Posted on December 1st, 2020

The Soft Core of the Earth – The Third Quarter

A few columns in the past I’ve written about “halftime,” essentially about the midway point of my life. Well, a few years later I’m clearly past midway and into the third quarter, at least (and hopefully – if I’m lucky). I don’t think you can play for overtime in life, so here’s hoping I “win” in regulation time, whatever that looks like… I’m often reminded of one of Charles Bukowski’s poems, you know, the author of Women, Ham on Rye and Post Office, called Two Nights Before My 72nd Birthday, that features a reflective Bukowski accepting his station in life, the happily lost frustrations of a young man’s life, and the comforts of an old man’s final years. I first heard this poem when on hold with my veterinarian in Colorado in 2010; NPR was the hold “music” and Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac was being featured. The poem captivated me – as you can tell; I’m writing about it a decade later – but so too did the Writer’s Almanac. Upon getting home I tracked down the poem and the website and subscribed; an email arrives everyday now with a poem and facts about the day in history. Many times, I’ve caught the editors being lazy: I often copy down the poems that I really like and keep them in a folder. When I save the Word document and name it appropriately, as soon as I get ready to add it to my poem folder, I’m told that I’ve already saved that one (I’ve got too many now to keep track of); that’s when I’m forced to acknowledge there’s a lot of recycling going on over there at the Almanac, and I’ve seen it in their choices for each day’s notes as well. It’s free, so I try not to complain about it too much… During the height of the #MeToo era, when Keillor was accused of salacious doings, he was kicked off of NPR and his Almanac folded; the latter was a big loss for me. I’d really grown fond of having that little moment of pleasure to start my day. I eventually found another site that was attempting to fill the void, don’t recall its name any longer, but that should suggest it didn’t do the loss justice. Fortunately, many months later, the Almanac came back. I guess all bad deeds eventually fade away. Someone reminded me of this recently when they said that Mike Tyson, a convicted rapist, has a movie career and hit cartoon. He also is about to step back into the ring and I’m not sure if that is a good thing. My point being, maybe all things do pass and there are multiple acts in life. Until there aren’t, of course…

One of my favorite things to do is walk and think. Almost always I think about mortality, but not necessarily in a macabre way. More about my purpose and what I want out of life. I do think about how and when I’ll die, but it doesn’t scare me. Elsewhere in this column I’ve admitted that when I used to fly a lot (covid has cut those opportunities out; maybe a blessing in disguise), at least for a period of time, I always assumed I would die. I wasn’t scared (I only wanted to be certain someone would take care of my dog if I did die) but was accepting of my fate. I guess that’s how I categorize my thinking now. I also think about relationships, and the older I get the less I want one, though some of the comforts of being in one do have their appeal – that is until I see someone older than me, seemingly single, and it makes me feel bad/sad for them. I have to wonder if people look at me and see pity as a habitual bachelor; fortunately, I look young so maybe they’ll attribute me as still “sowing my wild oats.” But with relationships comes compromise, and compromise I don’t do well, at least not in my own arena (which is my home and my time away from work). I’m not sure who to blame about this, so I guess it’s the old rubber-glue scenario and the blame is stuck to me like dog shit on a shoe…

Roll the credits.

Deep in the third quarter I’ve still got a fighting spirit, but I sometimes have to ask if that spirit is directed at the right things. I’ve done alright shedding a lot of life’s constant, and unnecessary, headaches, but I’ve let some linger, and some take center stage. Maybe if I could tap into the Zen spirit, I’d be better off; who knows. But another resurfacing question for me is what do I have left to accomplish before I die? I mean, on my deathbed, what will I regret not having done? A favorite quote of mine, attributed to Sydney Smith, is, “Regret for the things you’ve done can be tempered with time; it is regret for the things you’ve failed to do that is inconsolable.” Learning how to play a musical instrument competently is the only major one for me – and I’m a long way from that, but I’d like to write a book (that hopefully some will read and a few will enjoy) and I’d like to speak another language fluently (likely Spanish, but Farsi or Mandarin seems useful these days), but it’s the instrument thing that will really send me to the grave in a fit if I don’t accomplish it. Thing is, my history in all things musical has been piss-poor to put it nicely. I’ve bought and sold so many instruments (mostly at a loss) and never even came close to even sniffing competency – it’s pathetic. Every time another one gets sold it comes with me swearing it off for good. Now I’m to the point where I just keep ‘em even if I don’t play them because at least I won’t lose any more money and save myself the inevitable headache of buying new ones later. Well, maybe all the wooden ones can be used to build my coffin…

I believe it was Camus who said there was only one serious philosophical question, and it was about suicide: is life worth living or not? Don’t worry, this isn’t my farewell letter; this rhetorical question only serves to remind us that if we’re not going to pull our own plug then we better make the most/best of it. I think I’m trying, but the memory book is rife with stumbles and aggravation. A friend of mine once asked me if I’ve ever been depressed and how I process life’s hardships. I told her I don’t get depressed or have anxiety; I process through disappointment and frustration. Surely not anymore healthy, but I think it helps me to keep my ego in check. No one would say that part of me is fragile…

Today I was driving northbound and a southbound driver was stopped in a turning lane. It was an elderly woman, looked like her best years were far behind her, and I tried to picture myself that gray and wrinkled. I couldn’t. I certainly don’t want to be, but I guess if I’m “lucky” I will be one day. My grandma spent the last several years of her life (lived to be 96) in an assisted living facility. She watched a lot of TV, still dressed up nicely every day, I assume had some friends out there, and was accepting of life (in large part because my folks stayed active in her life, I imagine), but I can’t imagine it was all that enjoyable. I lived far away from her and visited whenever I returned home, but those visits always seemed forced. It wasn’t that I didn’t love her, or didn’t have fond memories of her, only that we’d grown apart – and that started by the time I got to high school, I imagine. After 15 years of growing apart from somebody you lose the frame of reference. The visits got shorter and shorter, and while I felt bad about it, there just wasn’t a connection any longer. I remember after she died at her funeral an old woman from the retirement home came up to me and introduced herself and said, “I remember you; you never stayed long when you visited.” What a thing to say, what a time and place to say it…

I guess I don’t sound very bullish on life. This year hasn’t made it any easier to be so. I’m down to hoping for little victories, and the medium ones don’t seem to get the recognition they once did. As I get older, I’ll probably just be happy to remember my way home and glad for the fact that I didn’t shit my pants. And maybe that won’t be so bad; but right now? That sounds downright depressing – and I don’t get depressed, remember?

I wish I had something positive to say here at the end. A lot of how these columns come out have to do with the mood I’m in when I start writing. Brock told me his mom died today, so that is hanging over me. Whenever a friend’s parent dies, I often feel helpless, and I also think of the future when my folks will die too. It won’t be long, that’s likely so. I remember a friend of mine whose mom died about 15 years ago. I called him that day and immediately started bawling. In part because I’d known her since I was in kindergarten (him too, obviously), though we were never close and I hadn’t seen her in more than a decade, but mostly because I was forced to confront the fact that I would have to deal with that scenario someday too. Strange thing is he was the one who asked me if I was okay (not me of him). It was weird. I sent his family a card and his dad read it at the funeral. Make of that what you will…

Bruce Springsteen’s Glory Days will send us off. I love that song, and it’s all about (not) basking in the past, though for me, I don’t ever recall the past being that great. The future doesn’t look much brighter either. But let’s leave it to the Boss to sum it up: “I hope when I get older I don’t sit around thinking about it, but yeah I probably will; yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture a little of the glory, yeah; well, time slips away and leaves you with nothing…”

Marco Esquandoles
Older Every Day

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