My non-imaginary friend

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I never had an imaginary friend as a child because I had a non-imaginary friend that I could talk to anytime and anywhere, my very own self.

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As I’ve grown older, my inner dialog has morphed into an outer dialog. I feel the need to tell myself out loud what I’m going to do next, just in case I have forgotten. “Okay, first I’ll make coffee and eat breakfast, read the news online, and then take a walk.”

 

I also enjoy asking myself questions, especially while driving. “Can you believe that idiot cut in front of me?” I’ll ask myself. After I respond with a few choice words, I commiserate with myself and respond, “You poor thing. It’s a curse to have the unsought-for gift of turning into an idiot magnet once you get behind the wheel of a car.” I talk to myself a lot in the car because idiots from around the state are compelled to get in their cars to drive the same roads I am on just to get a glimpse, a very close glimpse, of me.

 

Home is where I talk to myself the most. While cleaning the base of the toilet, I ask myself out loud, “Who in their right mind uses toilet anchor bolt covers that pop off and require superglue to attach? Why don’t they use screw-on caps?” I ask myself that question every time I wipe the base of the toilet, knock off those little plastic covers and watch them roll behind the toilet. Only someone who never cleans a toilet could design something like that.

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On occasion I use the mirror to role-play another person who needs to be told off. I rehearse a brilliant conversation in which I use my incisive reasoning skills and devastating humor to reveal their stupidity, callousness, or delusion, leaving the person duly chastised and at a loss for words in the face of my wisdom and oratorical skills. Sometimes I wear sunglasses when I do this because my brilliance can be blinding.

 

Once I have given the person a piece of mind, I can walk away knowing that I saved another piece of my mind, which would otherwise have been lost. At my age, you need to hang onto every single piece you have. I’ve lost quite a bit of my mind over the years, so I know what I’m talking about. Or at least I think I do.

 

I even talk in public when I think I am alone. If I have already begun talking out loud and notice someone within earshot, I hum and mumble made-up words to a real or imaginary song, so the person who got shot in the ear with my self-talk will think I’m merely singing to myself. Most people feel cordial to those who sing to themselves in public, judging them to have pent-up musical talent that can’t be contained. People who talk to themselves in public, on the other hand, are more likely to have just one talent: being crazy. And they themselves need to be contained.

 

Frequently when I’m in conversation with myself in my head or out loud, I remind myself of funny things that have happened, so I start laughing. If people carry their ears within hearing range, I pretend that laughter is part of the song that I was singing, which is harder than you think.

 

My repertoire of songs that include laughter is limited to four from my youth. All appeared in the 1960s. The first one, Wipe Out by The Surfaris, is instrumental with just one word, the title. Humming, laughing, and shouting out “Wipe Out!” alarms most people, however, so I avoid that one. Another one I’m reluctant to use is They’re Coming to Take Me Away by Napoleon XIV because I think they really would. The Beatles recorded the last two that I remember: I Am the Walrus and Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da. Both have that LSD-authored quality of the decade. No matter how smoothly I segue into any of these songs though, the people around me get that look of panic that movie characters get when they hear a door open in the abandoned house they’ve gone to investigate alone, with no weapon or phone, because they suspect a serial killer might be hiding there, and it seemed like a good idea at the time, in spite of an entire theater full of people yelling at them to turn back.

 

I understand. I’ve been there myself. Not in an abandoned house looking for a serial killer, but walking near a person who is chatting away in a robust voice, but with phone-free hands. I’ve been convinced and alarmed that the person was deep in a self-argument until I carefully circled around and noticed the person wearing one of those Bluetooth earpieces.

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I’m not much of a phone-talker and have never wanted an earpiece, but I think I might need one. When you’re long in the tooth and have the habit of talking to yourself in an audible voice, it’s best to have at least one tooth that’s blue. Of course, I won’t connect the earpiece to my phone; I wouldn’t want anyone to call and interrupt my conversations with myself.

 

Photos: 
Painting from Sally Ann  
Anchor bolt cover from Lowes
Bluetooth earpiece from Wikimedia

 

 

Letter to my 90-year-old self

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Dear Future Yearstricken,

 

 

Do you remember me? I didn’t think so. You lived my life several decades ago. I thought I’d better write you a letter to remind you what your plans for old age were.

