works by
Marilyn Breen

ON AGING
Aging. That seems to be a subject that is all over the newspapers, all over the newscasts, all over everything these days.
Could be that there were always articles about aging, but being a nonaging person I simply ignored them. In my former life as a young person, perhaps I had too much going on, too much stress, too many activities based on simply living, that I did not notice the “tips on aging” literature that has become so plentiful now that I am doing the aging.

Little did I realize that this aging thing had no suitable alternative, nor did I hear any advise that this state of affairs would happen so fast, and without warning. One day I was 20, the following day I was 40 and as progression would have it, I am now 80. No one explained this rapid progression in any arithmetic classes I took, and certainly no old person ever told me not to blink an eye, ‘cuz that’s all the time it took to get here.

I just finished reading a wonderful short story by Grace Paley where her Father gives her advice on aging, It is a wonderfully written story and holds many comparisons and reflections of an old man to his younger self. It made me think about my own progression, and what advice I would pass down. Not that anyone would give a hoot, or begin to follow the advice, any more than I would have — had someone offered any advice, which they did not, or perhaps they did, and I simply didn’t listen, and therefore don’t remember.

But since I am reflecting on why no one gave me advice, I will put down my advice to 20 somethings, and if they take heed, they may not be as shocked by their old age, as I am.

My first and most important piece of advice: Keep a journal - doesn’t have to be long or poetic, just the facts, only the facts. For example: May 20, 1955 - Sunny day, went to party, wore a blue dress, had a fun time, Martha was there, she wore a pink dress. Now the reason these inane facts are important is this: In 2020 you will be talking to your friend Martha, and she will say “remember that party back in 1955”, and you will say: “sure, you wore that pink dress”, and she will say “no, I wore a blue dress”. But you have the proof, and you will win the argument. Yes, my young friend, your life will be a series of remembrances, which will bring arguments about inane facts, but if you keep a journal, you will win them all.

Winning arguments becomes quite important, because it leads you to believe that your memory is just fine. Small caveat here; those journals will not help you remember what you had for dinner last night, or the name of your next door neighbor’s kid who you watched grow up. But those little lapses, it turns out, are quite acceptable to younger people. Just make up a name, or pretend you ate chicken for dinner - most people won’t notice, and if they do they won’t care, because you are “aging” and, therefore must be forgiven. But to be able to prove that Martha wore a pink dress in 1955, that will become extremely important.

Exercise is good, but if you don’t do it, keep your journal up — You see, I do not remember the day I could not squat to the floor to hug a child. I don’t remember the day I could no longer run for a Muni bus, or swing a golf club, or slalom successfully down a hill with skis strapped to my feet. Probably if I had exercised more I may still be doing those things, but more disturbing than not being able to perform those acts, is that there must have been one day that I just could not perform them. But I don’t know what day or week, or month that was — see, a carefully kept journal would tell me that. Then I could say, “hey” in 1992 I shot an 80 at Lincoln Park! No one will care, but you will.

So much advise I could give, but I won’t, because you are undoubtedly much like me - you will make decisions, some good, some bad, some disastrous. But they will be your decisions because you must live your life, if you try to live any life but your own you will be disappointed when age hits you! But Keep That Journal, because every day of your life is worth remembering.

Oh, and use sun screen, that is a rule!