To Bare or Not To Bare, That is the Question

With apologies to Shakespeare and Hamlet for distorting this notable quotation

For the past nine months this old, cold ager has been staying warm most days by layering long sleeved turtle necks and wearing warm pants and socks. Even then I went to bed with cool arms and legs and cold feet until the end of June.

This spring (even here in our marine climate), we’ve had a week here and there of abnormally high temperatures. Teasers or omens of things to come? The prediction is for a warmer and dryer summer. That means more (usually rare) days in the 90’s and more than usual in the 80’s.

Lore has it that summers here begin on the fifth of July so warm days are coming. I’m fine with days in the low 80’s in the house. But, if we’re going to have consecutively high 80’s and low 90’s days where the home itself warms up and stays warm, I’m going to need to give up even my intermediate weather wear. And this is where my dilemma lies. Long-sleeved turtle necks and slacks cover my wrinkled, droopy, mottled neck, arms and legs. Summer wear exposes them. I have no idea why exposing them seems more repulsive than inescapably exposing old hands and faces, but it does.

Nor have I any idea why I feel more concerned this year. Last year I wore sleeveless tank tops and skorts without much regret and I was out and about more than I am now. This year my neck and arms seem to me to be parts of me I’d rather keep covered. Admittedly, the skin is a bit more mottled, the muscles more shrunken and sagging, wrinkles more numerous and deeper. But at 97, even if I’d opted for plastic surgery, or exercised faithfully, I’d be abnormal if they weren’t like that.

Those of you who follow my blog notice that I try to include free images to enhance the writing. I tried hard to find images, even of just the bare arms or legs of old people let alone old people in clothing that showed them. Couldn’t find any!   Old folks walking on hot sunny beaches were all wearing long pants, tops with sleeves or dresses with sleeves.   Could it be that I’m not alone in not wanting to expose aging neck, arms and legs to others?

In the end I expect that I’ll be sensible and dress for summer with the summer clothes I‘ve worn for years. People seem to be very accepting of the old person I am in many other respects. So it’s probably more my problem than one anyone else will have about me.   People who drop in on me will find me as I am. But when I have planned visits, I wager I’ll be wearing lightweight pants and a top over my sleeveless tanks.

90

One Male’s View of Aging

Unlike the 96-year-old creator of this amazing “Engaging with Aging” blog, I am a 70-year-old man who hasn’t hit many milestones yet down the path of super-aging. In conversations with my friend about her work on this blog, she told me she’d like a male perspective about the accommodations with aging that men learn to make. I agreed that might be a good thing. So she called my bluff and told me to write something. I can’t speak for all men, but here is what’s top-of-mind for me.

Happily, I haven’t needed yet to make any significant health-related adjustments to accommodate my aging body. But there has been an ongoing accommodation that does irk me: Having to accept gracefully the occasions when loved ones and others treat me as though I’m not as physically capable as I still see myself.

My stereotypical male ego has taken considerable pride since my school days in being an athletic mesomorph. I was captain of my high school football team, a sprinter and long-jumper on the track team, and I handily survived the physical rigors of U.S. Army basic training and the Vietnam war. My profession as a journalist and teacher these past 48 years certainly has required far more mental skills than physical ones, but I like to remind myself I still weigh within a few pounds of what I weighed during my peak years as an active athlete.

I wince, then, when I decline an offer from a well-meaning teenager for her seat on the bus because she sees the white in my beard. Or when my wife frets I might hurt myself when I take all the grocery bundles from the car into the house in one trip, or she offhandedly mentions how much bigger my biceps were when we married. Or when my 40-something son hastens to grab my suitcase to carry up the stairs when we visit. Or when my 15-year-old swimmer grandson asks how much weight I could lift on the bench press “back when you were young.” Sigh.

I know all those actions are meant in utter good faith by people who care about me. But they are little reminders that others don’t see me as I still see myself. I understand now why my late father refused to take senior discounts when he was in his 60s; it was his way to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

I can foresee that someday I may need to make accommodations for real physical limitations. I do have a mild case of essential tremor in my left hand, so I automatically use my right hand for anything requiring fine motor movement, such as drinking from a full cup of coffee. None of my joints need replacing any time soon, but I do get twinges in my right hip that may be foreshadowing future surgery. The VA audiologist recently fitted me for hearing aids, thanks to too much gunfire and rock and roll in my youth. I was dismayed at a recent physical to learn that I’m now an inch short of being the six feet tall I thought I would always be. When did I start shrinking?

