How Does an 80-year-old Plan his Year?

evas-cake-for-rons-80thI turned 80 on January 7, and I’m feeling rather smug about it. Eva and I invited a great number of guests to just ‘be silly’ on my birthday, not wanting a big hoo-hah, but rather a co-mingling of a few sets of friends who don’t often, or ever before this, socialize with each other. Despite the dreaded ‘flu’ and inclement weather preventing some guests from attending, we had a goodly group in two tranches (Eva is the consummate planner, as well as chef) so they wouldn’t overwhelm our modest apartment. I deem it a successful gathering. Thanks, Eva.

The theme of the party was “It’s important to be silly,” which I fervently ascribe to. Fellow writer Karin and her husband Erik presented me with this writing instrument, fully in keeping with the theme.img_0615

Additionally, Terry anointed me with a flower to augment my own decoration.

img_0617

.

 

 

 

Some of the guests asked what my plans were for the next 80 years, and I gave it some thought. So today, the day after the event, I laid out year 2017 for myself, and I hereby and herewith share it with you.

In no particular order:

– Choose a Podcasting persona to provide the basis or platform for my intended presence in the podcasting universe, whatever and wherever that is. My writing group has urged me to create and perform podcasts, based on a few presentations I have made to them. Once the persona is established, the material and format will flow, probably using some of my already written material—blog articles mostly, possibly poetry. I used the persona “Pavel Hammer” for my classical music radio show on KBBI in Homer, Alaska, 1993-1995. This allowed me great freedom to indulge in fantasy and whimsy, which I enjoy. I’m reading a relevant text on the technology and mechanics of podcasting.

– Complete the memoir/biography, “Report to Grandma.” My mother’s mother died when Mom was four years old. Mom was the youngest of four; the oldest, Uncle Harry, was the only male. The three sisters were put in an orphanage and had a terrible beginning, but they lived long and had interesting lives. My format for this piece is to tell my grandma what happened to her husband and children after she died.

– Complete the first draft, including outline and synopsis, of the novel I have been working on for maybe five years, with pre-Year 2000 San Francisco as the main locus of action.

– Monitor the trajectory of the number of visits made to my many blogs, adding to the oeuvre as inspiration occurs (no schedule or plan), always with a goal of improving traffic. At the end of 2016 I eliminated the music blog, but have put most of the articles in the ‘Expatriate’ blog. I have also extracted most of the articles from my creative writing blog (“A Few Words”), saving only the essay-type entries and “thoughts”, re-naming the blog “I Thought So.” Many of the ‘extractions’ have been re-assigned to other blogs, and the remainder put to sleep. I don’t know if this will improve traffic, but probably it won’t hurt it since volume was so low in these two blogs.

My letters from Fred remain to be fully transcribed (27 years of ‘em). I will work on these between bouts of creativity. I have already completed (save three letters) the first three years (1989-1991, and many of the more recent years) and have combined and compiled these three years with mine to him. I have kept the original words intact, but have created a new document where I have inserted many footnotes to persons and events that he and I referred to in our correspondence—all the while eliminating uninteresting (to others) asides that were peculiar to us. I perceive that this expurgated and footnoted document might have some historical value.

– Attend symphonic concerts, as in previous years, with Vasil and his daughter Jeanette. We’ve got several scheduled or intended for the fist half of 2017.

– Continue with my membership in the Stockholm Writers Group, meeting and critiquing every other Wednesday evening, beginning the new semester January 11. I will submit at least two writings during the Spring semester, the first being the continuation of “Report to Grandma.”

– Continue with my membership in Terry Leblanc’s book circle, once per month.

– Repair my lower extremities. Let me explain. The main joint on the great toe of my left foot is fused. This makes me off-balance in walking, etc., and puts undue stress on the smaller toes which are affected in various ways. I had a similar problem in the right great toe, for which I had a successful operation 25 years ago. I have been promised an operation for my left great toe, date unknown right now. Meanwhile, I finally have a diagnosis for the problem in my right knee which presented itself in August, 2015, after I stupidly went up and down a steep ridge in Alaska with no walking sticks. The patella (knee cap) is affected and the resultant distress can be effectively cured, or largely ameliorated, by strengthening the muscle system supporting the knee. A full recovery may not be reasonable to expect, in that I seem to be getting arthritic, or losing the cushioning, in the knees. A visit to the physical therapist has been scheduled. I remind anyone who reads this that many old people talk about their health and body problems as a matter of course.

