this to be a blessing...
    something happened when i hit 59.
    perhaps realizing that time was moving along
    amazed by the fact that i was still here
    (a true child of the 60's
    i never expected to make it past 30!!!)
    i turned towards my poetry,
    creating space in my life for my art.
    became less concerned with the reflection in my mirror
    and more concerned with what i wanted to say/write/ put down on paper.
    the origami poems project that i am involved in has opened doors to a whole new space and time in my life.
    growing older/
    accepting this act of aging
    helped to create "MIND SPACE" ....
    a much needed balance between heart and mind....
    when i look in the mirror now?
    oh, i see age spots and wrinkles
    and all the wounds of time.
    i also SEE signs hope & joy
    (and a little bit of wisdom)
    that shines back out at me.
    writing poetry is very much like painting.
    we are all seeking to discover
    and put on canvas/paper
    what your truths are......

    i look forward to following your journey. mlg

  4. Hey John –

    I enjoyed your aging post. That sounds like the name of a bar we could visit and knock a few beers back – the Aging Post.

    My dad used to say that the best we could do was to age gracefully. That’s going to be a challenge for me, since I haven’t lived particularly gracefully. O, well. That reminds me of a joke I can’t remember. But joke is the operative word in that sentence. I would describe your philosophy of aging as this: the best we can do is to age with humor. O, dear. It sounds so unfunny when I put it that way. It’s like having to explain a joke. Once explained, it is often no longer funny. Here’s a warning to the unlikely college kids reading your post: don’t do your senior thesis on humor.

    But it does seem like an excellent principle as we climb into higher and higher age categories. Bath yourself in silliness daily. Keep your bag of jokes full of new and old jewels. Keep your eye (fist?) on the punchline, and tease your fading memory cells into reinvigorating themselves. Maintain a comic perspective on our degeneracy, until the final twitch.

    I knew I was getting old when I realized I was older than Ozzy Osbourne.

    I’m happy to have a younger doctor for two reasons. First, she’s been to medical school more recently and is presumably more up-to-date. Secondly, she might keep practicing until I cork off, so I won’t have to search for a replacement. In fact, I was a little worried at my last visit seeing the wrinkles in her face. I hope she’s not the retiring type.

    Usually when I go to the doctor I try to impress her with how healthy I am. Possibly a stupid principle, but there it is. This last time I decided to pull out the stops and describe every little ache and pain I could, just for kicks. Pretty soon she started handing me pamphlets – eight-page newsprint guides to health issues: The Neck-owner’s Manual, the Knee-owner’s Manual, the Shoulder-owner’s manual, … you get the drift. The irresistible urge to extrapolate left me envisioning a robust medical library covering all my organs and appendages, and hardly leaving room for the occasional racy novel or exquisite biography.

    That’s a space issue, but there’s a corollary time issue floating in the same boat. How much advice have I accumulated from physical therapists and from those delightful pamphlets and from the ever-present vast well of unsolicited advice? Plenty. Do this exercise 40 seconds on each side, repeating 5 times, once when you get up, once when you go to bed, both before and after exercise, and at least 3 times a day. That’s just one exercise. Add a few more exercises for other muscles and you will need your calculator to do the minute math. The extrapolator envisions PT from rising in the morning to retiring at night. Actually, the most recent suggestion is an exercise that is to be done in bed in the morning before you even put your feet on the ground!

  5. ALSO:

    Dietary habits are shifting. Where I used to have the capacity to enjoy a fine chocolate bar, now I prefer my chocolate chunks in a fiber bar. That could be the second stop on our geriatric pub crawl - The Fiber Bar. The advertisers have my number – I’m now buying bread labeled ‘double fiber’. I’m convinced it’s yummy.

    I’m grateful I don’t need prescription glasses because tracking my eight pairs of reading glasses is challenge enough. I think I need to get my game strategy straight, and either choose zone defense (geographically distributed readers), or man-on-man (carrying my glasses around with me). My current mixed strategy seems to result in a clustering phenomenon. How is it that they all end up in my bedroom, or all end up in my office space? Maybe there’s an app for that. Could a beeper go off if I try to enter a room with a third set of readers? Or better yet, if I try to exit a room and leave it void of readers? That could work… It could also work to just set the readers on top of my head. But then there are those embarrassing moments when I go to set them up there and find the space already occupied by a different pair. Just hope nobody is watching…

    Since we’re talking about aging, I think I wanted to say something about memory. I just can’t remember what I wanted to say. I’ll save it for another day.

  6. John, It was great seeing you at the Pier Plunge. As I was preparing to run into the ice cold ocean, I noticed that the Plunge participants were mostly old (about my age, 58 or older) or young (teenagers or younger). Those in between made up most of the spectators (who greatly outnumbered the plungers). I wondered whether this has something the do with the insanity of the act making it appealing to those who are slightly off balance (i.e. teenagers and the old). I invite all you fellow oldies to join in the plunge next year, (that means you , John). One of the good things about getting old is that it becomes more acceptable to act crazy