Friday, April 5, 2013

Up the Hill!

As I approach the next "hill" (the big five-oh) I find myself having mixed emotions. For the most part, I'm perfectly okay with it. Sure, at twenty I imagined myself in a wholly different place at fifty. A father, for instance. A grandfather, even. It's not happened. I am however, a six-time uncle, and a granduncle well over twenty times, and most recently, a great-grand uncle. Which is pretty dang cool. My nieces/nephews/grandnieces/grandnephews are pretty cool people. We disagree on many things. But they are still pretty dang cool people.

For a few moments today I felt old, useless, unfulfilled; I felt like I've wasted this first half of my life in so many ways, through improper action or woeful inaction. It's thankfully not a feeling I experience often. Today it was a bit more deeply felt because that 5-0 number is drawing closer to reality. this is the same number I've been joking about for a couple of months, calling it the "half century mark"; I changed my answering message on both phones to the "Hawaii 5-0" theme song and ordered a tee shirt with a "Geoffrey 5-0" logo. At times I've actually felt excited over the prospect. A dental appointment yesterday told me that although there are still areas of concern,  those same areas have improved greatly over my last visit. And at today's visit to the  eye doctor I learned that there is a very little change in my right eye, but for the most part my eyes are healthy back to front and I have 20-20 vision with my prescription, which, did I mention, has changed very little since my last prescription 2-1/2 years ago? Not bad for an old guy.

Nonetheless, I did have a twinge of old-feeling shortly after noon. As I've been joking the past couple of months about the half-century mark, my totallyawesomellyfantasticish friends and family have assured me that it's okay, I'll make it, it's no big deal, etc; I have assured them it doesn't bother me and that's why I laugh at it. But then the moment came. It was a long moment. And I did what any sensible old coot, um, I mean, person experiencing such a feeling does in such a situation. 

I took a nap. Seriously, people, naps are highly underrated. Why do children fight them? They're wonderful. They're as wonderful as books and chocolate. As I'd taken a couple days off for my birthday, I felt I could afford to take a nap. Speaking of being able to afford to take a nap, I know people protest it is "a luxury they cannot afford" - Balderdash! Read the recent research on sleep deprivation and tell me you cannot afford to. Heck, read the research from 20-30 years ago and tell me you cannot afford to. It doesn't necessarily have to be an eight hour nap (and if you do need that much, get in touch with your inner Jean-Luc Picard and "make it so!") Sometimes you need a couple hours, at other times all you need is ten or twenty minutes. Fine, call it a luxury. What? You think you're not worth the luxury? You are! Leave the dishes. Trade babysitting time with a friend and don't scour the bathroom while the kids are gone; take a nap! Because guess what? You get up from your nap and those feelings of self doubt and self loathing are gone. You get up from you nap and your reluctance to do all those things you still don't want to do will be greatly diminished and you'll be more productive because your brain's not working overtime trying to figure out why exactly the blue sock goes with the blue sock not the green one and why the sour milk needs to be thrown out. It's amazing how well a rested brain actually works.

So, I took a nap, and I got up and did stuff. I've been told it's weird to spend vacation days taking care of dental and eye care appointments and chores. For me I find it greatly stress-reducing to do it this way, to take care of the things I can't take care of because I am so busy with the things I "have" to do -- and I feel less guilty about things yet undone. And I reserve plenty of vacation time for indulgences such as ice cream, a long, slow rambling walk through my favorite quiet spots in town, a movie. And, when I'm well rested, I get an amazing amount of "stuff" done, compared to trying to do it when I'm exhausted and grumpy. And getting done that stuff I hate doing grants me permission to do the stuff I like to do, like exercising my creativity in writing or drawing or cooking, which further reduces stress, which helps me get more done.... okay, enough about naps. This isn't "The Nap Blog" (although I like the sound of that....)

This is a blog about being Mormon. Check. And about being single. Check. And about being "over-the-hill". Check again. However, I reserve the right to move the hill anytime I please. When I turned forty, I began stating my age as "late thirties - my thirties passed away some time back." Soon I will get to recycle the joke with only some slight rewording. With each hill - or milestone - one cannot help but to review one's life. And I have been doing that reflecting, although not solely because I am approaching the crown of a hill. Last year I started major decluttering, and accelerated that process at the beginning of this year. When I say "major", I mean "major". I mean Holy-cow-how-the-heck-can-that-much-stuff-fit-in-that-small-a-closet-space? major, and Who-the-heck-is-bringing-back-all-the-junk-I-threw-out? major. 

