Category Archives: Life over 60

The Constant Round of Arrivals and Departures

One thing that seems to define this stage of life is the constant round of arrivals and departures.

Just over the last couple of days I’ve said au revoir to an offspring setting out from home for the next stage of his yoing adult life. Bid a final farewell,  at the funeral of a friend who seemed securely there on the periphery of my life, yet is suddenly gone. Begun knitting for a baby expected in my extended family.

People come and they go all the time, but somehow I didn’t notice or feel the ebb and flow so acutely before.

I’ve become much more aware of the seasons these days, both in the trees and in life.

Let the Feelings In

How to cope with the flood of emotions that arise at each greeting and each farewell? It’s always a joy when someone close comes back for a while, and a wrench when they leave. But this is life.

There is no escaping. Might as well set up home on Waterloo station.

I think the only thing to do is in embrace it. Show the love when they’re here. Have those deep conversations. Stop being afraid of saying the things that matter.

And do my best to let go of fear, that old existential gremlin who sits on my shoulder muttering :Maybe they won’t come back. Maybe this is the last time you’ll see them (insert evil cackle). 

It’s obvious that living in the present moment as much as possible is the only way to manage this. Watching the seasons up close is a good way in.

I’m going down the garden right now to have a closer look at those berries that are starting to flush red, the big brown spiders that have shown up early this year, the leaves that are just starting to tinge yellow. They are trying to tell me something.

Stand there and breathe. Say hi. Say bye. Love it all, just the way it damn well is. 

New Ways To Keep A Diary At 60+

Since teenagerdom I’ve been accumulating an enormous pile of books filled with agonisings, musings and outpourings about my life.

They inhabit the carrier bags of doom, stuffed in the back of a dark cupboard, cowering as the great de-clutter moves ever nearer.

All that scribbling has served me well over the years. The solitary pleasure of sitting up in bed writing frantically, getting it all out of my head and on to the page, has helped stop the merry-go-round of obsessive thoughts and even prompted the occasional decision.

What’s It For?

This year though, the cerise felt-covered book has lost its allure. What is the purpose of all this navel-gazing? Is there a better way to spend my time than writing it all down?

Lately I’ve realised that one reason I write is to put the brakes on time, to preserve experiences by writing them down, and keep them so my life won’t disappear behind me like a vapour trail. It doesn’t really work. Like old photo albums, diaries of the past can only represent a one-dimensional portrait of a moment long-gone.

I might be a lot better off putting my focus on the present moment.

Who Am I Writing For?

Sometimes I do want to look back, and sometimes it’s valuable. Other times it’s sad, like picking at an old wound. And often I end up berating myself, ‘…you really didn’t have a clue in those days, did you…’. Not kind, nor helpful.

I do sometimes imagine Older Me, arriving at a time when nothing new and noteworthy is happening in her life, so she actually wants to curl up with a pile of old diaries and leaf through – ‘Hmm, so I made a beef stew when Jenny and Sean came round in 1978 – no idea who they were…’

Maybe I’m writing them for my children.  Ah yes, the heritage. But a lot of it is such cringeworthy stuff, I’d far rather they burned the lot unopened. They might enjoy the childhood memories, such gems as my daughter’s comment, aged 2, hearing noises off in the supermarket loo saying loudly, ‘I think someone just done a big crap in there…’ – (where did she learn such vulgar language?).

But no. The diaries are crammed with the stuff of a life, large and small, and of interest only to me. And a lot of it not even that interesting.

Different Ways to Keep a Diary

Despite this, I still feel an urge to keep a lighter record, so  I’ve been trying a few things instead of the screed.

  • Draw rather than write. I like stick people and speech balloons.
  • Note one thing heard during the day that was funny, smart, or touching.
  • Sum the day up in one word
  • Pick a random word from a book and use it to spark a quick poem – write for 3 minutes

These are fun, quick and say a lot without the need for three pages of handwriting. If you’re an inveterate diarist, give them a go yourself.

Do you keep a diary? What is its underlying purpose – or does it even need one? Have you tried other ways of recording events in your life? Please share your thoughts below.

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Why play a musical instrument? Because it feels so good…

 

I’m not going to tell you that I play the flute to stave off dementia, keep my brain cells alive, or because I was inspired by some internet list of Things to do when you’re over 60 which always seem to feature ’Play a musical instrument’.

