Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Alone and Forgotten

I’ve been given clearance so here’s my story.

“Roberta’s weird,” my friends and family say. “Congenial enough, but she’s like a hermit crab. Never leaves her house.” And that is true.

What I think it all boils down to is preparation for the inevitable ‘alone and forgotten’ stage of life. It strikes me that I should let Hub know what I’m thinking but he could neither accept or understand it, so why bother? Besides, my philosophical imaginings drive him to distraction without adding more. And so, without adequate explanation, Hub fits into my hermit-crab venue as best he can while he and the kids mutter among themselves about my mental state.

And then occasionally Hub gets all geared up to drag me along on a wild and woolly day of shopping, visiting, or driving about, and that’s when I say to Hub with sympathy in my voice.

“I know we haven’t gone anywhere for a long time. I know you appreciate me coming along, but honestly, there is no way to avoid it. I have to bake bread today.”

And I promptly pull out the flour canister and bread pan and set to work. It’s a devious political move. He is a practical man and in this way I can minimize his feelings of rejection by masking the situation in practical necessities. (Bread-making part of a political relationship? Who would have thought?)

And so Hub’s enthusiasm comes to an abrupt end. The labor of bread baking is a reality he discerns. He is well aware that after the mixing, there will be a first rising, a second rising, putting the stuff in pans, a third rising, then baking and cooling. The whole business a long stretch that will completely lap up the special outdoor pleasures of the lovely day so ardently beckoning to him to ‘come and play’.

And so I bake bread with as much sticky guilt in my mind as sticky dough on my rubber gloves. Guilt that perhaps my stubbornness has wounded not the man, but the little boy within. I find it truly quite amazing the way men retain the ‘little boy’ within. I see the little guy peeking out often through my husband’s eyes. I don’t think the same can be said of women. But that’s another thought for another time and so to return to my story.

So, despite Hub’s preference for home-made bread, I believe there are days he would gladly eat store-bought bread even though it promptly turns to dough when touched by saliva and glues itself to his upper dental plate. Still, some days that would be better than once again having the excitement of his plans postponed.

I can relate. I understand how he feels. I know well from my own experience that as I get older it is seldom that unexpected vigor strikes. But unfortunately, despite all the time Hub and I have been together, his desire and my desire at any given moment, seldom mesh.

I know too that I should be more flexible. And I find it puzzling that I am not. I don’t fully understand my wish for solitude either. I often think it might be the result of the fate of elders I have observed over the years.

I remember a sad old fellow down the road, showing me a large calendar where he marked the sparse visits of family members. The moon waxed and waned more often in a month than his family.

And I remember the neighbor who consistently sent her old father to his room where he was forced to dine alone whenever she had company. And I remember a visit to a retirement home. I remember a female elder there displaced from a Stony Indian Tribe.

She could speak no English. From morning till night she rocked frantically in her chair canting rapidly in a foreign riddle of sounds magically formed without lip movement. But mostly she wept without ceasing. The story told to me is that she was found in the snow, abandoned by her Tribe and left to die when old age made her more of a liability than an asset. And the other surprising thing an Attendant at the Home told me is that speaking with lips of stone is what led to the Tribe being called the Stony Indians.

And what I also remember is the chill of a tangible fog of loneliness duplicated in each of the circumstances I have mentioned. For some it was emotional rejection, for the Indian woman, physical rejection, but if you group them all, and condense them, it all boils down to the same thing. Old people will eventually find themselves alone and forgotten!

So in reflection of all this, I tend to frequently ponder the choices I need to make now to cope with that impending stage of life. And what seems most obvious to me is that I can minimize the insidious attack of old age and the chronic grouchiness steamed by self-pity that goes with it. All I need to do is practice and perfect until I like it and get it right – the craft of being alone and the art of being forgotten.

And yes, right now I know what you are thinking and of course you are right. If you were to ask, I am totally convinced my children will always care for me and be there for me. The irony is that my parents said the same about me, but I didn’t do so well.

So I ready myself for the inevitable. Pondering the things I will do with dimming eyes, feeble fingers, and wasted limbs. It seems more sensible in the context of ‘alone and forgotten’ to think about things I prefer to do without interruption and things that at the same time will give me constructive purpose and gratefulness for solitude.

