This Old House (& Body)

images-2I just arrived at the NY State Writers Institute which I have attended every summer  for the last 14 years. For the first seven, I was a student, and the last seven years I have been writer-in-residence working with students on their novel manuscripts in one-on-one tutorials.  This is my favorite job, and it’s in a new jungle all together. It’s hot and humid with my tribe of literary folk. Today, as I was leaving my apartment, I ran into Howard Norman who was heading to his car. We caught up for a second about how our year went. The subject turned to health as it does after the age of 50, and he told me a photogreat story about how he is working on an old house in VT and the man working for him said he needed to replace a few boards, then looked Howard up and down.  We both laughed at the metaphor.  My partner and I are also working on an old house, and the metaphor of an old house and an old body can be carried through on so many levels. Old houses, like old bodies need TLC.  First it’s just some coats of paint you need, then it’s new windows (reading glasses), then it’s the plumbing, then then it’s the foundation. On and on. But I wouldn’t trade my old house for a new one.  My house has character and flaws, and will never be perfect, but it has memories, both mine and the previous owners.  It creaks and it has cracks going this way and that. My house is solid though.  It’s lived through earthquakes and rainstorms (when we had them in CA), and it’s still standing.

I left Howard and went for a bike ride.  In the small town, of Ballston Spa, about 10 miles away, I was standing at a stoplight, waiting for it to turn green, when woman who stood at the curb asked images-3me if I knew what was taking the light so long. “I’m tired of waiting,” she said, “but I’m not willing to get hit by the traffic. That’s just not an option.”  I agreed, getting hit by a car wouldn’t be a good thing.  “I’m 70,” she said, “and I plan on making it to 100!”

“I love your attitude,” I told her.

“I have six great grandkids,” she said, “and I plan on having the great greats, you know?”

“I know!” I said back, and realized I’d never thought that far, but that I too want great greats.

Then the light turned green and she was off.  I’m pretty sure she’ll make it to 100.  I’m right behind her.

It’s been a great day!

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50th Birthday Hike

Seems everyone is turning 50 these days.  Makes sense that my friends would be my same age.  All this time I thought I was so young.  Turns out I’m as old as they are.  In fact, some of them are younger than I am, by months!

UnknownI went to my friend Hope’s 50th birthday celebration this week. Hope Edelman was a writing group partner of mine and has been a good friend for years.  She chose to invite a bunch of women friends to climb a mountain with her on her special day. What a brilliant idea, not to mention beautiful. The day was perfect. We hiked in the Topanga State Park up behind Santa Monica with the Pacific Ocean as our view.  We hiked about 2.5 miles in, up to a giant rock formation which we climbed, then turned around and took group photos.  Unknown-1

A day spent with old friends and new. Some of the women on the hike were friends I hadn’t seen in ages because I live 3 hours away, but we picked up our conversations right where we had left off. What books we were working on, what new work we had in our computers. This is what I love about women: we bond, we climb mountains together, both proverbial and physical, and we gather old friends and introduce new. This is what I love about getting older: we savor our friends and we add more friends as we go, and we have more confidence at the top of each of those mountains.

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Pulling the Proverbial or John Deere Tractor

I’m 50 and feeling it.  That is, I ache here and there, I have wrinkles here and there, bulges come and go and rearrange themselves.  But I’m loving it for the most part. I have this new urge to do things I never thought I could do before.  Not that I can DO them now, but I seem to not care.  I say, “seem to” because it really does appear to be a subconscious 10250311_762739367100004_3901883393610898304_nvolunteering. I signed up for the Epic Challenge last month and this month is was the Paddle Games competition.  I should make it very clear that I am in no way an athlete.  I am the girl in 6th grade who was picked last for any team and I am still the woman who has never gone out for any team.  Until now.  I don’t really know what has come over me except that I’ve always WANTED to be an athlete, to participate in all the reindeer games, but just never thought I could or should.  By “should” I mean, it didn’t seem polite to participate in something where I would hold everyone back.  And believe me, I’m not being humble when I speak so lowly of my athletic ability.  I really have none.  I have gotten stronger this year, I’ll give myself that.  I can lift weights I never could before and I can run farther than I ever could in my life.  Nine blocks instead of one. What happened?  I’m not sure.  But I know for some reason I don’t have the fear I once had.  It’s like I woke up at 50 and poof! I’m not afraid of drowning, getting stung by a bee or getting clobbered by a ball being thrown at me.  Maybe I made it this far and my psyche is so relieved she feels immortal.

What ever it is, below is what I’ve done this year.  And it’s only June!  And trust me when I say I’m not bragging (maybe a little) I’m a little afraid of myself.

Epic Challenge Tractor Pull Across the Finish lineA tractor pull.  You can take the girl out of redneck country, but you can’t take the redneck out of the girl.  At least it wasn’t a monster truck drag race. And I did actually pull that tractor all the way across the finish line.  Surely it was made of plastic?

After the tractor pull, I competed in the Epic Challenge obstacle course. I climbed walls, threw sandbags over other walls, climbed over those, pushed sleds, ran around a 500 meter track carrying a beer keg (empty), ran the same track carrying a long tube filled with sloshing water, pulled weighted kegs up and over a crane, and there was some sort of tire with concrete that I had to lift and topple and runaround and do over and over (I did not break a single nail!). There was more, and most of the time I didn’t even know what I was doing or how to do it but I was there and I was doing it.

10458980_782160925157848_2196856372837623724_oThen, this month I signed up for Stand Up Paddle Board Games. What was I thinking? I’m afraid of the water.  Sure, I love the water, but I have been afraid of drowning since I was five and my swim teacher held my head under. I don’t get wet below my neckline. But this past weekend, I went out on a paddle board into the ocean bay.  I made it through the obstacle course in the water, then raced onto the sand and went through another obstacle course.  I pulled a 75lb 10339528_782162095157731_7754626624240243809_orailroad tie 95ft through sand, I threw an 8lb medicine ball 20ft over my head, I paddled on a simulator for 500 meters in less than 5 minutes and I stand on the Indo balance board for, Pulling Railroad Tiewell, they don’t have a time less than 1 second.  I had the best time! I completed the course, I don’t know what my time was, but I don’t care.

But the best part, the part that made it fun, the part that may have been the scariest of all for me–I did it with a team.  I have never participated in team sports.  I have always been the “I in Team.”  I never understood what the point was.  But now I get it.

My whole life I’ve been really good at being alone.  Being alone is essential for being a writer.  I have friends and family and all that. And I have experienced the big support of close friends when I’ve been in dire situations.  But I’ve never had the feeling that comes with the support of another team member helping for the good of everyone. In the last obstacle: we all went out into the ocean on one big air mattress with oars and had to make it around the water’s buoy obstacle course. At one point we had to all jump in the water and then climb back the wobbly raft.  I couldn’t get a grip on anything, I kept sliding off, in water too deep to stand up in, I tried hoisting myself on, only to find the other half of my sliding back into the water.  My teammates all around me were climbing on, yelling helpful hints, and laughing.  Then I looked up and a teammate held out her hand for me to grab.  Together we hoisted me back onto the raft.  Together, we all sailed off to the next buoy, laughing and huffing and puffing as we tried to beat our other teammates on another raft.   10379832_782162948490979_4752332465485864194_o

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