– Continue to schedule at least two sessions per week at the Friskis & Svettis exercise club. Every Tuesday and Friday (with variations) I meet fellow writer and friend Rebecca early in the morning at the club, after which we have breakfast at “Marie’s” (Café Bullen at Thorildsplan).

– There are around a half-dozen of my friends with whom I have fika (afternoon coffee break), sometimes lunch, quasi- or non-regularly. These will continue.

– Continue to take photographs when the moment seems apt.

– Continue to write poetic phrases when the moment seems apt.

– Maintain my tools: I have two PCs, one desk-top and one for travel. These need constant attention to keep them current and useful. Backup the data regularly onto an external hard drive and also a personal cloud (server in the home-office).

– The usual tasks of maintaining, jointly with a partner, a household.


This is rather an egoistic article, but as I said at the top, I’m feeling rather smug for the moment.

And, perhaps it may interest others to see what an 80-year-old does with his day.

Happy New Year!

 

Brahms’s Requiem: “All Flesh is as Grass”

As I age I think more about death, especially as I see relatives and friends dropping away. I am blessed with good health and with genes that indicate continuing longevity, so I am not morbid about myself in these ruminations.

I still feel the absence of my father, my sister Diane, my life-long friend Fred Pape, and, quite recently, I thought of Uncle Harry (died in 1993)  whose oft-repeated phrase suddenly popped into my head at the proper occasion: “take it easy.” To indulge and assuage these thoughts and feelings I listen to music: most often Chopin and Grieg, occasionally Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff to evoke my mother.

I recently ‘discovered’ liturgical music, primarily the Mozart “Great” Mass in C Minor and his Requiem; and, the Stabat Mater of Pergolesi. Although I will never tire of them, I play them less often now, as I can conjure elements of each in my head when I wish. What I most recently have discovered that my favorite “classical” composer, Brahms, also wrote a requiem, about which more below.

einstein-visualized

A requiem is an act or token of remembrance. The word is from the Latin requies, ‘rest’, as in requiescat in pace—‘rest in peace’.

The “act or token” is most often conducted as a Christian ceremony in recognition of someone’s death (also groups of people).

The “act” in church is often accompanied by music written specifically for remembering the dead. In this setting, the requiem takes the form of a liturgical mass.

Simply stated a ‘requiem’ is an occasion to remember someone upon his or her death, and to wish her or him a peaceful “rest.”

Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897) wrote a magnificent piece of music for such an occasion, Ein Deutsches Requiem (1868), “A German Requiem.” And, even though he used text from the Old and New Testaments of the Lutheran Bible (in German, not the traditional Latin, hence the “German” in the title), it was not written to be performed in church, although there is nothing to prevent this. Nowhere in the text of the vocal portion of the music is there mention of Jesus Christ as is required for a liturgical mass.

He did use “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” of chapter 3, verse 16 of the Gospel of John (King James Version cited here). But, as he told conductor Karl Reinthaler, “As far as the text is concerned, I confess that I would gladly omit even the word German and instead use Human; also with my best knowledge and will I would dispense with passages like John 3:16. On the other hand, I have chosen one thing or another because I am a musician, because I needed it, and because with my venerable authors [the Old and New Testaments] I can’t delete or dispute anything. But I had better stop before I say too much.” (Source).

Before discovering this piece, I was unaware that Brahms had written what could be termed ‘religious’ music. In researching this article I found he was not formally a religious man, but has been described as a ‘humanist,’ a term and concept I find almost abhorrent. I hasten to add I am not a member of any church or religion, and do not proselytize anything. I have written elsewhere on this, so will refrain from explaining further.