No, I choose to grapple with a 2-foot long tube of metal equipped with a lot of holes and a mouthpiece so badly designed it takes a week before a beginner can get a single note out of it, because of the amazing feelings I get from playing it.

There’s a delicious excitement, which starts in the pit of the stomach, and tingles down the spine. It’s usually momentary, and doesn’t happen that often, but it is just delightful. I call it ‘that feeling’ to myself, and I’m always hoping for it in any rehearsal. It’s most likely to hit me when I’m playing in an orchestra for a bar or two everything comes together and my puny effort becomes part of something much, much bigger. That’s making music.

Then there’s the adrenalin-boosting thrill where I actually feel my heart beating faster in a section where I’m waiting to put in a flutey ‘peep’, off the beat, one note repeated, getting louder and louder as the orchestra build up to some kind of orgasm underneath me – whoa, steady on, but it really does have that quality of growing excitement, being swept along and just having to do that peep, peep, peep in the right place, with more and more urgency…

Add to this the sense of disbelieving satisfaction that I can actually DO IT. On the odd occasions when a swift string of notes comes out at the right speed, in the right order, and with my fingers apparently acting independently from the rest of my body, just instinctively knowing what to do. If only I could apply that in other areas of life!

Another feeling to treasure is the sound a flute makes, the way it resonates right through my body, when all I did was put my lips together… There’s a deep, woody, richly vibrating tone that the flute can make in its lower register. It’s gorgeous. And amazingly, I can produce that sound.

Those are the feelings I get from the playing of the instrument, but along with those are the fun of mixing with other amateur musicians. The laughter – I have been doubled over and speechless with mirth because my duet pal and I were playing so magnificently, appallingly badly! And there’s also the shared endeavour, the sense that ‘we will get this right, if it kills us!’ Working together, trying to play a tricky passage, taking it over and over again until suddenly, Hey – we did it!

There’s a meditative benefit from flute-playing as well. On my own, when I’m a bit tired, or bored, or sad, I can take the flute out of its box and give it a polish, and tootle through some simple little tunes and magically remove myself from the here and now and give my brain a place to rest and concentrate which doesn’t allow for anxieties or sorrows.

Yes, all of that is why I play the flute. I don’t do it because it’s good for me, I do it because I love it, and even when it’s been so hard to master that I could have cried or snapped it in two across my knee, I still have never wanted to give up.

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Project Finished! New Creativity After 60

Look at this amazing purple beast! The final result from my beginner’s stab at upholstery.

 

Here’s the shabby, dishevelled item it used to be – some transformation, eh!

A chair in need of re-upholstery

Before, it was hidden away under a blanket, too tatty to see the light of day. Now, I drag people off the street to admire it, and every morning take my lovely new velvet brush and perform the satisfying ritual of pile-alignment .

My only problem is that people, and cats, are drawn to it like a magnet – they want to sit on it, for heaven’s sake!

Happy with my creative project, I did learn that I am not a born upholsterer. Tools and I don’t really get on. Tacks and nails fall out or go in on the wonk. I’m too scared to cut. The best bits  were anything to do with fabric, smoothing on wadding, stitching a horsehair lumbar support with string.

None of that mattered though, because I was so well taught by Libby at Bungay upholsterers Perkins & Gibbs.  That woman has the glorious knack of the born teacher of enthusing, demonstrating  and quietly helping (a lot!) so that any hapless student who has bitten off far more than she can chew still ends up full of a sense of achievement.

The real joy, has been in working with others around, all of them are grappling with their own projects.

Even more fun than the process of bringing my weary old chair back to life has been the pleasure of being in the studio amid the quiet buzz of talk and banter, with the interesting people who go there, the dogs who wander in and out, the swags of fabric hanging up, the air of creativity, the sense of connection that Libby and Tam create.

That studio’s a life-enhancing place and I quite fancy upholstering my entire house now, just so I can go back there every couple of weeks for another dose.

It’s great to take on long-neglected creative projects now that there’s a bit more time in life, and some can even be tackled alone. But what I learned this time round is how much more enjoyable it is to go and share the whole thing with a bunch of people who, just at the moments when I was thinking anxiously, this is very purple, had a knack of saying – gorgeous colour.

