Thursday, March 10, 2011

Paddling pleasantly through a lame-duck life

Long-lasting relief, without quackery.
     (3/10/2015) Several years ago, a former newspaper colleague who was nearing retirement confided that he had just bought the last pair of dress shoes he would ever need.
    What did he mean by that?
    "I don't wear them very often, so they last about thirty years," he said. "I expect to be gone by then."
    This struck me as sad and scary at the time. But now that I've reached that stage of life, I'm finding that it's a relief to start winding down and closing shop. It's a lame-duck life, and it's strangely exhilarating. I feel positively presidential, freed from all those hassles that come with the desire to hold onto your position. At last, the finish line is visible! I will buy one more mattress, and I'll never have to do it again. I'll replace my 25-year old car with a newer-model used one, and that will be my last car, forever! I am enjoying this premature -- yet oddly mature -- approach to the end-of-life issue.

     In a sense, we are lame ducks from the day we're born. Someone will come along a few decades from now to take our Place on Earth, and we will vanish into the dustbin -- or ash-bin -- of history. Luckily, we have lots of distractions from this inevitability during most of our lives. Everything is new to us. We are fascinated by people, places, and things. We are on a trajectory that keeps most of us engaged during childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
     The specter of mortality has haunted my life, making that trajectory somewhat uneasy. I've had a full life, but the thought that it will end, and I'll be dead forever, has  cast a pall over everything, making me feel as if I'm just going through the motions -- trying to distract myself from the Dismal Truth that it is all ultimately meaningless. 
    I am tired of it. A new fatigue has set in over the day-to-day imperatives. I am sick of the all the chores, and I am regarding more things than ever as chores -- even things like doing laundry and cooking dinner. Boring!  I am left cold by the repetition, not only in my own life, but also in the world as a whole. Didn't I just get my car inspected? Here we go again. Didn't I just go through the grocery ads? Didn't I just  chop enough carrots, cabbage, onions, apples, garlic and broccoli to last a week? And already I have to do it all over? It's tax time again? It's  Saturday again? Wasn't it just Saturday, like, yesterday? My life seems at once interminable -- I feel as if I've been around forever -- and zooming past me.
   I'm increasingly getting a "been there, done that" feeling about life. It's all becoming way too predictable and mindless for me. I am no longer interested in the news. It's the same old story year after year: war, suffering, inequality, corruption, infidelity, ineptitude, and the ongoing collapse of our ecosystems. I don't even feel like reading books anymore, or seeking out new music. I know I would enjoy them, but I've had all the "newness" I need. I haven't traveled everywhere in the world, but I've traveled enough. I hate being a tourist. I'll visit exotic lands by watching PBS travelogues. I am increasingly using my bed as a "temporary coffin," in which I can escape from the mundaneness of being alive.
     My new sense that I really am a lame duck, just biding my time until my existence is erased, is oddly relaxing.  Meaninglessness has acquired a vivid new place in my mind. A "what does it matter?" attitude has crept in, displacing my lifelong conviction that lots of things matter.
    I have a lame-duck life. I'm in my final term in office -- or rather at home sitting at my computer. I don't need a fat lady to sing. I'll just stop singing myself, and then it will all be over.

