"How’s this poem for its ability to collapse all the years from childhood to middle age in a matter of fifteen short lines?"
"My poems tend to be about being a middle-aged, middle class, straight, white guy living in middle America. I'm thinking, how do I become one of the great mass of people who sort of, well, keeps America's cars clean and lawns mowed? Exploring ways in which that is poetic or sad or beautiful—that's really exciting to me."
"Our voices echo in the spray
and steam of this room where once,
long ago, he knelt at the tub’s edge
to pour cups of bathwater over my head."
"At a time when many people around the world are living into their tenth decade, the longest longitudinal study of human development ever undertaken offers some welcome news for the new old age: our lives continue to evolve in our later years, and often become more fulfilling than before.
Begun in 1938, the Grant Study of Adult Development charted the physical and emotional health of over 200 men, starting with their undergraduate days. The now-classic Adaptation to Lifereported on the men’s lives up to age 55 and helped us understand adult maturation. Now George Vaillant follows the men into their nineties, documenting for the first time what it is like to flourish far beyond conventional retirement.
Reporting on all aspects of male life, including relationships, politics and religion, coping strategies, and alcohol use (its abuse being by far the greatest disruptor of health and happiness for the study’s subjects), Triumphs of Experience shares a number of surprising findings. For example, the people who do well in old age did not necessarily do so well in midlife, and vice versa. While the study confirms that recovery from a lousy childhood is possible, memories of a happy childhood are a lifelong source of strength. Marriages bring much more contentment after age 70, and physical aging after 80 is determined less by heredity than by habits formed prior to age 50. The credit for growing old with grace and vitality, it seems, goes more to ourselves than to our stellar genetic makeup."
"I like spring, but it is too young. I like summer, but it is too proud. So I like best of all autumn, because its leaves are a little yellow, its tone mellower, its colors richer, and it is tinged a little with sorrow and a premonition of death. Its golden richness speaks not of the innocence of spring, nor of the power of summer, but of the mellowness and kindly wisdom of approaching age. It knows the limitations of life and is content. From a knowledge of those limitations and its richness of experience emerges a symphony of colors, richer than all, its green speaking of life and strength, its orange speaking of golden content and its purple of resignation and death."
"I attempted to create a person in order to emulate the aging process. The idea was that something is happening but you can't see it but you can feel it, like aging itself."
Doomed beauties, my companions, my familiars,
your long arms braceleted with snakes of danger,
a questions twines in all the undergrowth.
How can we tell the living from the dead?
Puvis de Chavanne’s tall pearly figures
dressed as sturdy Spartans at the chase
turn out to be pale paper dolls in space.
And how can we be sure that we’re alive?
Our bodies, aging, changing, slow and stiffen.
On flesh if not yet quite inert increasingly opaque,
bite or bruise or blemish pose the questions
Where have you been? What have you been doing?
My sister’s leg, scaled by a manic cat
nearly three years ago, still is scored and punctured.
Last September I picked blackberries
bare-armed; here are the scratches ten weeks later.
We are passing through the world.
This is some of what is does to us.
My father, who lived to 94, often said that the 80s had been one of the most enjoyable decades of his life. He felt, as I begin to feel, not a shrinking but an enlargement of mental life and perspective. One has had a long experience of life, not only one’s own life, but others’, too. One has seen triumphs and tragedies, booms and busts, revolutions and wars, great achievements and deep ambiguities, too. One has seen grand theories rise, only to be toppled by stubborn facts. One is more conscious of transience and, perhaps, of beauty. At 80, one can take a long view and have a vivid, lived sense of history not possible at an earlier age. I can imagine, feel in my bones, what a century is like, which I could not do when I was 40 or 60. I do not think of old age as an ever grimmer time that one must somehow endure and make the best of, but as a time of leisure and freedom, freed from the factitious urgencies of earlier days, free to explore whatever I wish, and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together.
I am looking forward to being 80.
See also: "William Maxwell, the 'Wisest, Kindest' Writer," Fresh Air, Jan. 25, 2008
Caerphilly Castle, Wales
Excerpt from "Brené Brown on Vulnerability," On Being, November 21, 2012:
Krista Tippett: I also see an upside of aging. When I see people aging badly in a sad way, it seems to me that the common denominator is they have not faced their demons and they just get smaller. It's like they just get eaten alive from the inside. And that's about being vulnerable and, you know, claiming what's gone wrong and the imperfection. But there's a way in which getting older, especially kind of getting into your 40s, you know, it kind of pushes you to finally do this if you haven't done it. You know, that's in your story. I just wonder if you think that, you know, this is something we can lean into almost as a gift.