The plan must have a sensible evolution and it does. If my sight fails, I will move from fine crochet to bulky knitting and if necessary from that to the larger work of hooking fabric strips. If my limbs fail, I will paint even if I have to move from realism to abstractions with a brush in my teeth. And if finances fail, I have a grand stash of materials waiting to fit into usefulness in some other evolutionary form. And if I can no longer drive, it will be no big deal. Whatever occurs, I am envisioning and preparing for it.

The most surprising thing in all this wild philosophy is that up until now, ‘plan’ was a dirty four-letter word that I never used. Up until now, spontaneity was all. But I’m not convinced spontaneity will work for the ‘alone and forgotten years’. I fear that for this final stage, the irony is that it is ‘spontaneity’, rather than ‘planning’ that jumps out unexpectedly like an evil Jack-in-the Box. And then JB jeers, winks, and nudges while delivering a homily cleverly disguised as dignified thinking about a dumb and stupid and unnatural way to end it all.

So I plan and practice loneliness in my readiness for perhaps not a long time, but a good time, when I am faced with the eventuality of being alone and forgotten.


Matty said...

So how's that plan working for you Roberta?
Is it not a sin to act old before you're really old?
Is your hubby and children feeling rejected because of your 'plan' to practice being alone?
I'm not saying that its not good to have a plan...it is...but can't you put your plan on the back of the stove for awhile......and participate with vigor in Hub's life and your children's right now...this day..while you can?
Are you not cheating them and you out of what life has to offer today?
I know exactly what you mean....as I do it also....I tend to enjoy my solitude & aloneness to the point of being a hermit!
We were born alone and we will die alone...but while we're here...should we not dance and be merry?
Selfishly... I take a day here and there to enjoy my aloneness...the rest of the time I go along to get along...even if I don't want to.
Eventually...yes...I'll be alone with my thoughts and infirmities..I'll have a lot of time to practice then. I'm a fast learner.
And Roberta...I do have a little girl inside of me...she's about 6 yrs old...once in awhile I let her come out to play..once in awhile I talk to her. She's a wonderful little ragamuffin with hand-me-down clothes and a wild imagination.
Roberta...maybe you're not a very social person in the 1st place...could be you just enjoy solitude. We can't all be social butterfly's...thank God.

the old bag said...

Maybe it's not planning to be alone, but rather it's the knowledge and acceptance that we are comfortable with being alone...

...and that maybe
we even
that we
no longer have
to pretend we don't

...and maybe even that it could be an indulgent thing when it arrives.


Pauline said...

Another thing we have in common, this hermit impulse and yet I don't want to practice for what might not be the inevitable (my 100 year old Vermont friend is a marvelous example of live 'til you die). When I read this: "Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body , but rather to skid in broadside , thoroughly used up , totally worn out & loudly proclaiming--WOW--WHAT A RIDE !" I knew that's the way I want to live. We ought to all do what works best for us.

Jim Murdoch said...

I have been reading Beckett since my twenties, stories and plays about wearish old men wandering the streets alone or sitting in near-empty rooms and I've always felt a great affinity with them, that one day I would join them. They are not sad cases; they are works of art and something I have been working towards for nearly fifty years. The simple fact is that I've always been older than I am. There are certain roles in theatre that all actors aspire to, King Lear would be one and Krapp another. I sit in my office (there a photo included in my latest blog if you want to see it) and I sometimes feel, this is too tidy ol' son; you'll never get to be Krapp if you keep the place as spic-and-span as this.

It's not that I yearn to be old – actually the older and more infirm I get the more irritated I get by my inability to, for example, learn by osmosis like I used to – but, and this is a characteristic of me, if I'm going to be 'old' I want to be the best 'old' I can be if that makes any sense. In some respects I feel like for some years now I've been trying out old age to see how it fits. Or to make sure it fits when it's my time.

My wife and I rarely go out any more. Everything's too far away or too expensive, but really these are just excuses – it's too much bother. I suppose we're luckier than you in that this is pretty much how we both feel.

As for children? I'm lucky to see my daughter once a month these days and when she does arrive, guilt-ridden and tired-looking, it's obvious that I've been squeezed into a busy schedule. But that’s fine. I don't need the constant reassurance I once did. I have no real fears for my actual old age when it comes; my daughter and I both rank duty very highly, she'll do the right thing no matter how crabbit an old bugger I get to be.

Joy Des Jardins said...

Well, aren't we glad you decided to post this piece? We all would have been robbed of one of your best and most touching posts...ever!