So maybe they are right to see me as older than I see myself. But I actively avoid thinking how age might be chipping away at my youthful vigor, and I churlishly get annoyed when I am reminded of it. Perhaps we older men tend to see ourselves as younger and fitter and more attractive than we really are. It’s the flip side of the alarm that the women in my life express over every miniscule wrinkle and tiny age spot that appears. Men and women are looking in the same mirror of age, but each seeing images distorted in the opposite direction. I guess we can all thank society’s expectations of us for that.

Man & boy

“That Can’t be Me!” (But it is …)

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Each day for years I have walked past an oval decorator mirror on a corner wall of our living room, seeing it without seeing it. A few weeks ago I noticed the image of an old woman as I walked past — not anyone I knew. “That can’t be me!” flashed in my mind.   But of course it was.

The same thing happened when my teenaged granddaughter began taking close-up selfies of me. I didn’t want to know that person with the map of wrinkles on her drooping cheeks, sagging eyelids, disappearing eyebrows, thinner lips, to say nothing of the tendency to grow a beard. I see my hair as thinning and “increasingly blonde,” when of course it’s really pale gray.   As for the rest of me, it’s best left unregarded.

My watchbird Athena catches me up. (See “Meet my Watchbird” 11/30/17) “What a wuss! Just own yourself!   You’ve a legitimately old body but you’re young at heart. Your brain is still lively! Would you rather have the reverse, a youthful looking body that is old in heart and mind?” Putting it that way lends perspective.

I think about older people, both prominent and ordinary, who live so well within their skins; comfortable, competent and seemingly happy. Some carry it off with such style and panache.   I once overheard a woman telling her granddaughter, “I’ve earned every one of those wrinkles, dear.” And I think, “Hey, that’s the way I can feel about mine.” Happily most of my facial wrinkles grew out of laughter more than sadness or anger. I may not like to look at them, but can’t fault what put them there.

So I’ve decided to quit being a wuss about the sags and wrinkles and appreciate the 96-year-old who is still young heart. My simpler hairdo is fine. The picture-taking granddaughter has just supplied me with a fancy bunch of makeup with personal demonstrations on how to add color and even contours amidst all the wrinkles. I’ve decided to dress to please myself. Even when I’m not expecting guests, instead of blue jeans and pastel tops, I’m dressing in tops and bottoms of deeper, richer tones. I’m adding colorful scarves (old ones I’ve kept unused since I quit work).   As I pass that oval mirror in the living room these days I think “Go, old girl!”

And now when I’m included in the natural or distorted selfies being taken and displayed, I still express the expected extreme horror. I’m loved, I’m teased and we all laugh.

 

Gravity – From the perspectives of a 96 year old

Gravity is the force of attraction by which terrestrial bodies tend to fall toward the center of the earth.

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Until recently I tended to ignore the force of gravity, beyond knowing minimally about it academically and watching the effect it was having on my aging face and body. But that was before I: 1) became more clumsy 2) lost hand strength, and 3) found that bending over to pick up objects or wipe up messes from the floor was a high-risk maneuver. Now gravity and its effect on objects and substances has become a matter of frequent and serious concern to me, to say nothing of being a regular source of annoyance, aggravation and occasionally downright anger!

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Galileo did his experiments with it, Newton wrote his laws about it and Einstein and Hawking took it even further. Now I, at a very humble level, have developed a series of axioms having to do with gravity in the lives of the very old.

Any substance or object in my house that can fall will do so and often into hard-to-reach spaces.

Any object or substance that can escape my grasp will do so and usually does so at the most inconvenient times or on the most embarrassing occasions.

Dropped objects are harder to retrieve and grasp then they were before being dropped.

Devices to recover dropped objects are hard to use and inefficient.

Humans tend to diminish in height as they age, even as the distance between hand and floor increases.

Bending over to retrieve fallen objects or sweep/mop up substances is a serious invitation to join them on the floor.

No question that the time for “hand before head” is behind me. Now, behavior to prevent gravity from taking over needs to precede action. One more area for mindfulness, or paying the price.