Brené Brown: I think what you're describing is what I have found as a very critical developmental milestone for us. Some people call it the midlife crisis. I call it the midlife unraveling. I think there is a place and time in our lives where we realize that growing up — when we felt pain, when we felt small, when we felt unseen — we constructed walls and moats and we protected ourselves and we shut down parts of ourselves. Then I think this happens in midlife where we realize, oh, God, to be the person we want to be, to be the partner, to be the parent, we have to take down everything we put up that was supposed to be keeping us safe.
"The ego wishes comfort, security, satiety; the soul demands meaning, struggle, becoming. The contention of these two voices sometimes tears us apart. Ordinary ego consciousness is crucified by these polarities. Again, the paradox emerges that in our suffering, in our symptoms, are profound clues as to the meaning of the struggle, yet the path of healing is very difficult for the apprehensive ego to accept, for the ego will be asked to be open to something larger than itself."
~ James Hollis, from Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up
"This is my audience. This is my stage. This is my life."
~ Władysław Tomczyk
This mini-doc shares the story of Władysław Tomczyk, a gentleman we unexpectedly met in Katowice, Poland after wrapping a month-long commercial project throughout Europe. His hopeful message of creating life-work by honing one's natural ability is one we value to the core at Variable. What began as an insightful conversation, motivated us to extend our trip by 3 days so we could capture this inspiring man's life.
With no pre-developed story or shot-list, we let our curiosity & conversations with Wladyslaw guide the film. As a result, his outlook on life furthered our belief that contentment through self-acceptance trumps societal approval.
Free your mind.
Production Company: Variable
Produced, Directed and Filmed: Variable (Khalid Mohtaseb, Jonathan Bregel, Tyler Ginter)
Art Director: Joseph Sciacca
Local Coordinator & Translator: Piotr Labercheck
Editorial & Color Grade: Salomon Ligthelm - www.ligthelm.tv
Original Score & Sound Design: Tony Anderson - www.tonyandersonmusic.com
Post Story Producer: Susan Modaress
Polish Translators: Sophia Whitman & Arkadiusz Lesniak
by Daron Larson
I have imagined your death too many times to count,
yet what a gulf remains between my imagination and reality.
Who would have thought to imagine such heat,
the persistent threat of rain, the pink blanket,
or the completeness of your naive trust in us.
One of the things you have taught me
is how easily and willingly I’m able to create
stories of danger and loss in the absence of either.
Let’s not pretend that you were ever a gifted meditator.
Such frequent restlessness and distraction,
even in the absence of verbal thoughts!
But you were a brilliant meditation teacher,
helping me to see that not all of nature’s sounds are pleasant,
and the danger in needing them to be.
You were able to embody focus — demonstrating how
one hundred percent of one’s attention can be trained
on eating, on greeting, on scanning the world through the glass in the door —
multiplied by how many of us
returned home to you: 1, 2, 3.
It’s been so long since you could hear
the sound of food hitting your bowl,
or feel the thrill of the flight down the stairs to devour it.
You gave us a glimpse at the origins of language
by demanding — in pained, near-human vowels — permission
to clear the yard of harmless invaders.
We won’t ever be able to forget
how you became each day
the full expression of yearning, of savoring, of exhaustion.
The only thing you loved more than
eating and smelling and chasing
was to shadow us as often and as closely as possible.
All these years,
and leaving you has never gotten
the slightest bit easier —
not today most of all.
We can never express enough gratitude to you
for giving us more reasons to care about this world
apart from our own needs.
Thank you for living with us all these years,
for helping to make a home out of our creaky house,
for never turning down a nap,
and for insisting that it was time for life to begin again every day.
You are alive forever
in the story of our family
and in our hearts.
My father and I on the sofa talked about summer plans,
would he drive from New York to Ohio?
It seemed doubtful (he was eighty-six)
and he said. We'll see what comes to pass.
For a minute we were silent.
He said, That's an interesting idiom, isn't it.
To come to pass. "It came to pass."
There's a feeling of both coming and going
at the same time.
Yeah, I said. I wondered what movie we might see.
He said, It's quite different to say "It happened"—
that sounds like a stop, like a fixed point.
But "It came to pass" — there's almost a feeling of
"It came in order to pass."
Yeah, I said, that's right.
He said, You get a sense of the transience of everything.
Yes, I said.
Cleo the black cat lay snoozing across my father's legs.
My father stroked her gently.
I finished my raspberry iced tea.