Nonetheless, I find that the second movement of Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem, “All Flesh is as Grass,” grabs me and moves me as well as any of the liturgical music mentioned above. I perceive Brahms having been inspired by a power greater than man, just as with Pergolesi, Bach, Mozart and countless others who have written liturgical and secular music.

Here is the translated text of the second movement of Ein Deutsches Requiem, “All Flesh is as of Grass” (Source):

1 Peter 1:24
For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away.

James 5:7
Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandmen waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.

1 Peter 1:25
But the word of the Lord endureth for ever.

Isaiah 35:10
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

The words speak for themselves. The music contains a death march, but ends in the glory indicated by the words.

einstein-visualized reversed.jpg

So, I think of those who have departed, immersed in music which celebrates death, becoming spent of sorrowful emotions and filled with strength for the journey which continues.

Tinnitus

I met a man around 15 years ago who, a week after we met, jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge to his death.

We had a mutual friend, Kelly, who asked me to meet with him after I had told Kelly about my tinnitus. Kelly was interested in how I dealt with the constant low hum and high-pitched hissing, and the occasional but temporary loud, clear tone. He said his friend, whom I later met, was depressed about his tinnitus. Kelly thought my meeting with him and talking about our shared affliction might help him.

Upon meeting his friend in San Jose I learned he was, indeed, depressed about his tinnitus, but it was different from mine. He said that, when in conversation, whatever he heard echoed and reverberated.

~1438120515~what did you sayI told him what I had told Kelly—I have found a way, both voluntarily and involuntarily, to ignore the constant hissing and humming. I don’t ‘hear’ my tinnitus unless I consciously think about it, or unless I am in a place where there is almost complete silence. Kelly’s friend was not impressed, saying this way of dealing with it was not available to him.

Kelly’s friend had other problems as well. He had lost a critically important client for his business, and his wife had left him. So, I can’t blame the tinnitus for his unfortunate demise, but it seems a contributing factor.

I began to notice the sounds in my head around twenty-five years ago, when in my early fifties. At first it was the hissing which masked all sibilants and stridents: s/z/f/v. Also, I found myself reading lips, needing to see my interlocutor’s mouth to understand some of the emanating sounds, both heard and unheard. I finally bought hearing aids at around age sixty, but even as the technology has improved (I’m on my third pair) nothing can make me hear s/z/f/v. Except for a few distorted tones in the upper ranges (typically played by flutes and violins), I hear music well-enough to enjoy it fully. I can fill in the blanks when listening to familiar music, just as I interpolate much of the speech directed toward me.

One’s hearing deficit is hard for others to understand, much less be empathetic with. A blind person, or a person with an impairment of the limbs or other parts of the visible body, more naturally evokes sympathetic reactions. The confusion of a deaf person is often perceived as humorous, and it serves one (me, at least) to go along with the humor and even build upon it.

My mother, in her eighties, was concerned about her tinnitus. She took medication to control her paranoid tendencies, so the sounds in her head would evoke confusion and concern. I reassured her that I had the same affliction and, thus, it was a family trait.

I wonder if Kelly’s friend had paranoid or other psychological tendencies which the tinnitus exacerbated. Maybe it was the tinnitus which pushed him over the edge.

An excellent novel and story to read if you want to enter the world of the partially deaf: Deaf Sentence, by David Lodge.

Missing Relatives and Friends

I am currently dwelling upon the disappearance of all my older relatives and my only sibling. There is no one remaining in my family with whom I have shared memories from before my first child turned, say, ten years old in 1973. That’s around 35 years of remembered history which is not directly relevant to anyone living. To keep some of these memories alive I have created a Family Blog.

I have few friends left from the older times. Fred and I went to Berkeley High school together, and we have remained in touch since 1953. Gary and I met professionally in San Francisco 1963, went our separate ways in 1964, but have exchanged letters at Christmastime ever since. Denny and I met professionally in Sacramento in 1977 and quickly became pals, but we live far apart. We stay in touch primarily by Facebook.

