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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

On the "Silver Tsunami" Front

Twenty-five years ago, while walking past a group of old Black men in my north side Chicago neighborhood, one of them called out to me, “Hey, Silver Fox.”

Needless to say, it brought a huge smile to my face.  Ah, I remember thinking, now there’s a man who appreciates a woman who wears her age.  I was still several years shy of 50, but had been going gray since my late 20’s, a genetic disposition inherited from my mother.

For a short spell, in my early 40’s, when I had a crush on a much younger man, I did dye my hair, a horrid reddish-brown that made me look paler than I already was (and still am--thanks to the Irish side of my genetic inheritance). 

I’m pleased to report that that was the last time for such foolishness.  I’m also pleased to have lived long enough to see that more and more women are living the truth of their age, no longer needing to deny the reality of who they are.

Here’s more about the silver tsunami.  Enjoy the Cindy Joseph video especially.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

More Unretirement

The financial bits in this piece don’t interest me as much as these lifestyle aspects of retirement—and the numbers behind them:

"Alone Time"—and the related "Screen Time"
(44% of Americans age 65 and older live alone)

"The Dating Game"
(45% of Americans age 65 and older are single)

"Staying Put"
(Most retired seniors don’t relocate, despite the lure of warmer weather.)

For many of us, the old retirement script—the one our parents and grandparents lived by—just doesn’t add up anymore.  And not only for financial reasons.

Our generation has been blessed with many more healthy and productive years, and so must find more satisfying ways of living them. 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Which Stories To Tell?

This poem—from the February 2, 2015 issue of The New Yorker—put me in mind of what people in my "Writing Family Stories" workshop often confront:  What stories from my life do I really want to pass along to my kids and grands? 

Do I want to tell the really sad/bad ones?  Or just keep it nice and simple?

I love how this poet expresses that great divide in such an economical way.

Tell Us a Story, Grandma

I wonder which ones I will remember:
That I loved my boyfriend’s best friend?
That I rode the lonely train to Boston?
That I could never hold myself together?
Maybe I should just tell them
Milk was $2.89 a gallon and bread was $3.29
And an iPhone was $200
In 2010, when I was 22.

To listen to the poet read the poem aloud, click here:

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Nothing Left To Lose: Conclusion

There was just one major thing I wanted to accomplish that morning I went to swim with the manatees: to stay in the water long enough to encounter one, whatever I imagined “encounter” might mean.

Aye, there’s the question.  What has driven me over the years to not just go see a wild animal—in a zoo, an aquarium, or a preserve—but to enter its territory, to go looking for it out where it lives, to have an experience that is not possible in my day-to-day, highly built, and urbanized world.

And what is that experience exactly that I seek?  The closest I've ever come to an answer is that it is a kind of communion with the Other, a glancing look between me and a sentient creature not of my own kind, one that I hope will reveal something extraordinary. 

But about what, exactly, I’m not quite sure.

OK, sorry to get all philosophical here, but something like that is what was going on for me as I floated toward the manatees on that sunny if chilly morning in the Homosassa River. 

And of the manatee "encounters" that did occur (see previous post), only two register still in my memory.

Here's one of them, caught twice on film by friend Jack, who just happened to be in the right place when it occurred:

So there we both were, me and the manatee, our mutual flipper arms dangling in the water below us, mute comprehension between us.  I know what I'm thinking:  "Holy damn moley.  I'm face to face with a manatee." 

As for the creature itself, for what her senses might be telling her?  Here's an excerpt from the essay "Why Look At Animals?" in John Berger's book, About Looking that attempts to explain:

"The eyes of an animal when they consider a man are attentive and wary.  The same animal may well look at other species in the same way.  He does not reserve a special look for man.  But by no other species except man will the animal's look be recognised as familiar.  Other animals are held by the look.  Man becomes aware of himself returning the look."

And then, like the wind, the moment--and the manatee--were gone, and I was left to continue my way through the water, to see what or who else from the depths of the river might appear.

That next moment, which exists only in my mind's eye, no underwater camera to capture it, has also remained in my visual memory, but maybe even deeper than the one above, as I have no photo to help me recall it:

Suddenly, and likely nearer the roped-off area that humans were not to enter, I was hovering over four or five very large manatees, all of them bunched together on the water's bottom, not quite in a circle, in no pattern at all really, but crowded together, as if in a mutually-agreed upon meeting of manatee minds.

And the thought that zipped through my very human mind as I hovered above them was one of intrusion.  Though I'd come to these waters to swim with the manatees, I now felt as if I were trespassing, had innocently enough burst in on them, unexpectedly, had interrupted something essential going on between them.