 

 

  • You can only whine and complain on Tuesdays from 3 – 5 p.m., so make good use of that time. When you were younger, you used to say, “Put on your big girl panties and deal with it.” Now, of course, you’ll have to put on your big girl Depends and deal with life’s inconveniences: your aches and pains, the decreasing level of intelligent life around you, and the annoying habit of people who never learned to speak clearly and loudly.

 

 

  • Open that Excel file called Stories I Like to Tell that I left on your computer, iPad, and phone. I tried to sort them chronologically, so the stories of your childhood start the list. You’ll have to fill in names of new people across those top cells. If you can’t fill them in, ask someone for help. Then every time you tell that person one of your stories, put an “x” under the person’s name. If that’s too hard, ask the person listening to the stories to mark the ones he or she has heard before. Once the person has heard all of your stories, feel free to just make stuff up. They weren’t there, so they’ll never know the difference.

 

Type of text commonly used in books in the year 2014.

Type of text commonly used in books in the year 2014.

 

  • Read every day. I hope by the time you receive this, the alarming trend of making letters smaller and fuzzier will reverse itself so that you can read books and magazines. When you were a child, all print was normal-sized, crisp, sharp, and easy to read. Somewhere around your 30s or 40s, printers of all kinds became sloppy and started using smaller, blurrier fonts. The you that is me right now has been forced to use glasses for printed material and the magnifier function on the computer. You may have to rely on audio versions of books, although computers should be able to read aloud better by mid-century.

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  • Keep learning about the world around you. It may do for the people around you to talk and care about only local affairs, but it won’t do for you. You cannot turn away from the pain and suffering of other lands anymore than you can ignore the beauty and wonder of other cultures. Your community extends across all of the continents. You share the same story with every other human being.

 

 

  • Practice mercy and forgiveness every day, or at least every day except Tuesdays from 3 – 5 p.m. when you are busy whining and complaining. You never learned much from punishment other than fear, but you have been transformed by the mercy and forgiveness you have received. Avoid carrying grudges; they’re incredibly heavy and tend to throw your back out and make you spiteful.

 

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  •  Laugh as much as possible, and often at yourself. Cry, too. Keep feeling and savoring life. It’s okay to lick the bowl at the end of the meal; you don’t have that many more meals left.

 

 

  • Don’t worry about what other people think about you. Most people find thinking troublesome, and those that bother to think won’t spend much time thinking about you.

 

 

  • Enjoy your coffee, wine, and dark chocolate. If you’re alive at 90, you’ve proved they are good for you.

 

 

  • Pay attention every day. Look, really look, at what is around you: the number of petals on an orchid, the different shades of green in your spring garden, the mechanism of a zipper, the way your knuckles bend (hopefully), and the variety of bird songs in summer. If you don’t understand something, look it up. Find out. You need this as much as coffee, wine, and dark chocolate.

 

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  • Tell the people around you that you love them. Hug them every chance you get. Don’t worry about embarrassing them or yourself. Tell the child that your heart nearly bursts every time she comes through the door. Tell your daughters that they are two of life’s greatest gifts. Tell your husband that a day has never  by that you haven’t marveled at his love and patience. It’s okay to repeat yourself this time. Your family and friends may tire of your stories, but they’ll never tire of being loved.

 

Your once and former self,

 

Yearstricken

 

I hear the bells a-ringing

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My mind refuses to reveal the details of the day that I first read Poe’s poem “The Bells.” I do remember, however, the pleasure of hearing it read out loud and listening to the music of the bells in every line. Most likely it was in my sophomore year of high school. The teacher’s name remains buried beneath the rubble of my memories, but I remember that she was a great lover of words. Although I had some interest in biology, French, and algebra, I loved English class because we were required to read. No one had to require me to read, but English class assignments gave me the perfect excuse to avoid chores or obligations – Sorry, but I have to read this for English class.