It's a liberating process. I always thought it was a bit meta-physical when people talked about the negative energy of excess stuff. Well, getting rid of it does more than relieve a sense of claustrophobia; I've felt it each time I accomplish a goal for a certain area of my home, whether it be a closet or a linen closet or a bookshelf. Much of it is very easy to determine the fate of: I don't need clothes that don't fit or which fit but I don't like; I don't need eight-year old catalogs from companies no longer in business; I don't need electronics which probably could be fixed but won't be fixed because I have not the tools, time, patience, or know-how to do so. I know some of the clutter came about due to previous attempts at "cleaning", especially when company was expected: throw everything into a box and shove into a closet or what became affectionately known as "the back room". I would not have made the guest list for one of those "hoarder" television shows, as my disorganization did have some order and for the most part the pathways were not canyon-like. But it was bad enough to zap my energy, and the extent to which it did so only became noticeable as I started moving it out, to dumpsters, thrift stores, and the like. With each decluttered and freshly reorganized area of my apartment, I become a little obsessive about keeping it that way, to the point of for a couple of days of freaking out a little when any speck larger than a dust mote settled upon a newly revitalized area. In each case the madness has lasted but a short time until I settled into a cautious but more reasonable expectation of cleanliness and order.

As I've gone through box after box, separating that which I need to keep from that which needs shredding to that which can be thrown away directly and that which can be donated and found useful to others, I have found some unexpected emotional ties to the stuff I've saved. Some is obvious: letters from family and friends or magazines and articles I saved which were important at the time but are not so any longer. Some I had to process again, but I required myself to do the processing so it didn't get put into a box for another ten years. Most of the boxes were organized by year not by design but by the previously mentioned quick-cleaning sprees of the past. Some of it had items five or ten years apart, and close enough to the bottom of the stack or in the darkest corners to defy all logic, so everything needs to be gone through with at least some care. I don't doubt that I might have already thrown out something I might at some future date wonder what became of it. But considering the number of times I found myself saying things like "Oh, yeah..." and "Why do I have two of these?" and "So that's what happened to it!" and "Where the heck did this come from?" -- I don't think I need to worry too much. Clutter is clutter, and since the beginning of the year my definition of clutter has morphed into "things I no longer want nor need", and in redefining the word, I have been able to do two things: decide what is most important to me, and what is not. And that includes the emotions -- which have sometimes been stumbling blocks and brick walls to my progress -- tied to those things. Things which in all fairness, I was probably not ready to get rid of before, or I would have done so, but which can be moved out and away now. 

And this process has taught me about different types of clutter in my life, ones not so easily seen nor easily taken out to the trash, and certainly not things I wish to foist upon new owners. These are emotional, mental and spiritual clutter; brought into my life by mistakes I made or harm caused to me by others. Things I did not consciously hold on to but which I did so anyway. There was a talk in General Conference in October 2006 which imagery has stuck with me all this time but which is in my decluttering process coming to have a deeper meaning. In it Elder Shayne M Bowen talked about airports and parks being built upon landfills, and gave one definition of a landfill as a place where garbage is buried and the land reclaimed. He asked the question of what the city fathers would think if he took a backhoe to the airport or city park to dig up all his old garbage? I think of this because I see that in my own situation, my garbage (physical or emotional!) never made it to the landfill so there was never a chance of reclamation. And so, without ever meaning to, I halted my own healing process.


I read a lot of blogs. I have found a number of fascinating blogs through links friends have posted on their Facebook pages, through random browsing, through stories on NPR, and of course the blogs of my own friends. I have come to greatly appreciate people from all walks of life and have gained a deep gratitude for the deeply personal things which they share. They have experiences I have never had and probably never will. I have not faced watching a spouse of many years deteriorate from dementia or from cancer. I have not experienced painful reconstructive surgeries from horrible accidents. I have not struggled with gender identity or same sex attraction. I have not struggled with alcohol or drug addiction. I have not felt alienated because of the way I look or where I came from. I have not been divorced, and the pain I have felt in never having married pales in comparison to what others have felt. I'm not married so I don't know what it feels like to raise children,either contumacious toddlers or rebellious teenagers (save what I can remember my parents doing or the quasi-parenthood known as unclehood), nor do I know what it feels like to desperately try to have children but not yet being blessed such. 

I can imagine these things -- and the posts are often written with such candor that I feel deeply some modicum of what they do, but I'm certain my imagination falls short of the mark. I've not experienced these things and with the possible exception of the child rearing (for I know when toddlers aren't being contumacious and teenagers aren't being sullen, they're quite lovely people), I don't want to; I'll keep my own trials, thank you very much. But having said that, I am profoundly grateful for what friends and strangers alike have written about their trials. I am grateful that they shared not just their struggles but their victories. I am grateful for what insights I have gained into my own struggles and for the reminders that we are here for a purpose and that God is mindful of us. I am grateful for the reminder that single or married, male or female, healthy or not, we can learn from and teach one another; we can help each other over the hills. Or better yet, we can help one another up the hills, one at a time, traveling together; to experience the beautiful vistas God has prepared for us to see but which we can only see if we keep moving upward, and being cheerfully willing to climb the next one.