Something of which I could never, ever, really, be a part.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Nothing Left To Lose: Part II

I just finished searching through archived emails to see when the idea of swimming with manatees first entered my imagination.  It was likely last October, during a visit with my long-time friend Sue and her husband, Jack. 

Sue and I go back to the ‘60s, though we’d lost touch over the years and only recently reconnected on Facebook.  I’d met Jack briefly in 2005, shortly before he and Sue married, each for the second time.

They were in Chicago for Sue’s 50th high school reunion, and so we met up at one of the neighborhood joints familiar to my friend and I from our younger days.  At some point during our long, wine-fueled conversation, the idea of my visiting them in Florida where they now live—and in early winter—must have come up, followed shortly, I assume, by something like, “And, hey, during your stay, we can go swim with the manatees.”

Or something like that.

Which is all to say: I’d never had a thought one way or the other about getting in the water with those colossal mammals—though I once had a similar animal dream about rescuing large endangered turtles.  And of course I'd gone howling with the wolves up in northern Minnesota in 1995.  And just this year celebrated the arrival of a coyote family living up the street at the local golf course.

So I guess you could say I’m not someone who would balk at the idea, and at the reality, of flying two hours from Chicago to Florida in February, then three days later driving an additional three hours southwest to the Homosassa River, then don the gear and get on the boat and ride to the place where a person could then jump in the water and make her uncertain way to that special spot where the manatees gathered.

That morning--just a week and two short days ago--the water was pretty cloudy (silty?). Most of the manatees were hanging out on the river’s floor, heading only to the surface to breathe, an operation that seemed to take about two seconds—their two tiny nostrils quickly sucking in the air—before they headed back to the bottom.

All done slowly--the rising and the falling--and at the urging of some internal animal mechanism I do not share.

Which means that the manatees I was dog-paddling among seemed to come into my view willy-nilly, from the left or the right, moving along side or rising from underneath, all without rhyme or reason.  This is one of the first things I recall seeing out of the corner of my snorkeled eye:

It is some manatee's silt-filled, slightly slippery back, which, I'd learned earlier, they quite like having scratched, back scratching being a favorite shared activity among manatees and Those Who Would Swim With Them.

And so while still trying to get my bearings (hah!), I reached out and obligingly scratched, my fingers lightly moving across the manatee's back as it continued its slow way past me, likely hoping to find someone with a heavier touch.  I registered dumbly: broad and thick Manatee skin covered in watery slime, alive to the fleeting touch, almost (but how is this possible?) warm.

Alone again in the murky water, with only my breathing to locate me in my body, I turned and likely saw this fellow (gal?)...

...or maybe just this, the large tail end of another, shimmering in the early morning's sun.

But the two most significant moments in the water for me were yet to come.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Nothing Left to Lose: Part I

Whenever I come up with a plan that seems almost unattainable—to quit smoking, go back to grad school in my 40’s, travel alone to London for the big 7-0—I’ve learned that what pushes it into the “definitely” attainable column is making the plan public. 

And so I tell everyone within shouting (or Facebook or blog) distance, including friends, colleagues, writing clients, the cashier at CVS, the barista at Starbucks, and most all of my neighbors in Rogers Park.  It doesn’t matter if all those people even care about the plan or if they like being reminded of it for months before I finally realize it.

What does matter is that by yakking about it to whoever will listen, I hold myself more accountable to the plan.  It’s out there, spoken, and to lots of peeps.  At least one of them, I figure, is likely to ask at some point, “So, Carol, how’d that wolf howling thing go?”

All this especially matters when it involves my doing something that forces me over the invisible line in my head marked “Uh, I don’t think I can really do this.”

But, as it turns out, crossing that line, maybe with or without the public part, does seem to get easier the older I get. (“Just step this way, Little (Old) Lady.”)  Because, really, what do I have to lose?  Especially with more years behind than ahead of me?

And so last Thursday, in the warmish waters of the Homosassa River in Florida, on the Gulf side due southwest of Ocala, I found myself on a boat, dressed in a wet suit, and instructed by Captain Erica in the use of a snorkel, two accessories I’d never before worn nor considered wearing.

Then, before I could say “WTF?”, I was led over to and down the short ladder into the water, where I thrashed and screamed for just one silly minute before righting myself and heading off to get up close and personal with the Florida manatee, several of them actually, large, passive, gentle creatures previously unknown to me in a long life spent longing for wild animal encounters.