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Poe’s use of language, first ringing and singing then wrangling and jangling across the page, thrilled me. I loved the words, even the ones I didn’t know yet like tintinnabulation, euphony, and monody. I never forgot the delight of listening to those tinkling silver sleigh bells and the bright golden wedding bells, followed by the clanging bronze alarm bells that led finally and irrevocably to the heavy iron bells tolling death. Poe, of course, could never stop with love and beauty; he had to follow them to their final end. But it was the magic of the words even more than the meaning of the poem that held me and rang in my mind ever after.

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A half of a century later, I often think of Poe and his poem. When the world and the whirlwind in my mind are still, especially at night, which is when all of Poe’s bells ring, I hear the tintinnabulation of the bells, ringing and singing in my ear without end. I had hoped six weeks ago, when the ringing first began that it was a temporary aberration of the ear, but it has continued. The official name for this most poetic of conditions is tinnitus, so called since 1684 when it was listed in a medical dictionary as “a certain buzzing or tingling in the ear.”

 

Like so many conditions and health issues, the only cure is death. Until then, I must learn to manage the sound, ignoring it when I can. When I am busy, I don’t notice it at all. Thankfully, I have discovered dozens of possible illnesses that cause tinnitus. I’m sure I have all of them, so I should stay quite busy, first by diagnosing myself to confirm that I have them, next by keeping vigil by my deathbed, and finally by spontaneously recovering from all of them.

 

My ear rings! Day and night.

My ear rings! Day and night.

For your reading pleasure, go here to read “The Bells.” Enjoy. May it ring in your mind, but not your ears, forever.

 

Photos: Large church bell by Cherubino    Small bells by David Blaikie     Three bells by Badseed

 

The body remembers

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The body remembers.

 

The sun-scorched skin can number the days beneath the sky’s great torch, planting grain, lying on the beach, and walking to the train. The knees recall each road they travelled and the weariness of sidewalks and pavement. They can count the ups and downs of stairs you’ve long forgotten. The back has followed every step you’ve taken, holding you upright through the hard days, willing to bend at your command and lift small children, boxes, and bags and bags of groceries. The bones empty themselves to make space for all the memories of stillness. They languished those hours, longing to carry you, to feel the heft of life and movement. In the unseen places, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage journal every blow, fall, jolt, jump, stroll, dance, and spin; most of which you cannot remember.

 

The body grows weary of silence.

 

Year after year the body waited, remembering. The few times it spoke, you listened, tended to its needs, and heard no more. Stories must be told and now the body speaks. The skin brings up memories of the sun, like old photographs printed on your face. The knees insist you listen to the recitation of burdens borne; the back wakes you at night to tell its tales. Day after day the memories excavate within the bones, hollowing them out  for a place to rest, nestling within the fragile spaces of the clavicle, radius, and femur. Tendons, ligaments, and cartilage lose themselves in remembrances that stretch across the years.

 

The body must tell, and should you turn away, it speaks more loudly. Listen it says, this is where I’ve been, this is the road I trod. And you must listen. Where else can you go?

 

 

Elderly woman:  Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

 

 

Old married couples: Sitting quietly without speaking

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You’ve heard the stories about old married couples. How they grow to look alike. And how they can sit quietly without speaking, enjoying the silence together.

 

Well, the first one is true. Old married couples look the same because all old people look alike. You may be taller, shorter, rounder, or skinnier than your spouse; and you may dye your hair, exercise, eat right, and use expensive creams, but sooner or later both of you will have to put on a wrinkled coat of skin, large ears, and a droopy nose, so you are properly dressed for the party called old age.

 

Of course, you can attend the party wearing a mask created by a plastic surgeon. But you can only wear it for a while before you need a new one. Keep doing that and eventually your mouth will be stretched so close to your ears that you can hear yourself drool. Did I mention drool? Well, lots of people at the party do. Not the mentioning, the drooling.

 

About that second idea: I believe half of it. Old couples often sit quietly without speaking, but not because they are enjoying the silence together. Something else is going on, something called “mamihlapinatapai.” (Note to reader: Impress your friends by casually using this word in a conversation. I’ve developed an easy pronunciation guide to help you in your impressiveness. Repeat after me: mommy – la piñata – pie.)