My God...how I connect to what you have said....just another thing we have in common...but without the bread-making. I manage to find other things to fill those gaps...gaps where I really should be 'out-and-about' more; but manage to confine myself inside more that I should. I see my kids a lot, but I haven't hung-out with friends and other family members as much as I should. My 'computer life' has taken over...big time. Maybe I've been preparing and practicing for old age too...and just didn't know it. One thing I know Roberta....we may be alone; but I truly don't think we will be forgotten.

Again...this was one of your most beautiful pieces....thank you for posting it my dear friend.... ~Joy

Roberta S said...

Hi matty. I promise to think long and hard about what you said. I've said it before and I'll say it again that you, m'lady are more courage than anyone I know. And in addition to that ever since you and I first spoke I could hear big vitality and enthusiasm in even your written voice that told me you are a 'go getter'. Me, not so much. But I promise to take all you said to heart, to ponder it, and exercise it whenever I have the ambition to do so.

But maybe there's something else going on here. Maybe, it's that little girl inside you that is spurring you on. I haven't sensed any little girl inside me for some time now but if she's still there, and she starts to squirm, maybe this spring, we're going to play hopscotch, go bike-riding, and maybe even go with Hub for a long, long drive. :)

Roberta S said...

Jeanne OB, what delightful words of wisdom so delightfully put. I'd bake you some bread to take on a trail ride (just don't ask me to come alone) if you lived closer just for giving me that sage bit of advice that makes me feel like somewhere in this heap I may have valid reasons for being how I am.

Roberta S said...

pauline, as usual you make me laugh. I promise to use up my body and life to its fullest extent. I'm not one to toss anything that has even the remotest chance of being useful even if that usefulness was not the original intent. And with friends like you, every day is part of a grand trip.

Roberta S said...

Nice discussion, jim. Lots to think about here and I like your confidence that you are able to leave behind what must be left behind and anticipate without concern what needs to be anticipated. Thanks for the interesting comment.

Roberta S said...

Hi joy. Again you prove that you have such a special understanding of the human spirit, it is no wonder you write such fine pieces and such exceptional poetry.

I thank you for giving this 'moan' an "A" because even after it was written, and so many said I could post it, I will still in a state of fearful reserve.

Thank you for giving me top marks. I promise not to run with it and make every other post a wailing bit but I feel so much less restricted by this week's conversation than I did a week ago. Feeling upbeat enough I think I'll see if Hub wants me to go with him on a wild and wooly trek.

Pauline said...


Matty said...

Thanks Roberta,
You gave me the encouragement to post how I truly feel at this time of the year. And I hope I don't get any wishy-washy sentimental 'get-well' cards!

Anonymous said...

The old saying,"Make the most of your moments, for moments cannot be saved, stolen, or reused."

Anonymous said...

Roberta, I held off on reading this because I knew it was going to be heavy-duty and deserved the concentration and time.

It is an honest and well-put post on a touchy topic that faces reality and the fact of life that we're not all going to "rage against the dying of the light" but rather go with a travel plan.

I too have felt the guilt of excuses to want to stay home instead. But one thing I might say is that come Spring many of us will be more willing to take a larger part in life. I've always tended to eat more in the autumn months and hibernate in winter and that may be your nature as well.

susan @ spinning

Roberta S said...

matty, since you posted this comment I have been to your place and read your latest post. It is somber but still delightful and I think you are so right. All of us seem to flow in a mindset linked to something outside of ourselves -- that even though miles separate we drift into a common state of consciousness. I'm not sure if it is connected to moon, tides, seasons, or simply an interconnectivity of the overall spirit of humanity.

Roberta S said...

anonymous comment posted on January 9 --

I know, I know.

Roberta S said...

Hi susan of spinning. Enjoyed your comment. Thank you. I'll polish up my dancing shoes for the spring and try to divert my attention in that direction.

WheelDancer said...

So I wonder, what is 'alone' in this digital age? Perhaps your preparations are for a different type of together, a more selective together where you cast your thoughts into the great beyond and come together with folks you may never meet. I'll not, for example, likely invite you to tea anytime soon but I regularly invite your thoughts into my home and find it a better place with them here.

The part of yourself you share in your writing becomes part of the reader. As the old bag said, maybe when we are comfortable enough with ourselves we can find pleasure in being alone with the self we have assembled over the years. Until we forget ourselves, those who touched our lives aren't forgotten even though they may not have the knowledge that they are remembered.

Thanks for adding threads to my tapestry!

Roberta S said...

Loved your comment, wheeldancer. It certainly brings into focus a wonderful perspective I had not considered.