Several other friends, all younger than I, have died. One old friend, a buddy from our time together in the US Navy, recently contacted me after around 50 years since we last saw each other. His family brought him to meet me in San Francisco when I was visiting family near there. His mind was failing under the burden of a growing dementia. He and his family wanted a photo record of this visit to remind him of it. We spent two days together traveling the San Francisco Bay Area, remembering old times and old friends when we had been on shore leave.

Arnie and me

I have made and retain other friends from newer times. We will grow older together.

So what more is there to say regarding the fading away of family and friends? I guess there is no conclusion to reach other than to recognize the obvious and to accept it.

An Invitation to Survivors

Yes, we are the survivors:

  • of The Great Depression that our birth parents nonetheless brought us into;
  • of the Second World War which our parents¹ experienced directly or indirectly;
  • of the epidemics of childhood diseases and of the periodic “flus”;
  • of the accidents that befall young people especially;
  • of our own participation in the many undeclared wars since WWII, or in the peacetime military;
  • of our experience with, and sometimes misbehavior around, big machines, including especially automobiles;
  • of the mistakes in judgment we have made throughout the years;
  • of the random events over which we have no control.

(¹Note: the word “parents” is used generically here, as some of us were raised by other relatives, or foster parents, or institutions.)

I invite you to use this forum to tell our readers what you have learned in your many decades.

I invite you to help me create a personal history of our generation that will serve as a resource to others.

I invite you, as a brother or sister survivor, to stay with me and the other contributors to this weblog as we fade into the sunset.

To contribute, contact me at ron@pavellas.com

Intimations of Mortality

My sister Diane died on July 8 of this year, not quite two months ago. She was 68.

I am past the major grieving, I believe—several weeks have passed since my tears have welled up unexpectedly.

I may still be surprised by some sudden emotion, but there are now only persistent evocations of times shared with Diane, and of her forceful and positive spirit.

I no longer can forward to her a YouTube presentation of a popular singer or a clip from a TV comedy show of long ago, nor receive any from her. When I experience something that evokes a time we shared, I can no longer email or telephone to her about it.

She is really gone, but my sympathetic nervous system has not yet absorbed the fact of her permanent absence on this side of the great divide between life and death.

I have read and written and spoken occasionally on the subject of death, always in the abstract—for I haven’t yet experienced it, nor had anyone whose writing I have read.

With the extinguishing of Diane’s earthly presence so suddenly and completely, I feel closer to death. It is not as abstract to me as before.

When our parents died at advanced ages, these deaths were expected and even welcomed, for their last few years were difficult in each separate circumstance.

Not so with Diane’s death. She was younger than I by five- and-a-half years.

I have begun to imagine my spirit suddenly being extinguished. What can it be like? It is a very strange feeling or perception. Will the soul survive and, if so, in what manner?

I have known people who dwelt on the subject of death overly much in my view, or for my continuing interest. Will I now become such a person?

As I write this I wonder what lesson there may be in this new feeling or perception. What comes immediately to mind are the several aphorisms I have read and quoted, all tending toward this conclusion:

Death is always at your left hand (as Don Juan Matus remarked to Carlos Castaneda), so accept it and live life as this were your last moment.

Granddaughter Sydney learned a variant of this recently in Bible camp; she repeated it at the memorial we held for Diane in Sydney’s home.

To me this does not mean to become a pursuer of transient pleasures. Rather, it is to continue to act and build upon values that will have some lasting usefulness, at least for a few generations beyond.

I wrote the following during a low period, some 16 years ago:

Will It Be a Good Death?

When all the patterns close around me,
As my spirals play out all their energies,
When the sun no longer burns inside me,
And the waters cease coursing through me,
Will we cry good tears and say goodbye without regret?

Will it be a good death?

I pray it will be a good death
For the sake of my soul,
And the souls of my children, and of their children,
And of others who love me.

I pray my life will warrant a good death.

Will those with whom I am love-connected say,
“It was a good death: There was honor and completeness”?
Will they peacefully help my spirit to reunite with
The Great Everything?

To die a good death I must live a good life:
Be brave, be true, my soul;
Help me toward that good death.