 

In the Yaphan language of Tierra del Fuego, it means “two people looking at each other without speaking, each hoping that the other will offer to do something which both parties desire but neither is willing to do.”

 

When old couples sit together in silence, both are hoping the other person will do what needs to be done, like washing the dishes, taking out the trash, buying more Depends, or remembering the names of the children. They may look as if they are resting in their love, but both of them are secretly willing the other to action: one silently repeats in his mind, “Make some dinner, make some dinner,” while the other one says over and over in her mind, “Fix us something to eat, fix us something to eat.” If they been together long enough, they’ll sense what the other person is trying to communicate, especially if they have their glasses on and can see what time it is. Then after one asks, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” the other one will nod, wipe the drool from the corner of her mouth, and order Chinese.

 

 

 

(Photo:  Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-USF35-1326])

Frequently Not Asked Questions: One

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Frequently Not Asked Questions (FNAQ) is a new feature on this blog. This feature will appear infrequently, so I suggest that you frequently not expect it.

 

How did you get so old?

 

This is a great question. Thank you for asking.

 

First, let me say that it takes time. You cannot rush into it. I’ve discovered what I call the Seven Secrets to Growing Older. (It’s the title of my new book, soon to be launched on the Amazon.) I don’t want to give too much of it away, but I’ll let you in on the first secret: it’s called Monday. In the book, I explain how Monday and the six steps that follow are the key to getting older. I am confident that by practicing these steps over and over, anyone can grow older. In fact, I am so confident that my book comes with a lifetime guarantee!

 

Second, it helps if you start when you’re very young. I began at such a young age that I don’t have any recollection of when I started. Just as many writers can’t remember a time when they didn’t write, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t getting older. Please don’t think I’m bragging; I’m merely answering the question.

 

Third, you have to stay consistent. You can’t just stop and pick it up at a later date. Once you stop, you lose your chance to continue. This is probably the number one reason so many people fail to get old.

 

Fourth, you have to practice breathing. It’s related to the third point because it requires consistency. Some people find it tedious – in and out, in and out, all the livelong day – but I’ve found that once you do it enough, it becomes automatic. In fact, now I feel that I can’t live without it.

 

I credit time, an early start, consistency, and breathing with my ability to grow old. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my mother who not only encouraged me in my early efforts but also modeled the seven steps, soon to be revealed in my book. Of course, I don’t discount food and water any more than I discount my book.

 

(For more information about my book, stay here and read that first point again. For more information about the Amazon, go here.)

In disguise

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My body is serious about getting old. Each day it tries a little harder to sag or wrinkle, and I have to say, it’s doing a very good job. The “me” inside the body tried getting older once, tried to be suave and debonair, but it didn’t work. Say the word “suave” and I see shampoo and thighs (both are “proven to volumnize”); say the word “debonair” and I visualize air freshener: Does your home smell naïve? Try Debonair! It’s the smell of sophistication.

Not that I can’t be serious; it’s just that I can’t be serious for long periods of time.

 

The other day I was in the car listening to WPR (Wisconsin Public Radio) as former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold unbuckled the truth about what is happening inside the Washington Beltway. When I stopped at a light, I noticed the car in front of me had a license plate from Iowa. I forgot all about politics because I suddenly wanted to flag the man over to ask him his last name. Let it be Lott, I thought. If not, I’ve got to stop this internal rhyming and move to Iowa, change my last name to Lott, and have people call me Iowa Lott. As I turned the corner ,I saw a sign at the gas station that said, “Pay Inside.” I envisioned myself buying gas, going inside, and yapping. Then I would point to the word “Pay” on the sign and say, “I’m half-dyslexic.”

 

Russ was still talking sensibly when I got back, and I made it safely home without pulling anyone over or yapping inside of the gas station.

 

Pretending to be a grownup is a tiresome, but necessary business. If I said and did the things my fifth-grade self would like to say and do, I would be institutionalized. That’s why it’s hard to fault my body for its relentless determination to grow old. It’s the perfect disguise.

 

 

‡Spray bottle photo borrowed from http://www.mt-packaging.com/and slightly altered by yearstricken, who loves a company with a sense of humor. They sell packaging, like empty cans to put your spray in, and their name is MT.