2) Be prepared to look old. Aged faces can be iconic. We live in a culture that despises retirees but loves antiques – a tragic paradox. Try to look like a Victorian lampshade.
3) The writing of palindromes is the secret of mental youth. (A palindrome is a word, phrase, or Supreme Court ruling that reads the same way back and forth.) At night in bed, just before I fall asleep, I often practice this art form awesome. Here are some recent palindromic compositions:
Tipsy, my brooch.
No! Help pin a nipple, honey!
Do not refer to Nod.
Blurted out: “Tuotrulb!”
Da, Lassie is a salad.
In words drown me.
No one; beautiful cinnamon!
Gender is six.
Thinking in two directions at the same time strengthens both halves of the brain.
4) Vary your walking speed. Walk slowly and thoughtfully, like a rhino, for a while, then climb like a sandpiper.
6) Touch the trees. Humans have faces up front, but trees have 360 degree faces. Close your eyes and learn braille from the skin of a tree.
7) Play the tonette every day. Do you know what a tonette is? It is a flute-like plastic instrument that anyone can play. My tonet has seven holes, plus one at the back, which seems to add an octave. I only use mine outdoors. (In my opinion, music shouldn’t be confined to homes.) I live between a mountain and a cove. The mountain is called Romer Mountain. The stream is called the Esopus. I walk outside, usually in the afternoon, and play my tonette for two or three minutes: avant-garde quick noodles, or methodical sequences that look like music exercises for eight-year-olds.
A bad musician is always a musician. Although I don’t have a “talent”, I’m still a tonette player! Nobody can deny it!
14) Become wise. Most aging experts advise “staying young”, but that’s nonsense. Young people are young; it is their talent. Old people, on the contrary, should become profoundly wise.
How do you get wise I have no idea.
15) Learn to fail. Most of us are trying to improve ourselves in our hobbies and careers. We want to improve as tennis players, as firefighters, as sushi chefs. But what we forget is that failure is also a talent – often a more adaptive talent than success. Life is mostly a series of defeats, which usually catch us off guard. But if you willfully take on projects that you are doomed to fail – designing a solar-powered rocket, for example – you will develop the strength to live on for years, years, and years. So pick a task that you will never do well and start trying. Try to master backgammon or cure cancer. It’s yours. (And maybe, stupid luck, you’ll build a solar powered rocket!)
16) Love your bacteria. We’re talking about aging wine, or cheese, or anything catalyzed by bacteria. Well guess what? Humans are one or two percent bacteria, by weight. This means that if you weigh one hundred and sixty pounds, you are carrying almost two pounds of single-celled organisms, mostly in your intestines and on your skin. Forget your “inner child”; consider your “Inner City” of bacteria. Study your own microbial colony; learn what these beneficial creatures enjoy. Buy a jar of artichoke hearts, place a few in your salad, eat them, and watch how your bacteria react. Are they delighted? Insult? Try other foods. (In theory, they should respond to miso soup, yogurt, kefir, red wine, and other foods with bacteria, but your particular bacterial subculture may have its own preferences.) Co-evolve with your germs are the happiest way to age.
19) Do everything as slowly as possible. Orr, a character in Catch-22, thought he would live longer by doing tedious and repetitive tasks, like taking a radio apart and putting it back together. For example, when you exit the tub, dry yourself so slowly that most of the water evaporates. If you live slowly enough, an hour becomes three hours and twenty minutes.
21) Read joke books. I found The treasure trove of clean jokes for children by Tal D. Bonham on the free shelf at Phenicia thrift store, so I took her home. Here is a joke I opened at random:
Brandon: Today on the school bus, a little boy fell out of his seat, and everyone laughed but me.
Teacher: Who was the little boy?
This joke has the merit of being a Buddhist parable as well. (Come to think of it, this might be one way to get wise: reading joke books.)
27) Take a nap. The siesta is an art, like ceramics. A good nap can reinvent a day. You wake up to clearer and fresher air –happier air. And the elderly have the right to take a nap – it is considered a virtue.
30) Make new friends and have tea with them. Coffee is for chatting; tea is for real talk. (Coffee suggests a “coffee break,” a rushed and gone time. Tea is timeless.)
31) Ask for help. We all need help and as we get older we need more. At 79, you’ll need more friends than ever! So start asking for help – cooking, cleaning, grooming your dog. Ask the young, but also the elderly; even people older than you! (Three hundred octogenarians can lift a car, easily, if they act together.)
I have a friend – I’ll call him Portsmouth Pete – who in his youth would ask every woman at a party to have sex with him. More often than expected, it looks like yes – a complete stranger! (His success rate was around 1:26.) Once you’re old, you need the same spirit of joyful asking. Who knows why someone might want to help you? Maybe their guru asked them to do it. Maybe they are incredibly bored. Or maybe they’re in the throes of guilt because they recently robbed a bank. Either way, there is nothing wrong with asking. And don’t be bitter if they say no. Notice if this 1:26 ratio still holds.
39) two poems
In defense of aging
are the stars.
I am a time
42) The best part about getting old is that you can stop worrying about getting famous. Up to the age of 24, there is a chance that you will be a celebrity, even if you are completely talentless. But over time that possibility diminishes, and by the time you are 71, it is infinitesimal. In addition, you will have lost touch with this inner circle. When you open People magazine, you’ve never heard of stars (okay, maybe two out of 80). There’s a whole new pantheon of beautiful, empty-headed people with interchangeable names like Ryan Fletcher and Owen Basil, as unknowable as Polynesian deities. Plus, you’re already famous in your neighborhood or in your profession – known as a trusted orthodontist in North Long Island or a great social worker in Arkansas – and that’s good enough. Instead, you are encouraging one of your grandsons to become famous around the world.
51) Stand up for your beliefs. Nothing like a 93-year-old woman at an anti-racist rally to make everyone cry. Be that person.
52) Give advice. As you get wiser, more and more people will ask for your advice. Your nephew – or great-nephew – will ask you, “Do I have to go to college?” You must respond, even if you don’t have an answer. One possibility is to follow Jesus’ example – to invent a meaningless parable. Say, “A farmer had a field. She planted half of it with barley and the other half with corn. In the barley corn grew, but among the corn no barley grew.” Then sit down, smiling cryptically. [Notice the non-sexist language. One should always aspire to be less sexist than Jesus.]
53) Stop reading self-help books. They make us all so stupid that we can barely finish reading a self-help book!