Do you get a tingle of desire at the thought of making something? Got a project you want to start? Where does the joy lie in creativity for you? Do comment in the box below. And if you enjoy exploring the ins and outs of life beyond 60 with us, enter your email in the box up at the top of the page and you won’t miss a thing. 

Reflections on Henry Marsh’s Buttocks

Reading a review of Admissions, a new book by celebrated brain surgeon Henry Marsh, author of the remarkable Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery, I’m surprised by his admissions about his own ageing.

His retirement…the sight of his elderly sagging buttocks…have made him more fearful. The sudden proximity of death and the disabilities that old age brings….

Blimey. Henry Marsh must be older than I thought. But no. Turns out, H Marsh is only 3 years older than I am.

I drop the review on the duvet.

Elderly sagging buttocks? This is upsetting.

I get out of bed and go to the mirror. Hmm, not too bad – though I haven’t got my specs on.

Nonetheless, I am quite shaken up. Buttocks notwithstanding, I must be getting old too. These ailments of decline that he talks about, they’re round the corner for me too.

If Henry Marsh is feeling the draught and was born in the same decade that I was, then how can I go on pretending that I’m somehow immune from ageing?

Is there a point?

If death is suddenly proximate, and with it the ‘disabilities that old age brings’, is there any point in say, writing a blog. Or buying a bike? Or planting a tree?

Perhaps there’s more point, rather than none. But I still can’t quite shake off the fear.

Over breakfast, the feelings start to drift, but they leave a certain undertone to the morning, which isn’t dispersed by a walk, particularly under a grey sky.

Later, a sausage roll from the nice baker brings some solace and a sense, renewed yet again, of ‘just effing do it’, whatever it is.

This is how it is, I think, beyond 60. We start to see the end of the road in sight. Maybe it’s still a fair way off, maybe not. Most of us don’t know. Can’t know.

Now and then, Henry Marsh’s buttocks or something like them, force us to face up to our mortality. But we can’t hold that feeling for long, or we prefer not too.

By the end of the day, Henry and his sagging bum have receded. But they’ve made an impression.

Onwards, that’s the only answer.

How to tame travel fears over 60

Ah! My old friend, Travel Angst!

A few days before any trip I get a familiar frisson in my gut, and my mind starts working overtime.

‘Something could go wrong,’ it tells me. ‘You might miss the flight/lose your luggage/get blown up by terrorists/die of food poisoning’… on and on it goes. Sometimes my mind shouts so loud, I can’t hear myself thinking!

Why this fear? It’s not based on reason, or fact. And therein lies the key to wrestling myself out of its tentacles.

Familiar Patterns

Help is at hand when I start to notice what’s going on. I’m simply caught up in thoughts, fears and feelings, totally enmeshed as if they were reality, when in fact they’re simply the product of my mind, and I can watch them wander in, and and float away again, as long as I’m aware of what’s going on.

One way to tame the travel terrors, is to welcome them in. Yes – open your arms as if to an old friend. ‘Hello Travel Angst. Fancy seeing you again! Come on in, settle down and let’s have a good old chat about all the dastardly things that might happen when I leave home.’

As soon as I take that approach, the fears shrink. They don’t like being under the spotlight, because they’re quickly shown up for what they are – just thoughts, nothing more.

Taming Your Mind

Try this approach with anything that scares you. Keep a watch on your thoughts, and when they start to shriek their way to a climax, call them out. Say to yourself: ‘Just thoughts’. Name them: ‘I’m having thoughts about fear.’ Open up to them by stopping what you’re doing and taking a few deep breaths. Make space for them, and see if they don’t start to evaporate.

Give this fear-taming technique a try, and let me know how you get on. You can leave a comment below. 

Embracing the Unexpected at 60+

In the spirit of Finding New Creativity Over 60, I signed up for a workshop on Concrete Poetry run by the Creative Working Lives group.

A what? If you who know about Dada and the Surrealists you’ll be nodding wisely at this point, but I didn’t have a clue.

But nothing ventured…and it was interesting – spending a day at a long table with a dozen or so others, rearranging random words, making masks, snipping, sticking, writing and generally messing around.

I learned something about poetry, art, surrealism and the glee to be had from in unleashing my inner 5-year old. I also revisited a long-lost wail of ‘I can’t do this….’, and then found that maybe I just about can.

But what I learned most, was the extraordinary power of the unexpected.