    We just bought the last refrigerator we will ever need, and the last vacuum cleaner. We have no interest in big screen TVs, Ipads, or even cellphones. 
    The clothes I've been wearing are all from the 1980s. They're still in great shape, since I practically live in one of my three handsome men's bathrobes. I love my subversive T-shirts, and my rock-band T-shirts, and I still wear them, delighting in their inappropriateness for someone of my age. Rock the Casbah! Right on, Tupac! But over the past few months, since I am visiting my mother every day at an assisted living facility, I have bought (online, in thrift shops and at WalMart) a small but delightful wardrobe of midi-length sleeveless cotton sundresses, colorful slip-on shoes, well-made sweatpants, and sweatshirts, and plush zip-up jackets. I even got two very cool fedoras at Goodwill for a dollar each. Now I have a great wardrobe that cost about $200 total, and I will never need to buy ANY MORE CLOTHES!
    I got a lifetime supply of running shoes (at a clearance sale of discontinued models), jogging bras and socks for the same amount of money I would have spent on three or four year's worth if I'd paid full price. Even if I'm still jogging in my nineties, I'll have new pairs of shoes waiting for me.
    I've always liked the idea of getting a lifetime supply of anything when it's at a great price -- from toilet paper to dried beans to canned tomatoes -- and now that my years are numbered, I can actually do it. Our basement "workout dungeon," with all our beloved fitness equipment, is also neatly accommodating huge on-sale bulk purchases of whole-wheat pasta, powdered milk and soy milk, canned nuts, shredded wheat & oatmeal, coffee, soy sauce, wine (for Joe), brown basmati rice, whole wheat berries, and TVP. We even have canned vegetables and fruit, which we would never eat unless there were no other option (you know: like World War III). We have nutrient-packed canned pumpkin, collards, beets, and pimiento. Total antoxidants, filled with beta carotene. When the revolution comes, or a natural or man-made disaster, we're set. We could eat very nicely till we dropped dead.
    I have always wanted a food processor. I finally got one last week. I will never need another one. I will never need any new pots or pans, any new furniture or any new tech gadgets. My bedspread will last me the rest of my life. I finally ordered some new 100 percent cotton sheets to fit my deeper mattress. I will never buy sheets again. Or towels.The ones I'd been using were more than 25 years old, and they're still in good shape, even though I wash everything once a week in hot water and bleach. But I got some new ones that look beautiful in my woodsy bathroom, and they'll last me the rest of my days.
I'm relieved that I've become so matter-of-fact about imminent death, and even planning for it in a satisfying way. Part of it, I think, is that I was with my father when he died. He did it so beautifully, with such grace and peace, that I stopped being angry and scared by the whole thing.
    When I reached this "certain age," other concerns faded as well. I have made myself sick with stress over the years about things like consuming pesticides and breathing unclean air. Now, it seems pointless to care. I passionately care about air and food quality, but in my daily life, I figure I'm almost dead anyway, so a few more heavy metals and carcinogens and endocrine disruptors isn't going to do much harm. I've been ingesting this crap for 65 years, and I'm just fine. So I eat my non-organic apples, ignoring Dr. Oz's warning: They could be a death sentence
    When I look about at what a total wreck our country and the planet as a whole are becoming, my old-lady response has become, "What, me worry?"
    Now I just ignore it. It's been the same old story forever, it seems, except that everything just keeps getting worse. Nothing surprises me any more. But it doesn't faze me, either. I have withdrawn from the tumult.  I have withdrawn from the Real World. I am not proud of that, but it's happened, and I feel so much more relaxed. I will close the drapes and lock the doors and find whatever pleasure or productivity I can within the small confines of my own life.I am sorry for those who will still be alive as the catastrophes begin to decimate human existence, but I won't be affected. I'll be in Bye-Bye world. In a sense, I already am.

    It is a relief to realize that I will never get on an airplane again. I will never go to Las Vegas, or anywhere else, again. My traveling days are over, except for the delightful travel programs on public television. I can see all the sights from here, and then find some recipes and taste all their cuisines from here. It's nice.
    Never again will I sit in a meeting or an audience.
    Which reminds me, I can stop worrying about the pain of childbirth and the anguish of getting old (I'm not anguished -- I'm finding it to be quite interesting). I can rest assured that my man isn't going to leave me. The poor guy just can't bring himself to do it.
    I could use a few tens of thousand dollars in dental work, but why waste the money? It will all go straight up the crematorium before long anyway.  

    I have an autoimmune condition that, over time, can ravage facial skin with scars and cause substantial hair loss. I've had decent skin and hair for more than my share of time. It seems only fair that I am being forced to relinquish them. I'm just grateful that I am no longer a public person, and I won't have to live with these flaws for very long.
    I really should go through the house from top to bottom, getting rid of about 75 percent of the stuff that's in closets and drawers, basement storage containers, bookcases, the garage, the trunk of my car. But really, why bother, when someone will come in here when I'm gone, and just clear ALL of it out, without any perturbation over which things to keep and which to give away.  Just let it sit there -- it's not bothering anyone!
    I admire people who remain  engaged and committed throughout their lives. I just got pooped -- I couldn't help it. I got bored, I got discouraged, I got too angry, and it was bad for me. Being a lame duck isn't laudable, I know. It's irresponsible. I'm not going to be part of the solution, but I don't think there's going to be a solution.