Tuesday, November 16, 2010

SWEET ACHING: Internet Friendships in Old Age

There are not a lot of years left, but quite enough to share what we’ve learned looking back at our long winding roads. Plus a lot of funny stories about our blunders, some of them near-fatal long ago, so we feel as though we've got "free" years ever since. I’ve never met some of these correspondents and probably never will. Like Jake Allsop in East Anglia, fen country, (http://oldscroteshome.blogspot.com/) or Steve Bodio and his wife Libby, falconers and gazehound fanciers (http://stephenbodio.blogspot.com/) in the American Southwest. Dave Lull, the cross-pollinating librarian, sent me Jake’s name when I complained that too many bloggers were barely old enough to vote and never thought about anything grownup. Steve showed up when I posted something about condors. Dave himself has been a major help in many ways. He’s a powerhouse of info and networking and can get me through the walls that sequester online information I need. He was especially helpful in subduing Diabetes II by sending me blogs written by people who KNEW. Jim Stebbings was an environmental email friend who came to visit, bringing chives and sassafras and buying me dinner out. I talk about Tim Barrus, my co-writer, quite a lot. He has made me the kick-ass writer I’m still not through becoming. But he’s only sixty.

A little older than me is a re-found friend, Karen Scott. Actually a re-re-found friend. She grew up in my neighborhood, a little older than me, and may have been a student librarian at my local Vernon branch where I hung out all the time. We both had red hair, I think. I didn’t really know her then, but we had all the same teachers and the same neighborhood doctor. We both had a bit of a crush on the doctor’s nurse’s son, Leonard McCracken. Red-headed. Decades later Karen turned up in Saskatoon when I was the minister for the Unitarians there twenty years ago. Then I left. Not long ago, in a psychic surge, I thought of her and called her to get her email. Widowed last July, she’s not in the best of health. She’s been putting her former husband’s death away with all the paperwork that means and also sorting things out in case of her own death, because it’s best to do that before you are distracted by dying. (What a distraction!)

So, partly to keep her company, I’ve been doing that, too. My three-ring binder mania means that I’ve set one up with a hot pink spine: “In Case of My Death.” I’m putting in my computer passwords, and where my bank accounts are, and who should get what and what things are worth. Not that there’s much of great value, but I remember how when my mother died we thought the bisque hen that came on the Oregon Trail in a barrel of cornmeal was terrifically valuable -- but it wasn’t. And the complete set of Rosebud Chintz china didn’t seem valuable -- but was. The people who dispersed Bob Scriver’s estate had very little understanding of what was important and what was not -- even in terms of dollars. Bob’s mom had a friend she always referred to as “Lorraine -- bless her heart!” so that’s what we called her: “Lorraineblessherheart.” Long before she was at death’s door, she put stickers on everything to indicate who should inherit it. For years she entertained herself by ripping off the stickers of the people she was angry with and awarding things to people who pleased her. No one ever knew, of course, and in the end her sister came with a U-Haul and took everything. The sister she hated.

All these preps and prompts of mine might be scaring people when I ask them their preferences. But it seems congruent with the weather -- the first real snow predicted. A single-digit high. Extreme wind. The new-old, new-new, and old-new friends now in their silver years are kind of wild bunch, because when you get to a certain age you can afford to risk. You can ask anything, speak the truth and pretend you’re an oracle. No longer might you get pregnant. I can’t be fired anymore, I own the house, and so far the government has not removed my social safety net. My only real worry is the recklessness of the Valier town council.

What makes me gloating and gleeful is the time -- oh, the lovely time -- I have now! Clear around the clock! No deadline, no rendezvous, no schedule except the relentless cats. They are restless tonight -- the mice may be moving indoors, though I doubt there are many mice left in this cat-crowded town. 450 people (I looked it up), 232 males, 220 females, median age 42.7. No official cat census. My senior friends send me occasional photos of their cats. There seems to be a major preference for tuxedo cats. They don’t do extraordinary things like playing the piano. They're not Clay Shirky lol cats.

Clyde and Suzanne McConnell are in Calgary and were also online enviro friends until they stopped through on the way south. Clyde was invaluable with “Bronze Inside and Out,” able to upgrade my grainy old snapshots so they could be included. He is a professor of art and photography at the University of Calgary, but it is Sue who sends photos and sometimes sketches. Pamela Banting is also a good enviro friend on the faculty there, but she’s just a young ‘un. Long ago our grandmothers pioneered in adjacent valleys far to the north in Manitoba, but didn’t know each other. A poet has gone silent now that her invalid husband has died. Martin Murie and his wife moved from their mountain cabin to be closer to health care and now don’t answer. When the social fabric is torn or worn, the threads of conversation unravel.

Most of the legends about Internet friendships emphasize the danger and how mustache-twirling ax-murderers are looking back at you through the computer screen while you undress, psyching out your passwords so they can raid your bank accounts. But I’m finding laughter, tips about beloved books or how to do things, consolation and remembrances. People slip away with no final notice, no place to send a card. When I miss them, my question to myself is always “would you rather not have loved?” (An old counseling question. Human question.) This sweet ache is at the heart of being human. Better a bruise than only ice or, worst of all, nothingness. I imagine holding their hands for a moment. Then I trot down to the post office for used books and Netflix.

1 comment:

Cowtown Pattie said...

Now how the heck did you know I twirl my mustache and that the axe is my favorite merchant of death?

Dang it, can't trust anyone these days with secrets...