Embrace the Unexpected

Because strangely, the gift of the day was not the chance to play, or the feeling of community in the room.

No, it was none of that. It came instead in a conversation with someone else on the course, that sprang up like a Spring storm and died away again just as quickly.

Maybe it was the art that opened the door, or the air of risk-taking and experimentation.

Maybe it was the influence of the letter I wrote from my 80-year-old self, who wants me to be more open.

Whatever the spark, this person simply sat down beside me as I worked and began quietly to talk about a recent and very painful experience in his life, a near-loss which had affected him profoundly.

It felt natural for me to carry on with my cutting and sticking, and let our talk flow effortlessly and honestly into discussing losses in both our lives.

How there are things that can’t be spoken of – until suddenly they can.

How very long it sometimes takes to even begin the drawn-out process of grieving.

How sorrow can resurface years later and feel just as scalding as it did early on, and then drop away again, leaving a sense of release and relief.

The Unexpected Happens in the Moment

His ease in launching into that conversation was the most unexpected and memorable part of a day that was filled with the unexpected and memorable.

And made me aware, not at the time, but now, that perhaps one hidden purpose of this blog is to find a sideways route into writing about grief in a way that heals.

Our talk ended as suddenly as it had begun with the call ‘5 minutes until we’re done!’, and with no acknowledgement of what had been said we both turned to focus on finishing off our pieces of work.

Creativity opens channels. If there’s any message here, it’s to remember that, and explore it.

What have you learned unexpectedly, through trying something new? Please leave your thoughts and comments below.

Write a Letter from Your Older Self

Dear Younger Me…with love from Older Me

Do you ever spend time with your older Self?

Virginia Woolf referred to her older self as ‘Old V’ in her diaries, and this week I’ve brought my own ‘Old E’ to life, in the interesting exercise of writing myself a letter, from me – at 80.

Taking a bit of time to get inside the head of the future you is very different from merely thinking about getting older.

For me the age of 80, though scarcely imminent, isn’t so far in the dim and distant that it’s completely unimaginable. Imagining it is scary, but it’s fruitful too. Will I even get there? Only one of my parents made it into the ninth decade, and that by a hairsbreadth.

Today, I’ll assume that nature will be kind, and fast forward into my older body and mind.

Imagine Yourself at 80

Try it. Sit for a moment, and look at the backs of your hands. How will they look different when you’re 80? Who will you be, years hence? What will be important? And what wisdom does Old You have to share with your younger self?

Le the thoughts settle, then start writing.

Older E turns out to be a force to reckon with. She kicks off: ‘…I’m not “Old E”…I don’t feel old. I’m still not entirely grown up.’

She challenges me to be bold:  ‘…don’t wind down, it’s too soon. You know those richly creative dreams that swirl around in your head…do me a favour, dear younger me, and give up playing safe!’

Let Go of Your Censor

When you write your letter from older you, aim for free flow. Write as you’d speak. Your older self will be a lot  like the current you in the way they speak and think, so don’t use a voice that doesn’t ring true.

Let your inner thoughts come to the fore. Older E knows I’m afraid of looking stupid – she says:

Write stuff. Never mind what people think. People don’t really care that much about what you do, so get over it!

And she offers me reasons not to be scared: …Lead a rich life – think BIG – give me some lovely excitement and adventure to look back on.

She knows what’s good for me, and admonishes me to keep going: …the meditation, it’s so good for you, for me, for us. Learn to know yourself as well as you can, then maybe I won’t need to make quite so much effort at breaking our painful old patterns of anger and defensiveness because you’ll have done the work for me. 

Write to Yourself with Compassion

Don’t use your letter as a chance to berate yourself for any shortcomings. Imagine that you’re writing with love and compassion, to help someone you care for deeply. …what I’m saying here dearest is not here’s a huge to do list, but be kind to yourself and just do your best

You can use your letter to give valuable reminders. Old E insists: Eat wisely and never get above a size 12 – I do NOT want to be matronly.

She advises me to …go easy on the gin, stop being a wuss and get on the bike, go swimming, dance round the kitchen. Have lots of laughs, have fun! It’s up to you whether I’m fit and supple or creaky and cantankerous. 

You’re In This Together

Your Older and Younger selves are one and the same, and what younger you does now can have a profound effect on older you’s experience of ageing. Not that Old E likes that ‘ageing’ label. She says:

Keep your zest for life, stay young at heart and never refer to yourself as an old lady – that’s a label reserved for centenarians.

