The need for a new late-life plan is not so different from the need to think of what comes after this disastrous deconstruction of what we thought was only unfortunate legislative corruption, seemingly inescapable. After Trump. It will be such poetic justice if he’s brought down by Giuliani. But then what’s left and what’s it to us? I don’t talk to many local people in a day, but I get the impression that most of them don’t feel there’s any difference between Trump and Obama. It’s all a TV show. Except that locally no one tries to shut down a TV show just because the main male actor is hard on women offstage. (He’s supposed to be that way onstage and we all approve.) Public life is not the inspiration I could use right now.
So I’ll look for some role models for old women among my predecessors. My mother did well in many ways, but her late life was pinned to my concussed brother. Neighborhood deterioration didn’t bother him and he made it possible for my mother to stay in the same house, but she had counted on a “nice” retirement in a nice teacher’s condo. Since it was imaginary, it was friction-free. Three aunts died demented, two in nursing homes and one in her own home with a demented husband but alert neighbors. I found no way to help them nor did their children. Sympathy and awareness, cornerstones for liberals, did no good. One grandmother died young of abdominal cancer and the other never recovered from the loss of her husband though they had a long life together.
One aunt was a poet, regularly published in Arizona Highways, Christian Science Monitor, and lady’s magazines. She wrote lovely sentiments in proper poetic structure and tried to give me a boost to editors, but I didn’t write the proper sorts of things. I wanted to write raw truths in powerful language, but that side of the family believed in decency through secrecy.
My own dilemmas seem related to my resistance to “groups” which is a phenomenon of my generation. It’s partly because most people’s idea of old people is that they are a category that can be pushed around. If you’re crabby, they’ll leave you alone. If you’re funny (my specialty) they’ll try to make you a pet. The old people who were here when I came have mostly died. Most of my closest friends have died.
The only thing I really MUST do is keep the bills paid and maintain a certain level of order — at least outside the house. The tomcat reek in the garage is mostly gone now that I don’t feed them anymore. I quit when someone was able to point out that many of them had owners who were known. The cats were not in need of rescue and I had to scold myself for trying to feel good by being a “helper.” Not much danger with cats, but with people — highly problematic -- and yet all the “best” advice is to serve others.
Struggles with the concept of “class” are mixed into unclear ideas about “success” and being “good.” This might be genetic. As a toddler and on up until pre-adolescence (which were for me the years of reading 19th century upbeat adventures about plucky boys who won the day), I knew exactly how the world should be run. Had we not just won a World War? I didn’t do combat but I saved soap and waved my little flag.
Then as developing organs forced a hormonal change, it became clear that I was in danger for some mysterious reason. Mostly I defied it, walking home from grade school on Killingsworth Street, which was a dangerous artery. Then I grew up farther and was self-contained, almost invisible, and could take the city bus anywhere. Sometimes I walked clear across town — Portland was smaller then. My brothers did the same thing. My mother had done it as a girl in the country, crossing from one valley to another.
Here, even without snow and ice, I find it difficult to walk far. Fields are plowed which means your shoes get full of dirt unless you stay on a path. There are certain people I would just as soon not be noticed by. The grizzs have better protocols than the people. Tiny risks. "Food poisoning.” I don’t go far from home. Is it something I’m doing? Food handling? Something contagious? Or is it just cancer. (Old joke.) For a while chopped salad in bags was an answer. Now I’m afraid to eat it because of contamination that kills people.
Summer should make everything easier. Now that little trap bags of fly attractant exist, flies are no longer a problem. Ants are much harder to oust and so far I haven’t got the answer. My daffodils, planted when I first came, are thriving and at the moment blooming. I planted three kinds of small bulbs; one has put up leaves but no blooms yet. The daylilies and iris have died and maybe the peonies as well. The big wild beds of unnamed flowers -- some kind of bluebell -- haven’t gotten underway yet. There are catkins on the trees but no leaves.
Yet my compensation for the atrocities of government and wealth is domesticity, the small pleasures of a living place. The contented animal side of life makes it a pleasure. Not the stuff one buys, but rather a completed homemade flannel nightgown, a rearranged array of familiar paintings, a new book that reveals an unsuspected new world. I still remember the moment I knew for the first time I was reading print the same way I could hear someone talk. That kind of revelation still exists but not in the writing of most Millennials, who are busy discovering what most people already know. Maybe not in this country.
The computer algorithms on data platforms are supposed to respond to what your preferences are as subtly indicated in what you “hit” online. NOT. It still thinks I have a penis and that I admire rightwingers long to carry a gun and repair my fungus-infested toenails. It thinks I’m just like techies and don’t realize that I DO like cities, but not in the way they do. Once you’ve seen everything through nuisance abatement and animal control, cities look much different.
And they have no clue about reservations. What does an Asian person know about indigenous American continents? Less than the Europeans who invaded and overran everything. Almost as little as Americans know about Asia and her nations.
It’s almost time for countries to leave the concept of traditional “nations” and go to something else: regional, universal, ecocentric, or something not yet imagined. I have the same problem. I’m old, but not the same way as we expect — as I expect.