The Naysayer in my head with the bullhorn voice is a lazy lout. He takes a long time to get going in the morning and I take full advantage. Armed with a large mug of French Roast, I start my day with a view across the street of the sun glinting through the trees in what my grandchildren call “Marsea’s Park.” Before that goblin awakes, before screens deliver the overnight news and a bulging inbox, before phone calls and To Do’s insist themselves into my consciousness, I grant myself time to think and write in my journal, a period of creativity and hopefulness from which spring my best ideas and intentions for the day and for my life.
During one particularly fertile morning a few months ago, I birthed the idea for a new blog. I have authored a travel blog (http://marsea05.blogspot.com) over the past seven years that shares insights and stories from my adventures as I sailed a number of times with Semester at Sea. This shipboard study abroad program has become my passion and the main focus of my time, energy and resources, outside of my family that is. But I have had many thoughts and questions during my landlocked days that I wanted to write my way into that don’t fit the travel category. The concept of a new blog that would make room for these musings bubbled up into the sunlight, expanded and morphed into a substantive plan.
As I thought back over the topics that had occupied my recent musings, the theme was undeniable. Maybe it was my 65th birthday—today!—on the near horizon or maybe it was the particular developmental stage I find myself in, but the persistent leitmotif was aging. The Naysayer roused himself a little and took a few sleepy potshots: too negative, too boring, so clichéd and overdone. My morning-fresh optimism countered: not MY blog about aging. Mine will be fresh and hopeful but also honest and unflinching.
I was born two years after my father returned from World War II (why two years and not one is a story for another time) and I have always been aware of the position I have on the leading edge of the Baby Boom. As my age-mates and I enter into this last major era of our lives, maybe we have something to offer—questions not answers—which will inform and enrich the experience for us and for those who will follow us. It’s always easier for me to write once I have a metaphor or structure to write inside of and the American Cancer Society’s ad proclaiming itself the proponent of birthdays had recently resonated. And so was born “Lots of Birthdays: A fresh look at aging from the leading edge of the Baby Boom.”
The intervening months have brought flurries of topic ideas, a luminous masthead photo by Laura Chifiriuc via Flickr, a rich stew of input from writers who nourish me, and the predictable slings and arrows of doubt and anxiety lobbed at me by The Naysayer. One of my kids—okay an accomplished adult with an impressive advanced degree but my kid forever and always—suggested that the blog should be sure to have lots of humor, not too heavy or pedantic. That caution nagged at me, an undigested bit that lingered after my frequent feasts at the excitement buffet of my new project. No one would include a sense of humor in any top ten lists of my natural gifts. Then I read an interview in “The Days of Yore” with one of my contemporary writer heroes Mary Karr (http://www.thedaysofyore.com/mary-karr/). She tells a story about Hemingway interviewing a famous bullfighter. He asks, “What exercises do you do for strength?” The bullfighter says, “The bull weighs two tons. Am I going to be stronger than the bull?” Karr reminds us that “you’ve got to figure out what you have to fight with, what you bring to the party, and try to compete in that arena. Not in the arena that perhaps seems fashionable at the time, or perhaps seems enviable in other people, but the arena that’s really, as Faulkner says, your postage stamp of reality.” After letting the wisdom of those three literary powerhouses wash through my anxiety, I felt much calmer.
As I’ve thought and planned and endured periods of angst, other writers have also nudged me back into my authentic lane on this road through the blogosphere. Kathryn Shultz first showed up on my radar via a TED Talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/kathryn_schulz_on_being_wrong.html). I immediately downloaded the electronic version of her bestseller Being Wrong then quickly bought a stack of paper copies. I gave them as Christmas gifts and pushed them on anyone I talked to about anything remotely related to being right and wrong, which was pretty much everyone. Interestingly, both she and another favorite writer I heard speak recently, Andre Dubus III, referenced an important concept from Keats, an idea that more than many others will guide how this blog unfolds.
Keats talked about “negative capability,” the ability to stay in a state of uncertainty, what I take to mean as sitting with the questions and not scampering off like an eager puppy after every possible answer. It feels like my earlier writing came from a longing to publish some proud insight I had discovered, wrapped in as attractive a literary package as I could create. My intention for this blog is to do something different, something rare for me and maybe for some of my peers, proud as we are of our hard won “wisdom.” Decades of therapy have enriched and supported my life in innumerable ways but the primary lesson I have learned is to be curious about my self and my behavior, to be willing to take a step back and say “Hmm, I wonder what’s going on here.” As I age, I hope to bring that central question to the topics I explore in this blog.
I’ll end this inaugural post with a request. A blog, unlike a published essay, can be a dialogue. I want to invite you to join in here. Comment on my post or the comments of others. Tell us about the questions in your life as you age, which in fact we all do every day if we’re lucky enough to be on the right side of the grass. Given the previous discussion of gifts brought to the party, any humorous bits will be especially welcome. The hope of this blog as a conversation is my primary motivation for “Lots of Birthdays.” Otherwise I’d be content to keep sitting in the morning sunshine, sipping coffee and filling up journals.