There’s a surprising amount to learn from spending some time with the Future You. Give it a try, and please leave a comment below and tell us what you’ve discovered.

 

How to Spend More Time in the Present Moment at 60+

You’d expect it to be easy to spend time in the present moment. After all, it’s right here, so why not make up your mind to ‘be’ in it?

Today, as I walked along, I remembered that I wanted to practice being more be present.

‘Gorgeous magnolia,’ I remarked to myself,

‘…and,’ added my mind almost instantly, ‘…how awful it would be if you were knocked off your bike and killed, that would be the last magnolia you ever saw. Imagine how upset people would be at your funeral…’

And we were off, within a micro second, caught up catastrophic thinking and, rather than being here and now with the magnolia, propelled vividly into some future time that is never likely to happen, particularly as I don’t ride a bike….

The mind finds it virtually impossible to stay in the present moment for more than a few fleeting seconds. Its relentless desire is to launch into a re-run of some tale from the past, or else to amuse itself by itself by cooking up horror stories of tragedies, upsets and disappointments that might unfold in the future – but almost certainly won’t.

Why the mind has evolved in this way heaven knows, but it can no more stop thinking than the lungs can stop breathing, and it is constantly casting around for something to chew on.

Learn to Be Present More Easily

Cultivating an awareness of the mind’s antics is a great skill to have, and one that you can learn. Without that awareness, you can be oblivious to your entire experience if you’re walking around lost in thought. There are times when you just wouldn’t know that mind and body are connected.

A nice little trick to bring that awareness back is to have a run-through of the senses, noticing:

5 things you can see
4 things you can hear
3 things you can feel
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste

Try it now. You may be amazed to discover that you have hands! And feet! And they’re doing something which you can feel. What’s more you’ve got eyes that are filled with images, and ears that are attuned to the most subtle of sounds.

Find The Thing That Takes You Out of Yourself

But even if you set out with the best intentions to be here now, it’s an effort to train the mind to play along. So what else can we do, to spend more time experiencing the joy of the present moment?

The 80-year-old artist David Hockney shares his wisdom in a little video I saw recently. He says:

‘When you’re painting, it’s Now. I like to live in the Now. That’s all there is – Now – isn’t there?’

Hockney’s nailed it. When we’re totally absorbed we don’t notice time passing, we’re lost in the present moment.

What’s the activity that takes you out of yourself? Is it painting, like Hockers? For me it’s writing for pleasure (not for duty), and making music.

For you –  it might be gardening, baking, sewing, running? Please leave a comment, and share the activity that roots you in the present moment.

Feeling Uncertain After 60? Live the Questions

Sit and Think – or Live the Question?

There are times when I just don’t know.

What to do for the best? What to do at all? Which path to follow? How to make a bit of progress? How to get done what I want to get done, but can’t seem to start, or continue?

I’ve tried having a good think.

Writing down the pros and cons.

Asking a friend.

Setting a deadline.

I’m not convinced any of these work, though they might help shift the ideas along. But they seldom deliver answers.

This week, mulling over the questions of how to find out where I want to go with Beyond 60, and how to get there, I was given a timely reminder of a beautiful piece of wisdom written by early 20th-century Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke, in his book: Letters to a Young Poet. Rilke wrote:

…be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

Notice the wording. It isn’t ‘Live With the Questions’ – which carries a note of resignation ‘I suppose I’ll just have to live with this uncertainty’, and a sense of giving up on finding an answer. It is Live the Questions.

What an interesting idea. How do I go about living my questions? I simply do my best to  inhabit them, examine them with curiosity, keep them in mind when reading, tie them to a string and let them float, sip them in my glass of wine, take them along on a walk, relax under a blanket with them, give them my attention and my intention, and at the same time leave them to drift gently in the background.

Above all, I don’t fret over them. Let them be. As poet Mary Oliver says, ‘Things take the time they take. Don’t worry.’

The one thing that put me off Rilke’s words was the implication that answers might not emerge until ‘some distant day’. At Beyond 60, I’m not so keen on waiting that goes on into the distance.

But strangely, I’ve found that answers bubble up naturally and sometimes very swiftly, if I live the questions, without prodding them.

Have you tried living a question? What happened? Please leave a comment below.